Another mimesis, this one starting back in the 1800s with Arthur Rimbaud’s absolutely timeless, hallucinatory Saison en Enfer (A Season in Hell). Teenage savant Arthur Rimbaud wrote this long poem in a delirium of fever and sickness after being shot by his much-older lover, Paul Verlaine. Later, Bob Dylan would sing, “Situations have ended sad/ Relationships have all been bad/ Mine’ve been like Verlaine’s and Rimbaud’s.” My “Je Te Connais Bien” is a result of both of these.
The characters that appear in this story are caricatures of real people, as I have come across them in their contributions to art. They are by no means representative of the real real people.
The opening quote in French is taken directly from Saison en Enfer. After that, the quoted parts are translations using Bablefish and obfuscations using a thesaurus. The final quoted section is my own writing culled from these sources. The final line is a line from Bob Dylan’s “You Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go.” It goes: “I looked for you in old Honalula/ San Francisco, Ashtabula.”
The entirety of Saison en Enfer can be found here, translated: http://www.mag4.net/Rimbaud/poesies/Season.html
Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks can’t be found on the internet. Guess he doesn’t follow his old hero Woody Guthrie’s maxim, “This song is Copyrighted in U.S., under Seal of Copyright #154085, for a period of 28 years, and anybody caught singin it without our permission, will be mighty good friends of ours, cause we don’t give a dern. Publish it. Write it. Sing it. Swing to it. Yodel it. We wrote it, that’s all we wanted to do.” Hope he won’t sue me! 😉
JE TE CONNAIS BIEN
“Jadis, si je me souviens bien, ma vie était un festin où s’ouvraient tous les coeurs, où tous les vins coulaient.
Un soir, j’ai assis la Beauté sur mes genoux. – Et je l’ai trouvée amère. – Et je l’ai injuriée.
Je me suis armé contre la justice.
Je me suis enfui. Ô sorcières, ô misère, ô haine, c’est à vous que mon trésor a été confié!
Je parvins à faire s’évanouir dans mon esprit toute l’espérance humaine. Sur toute joie pour l’étrangler j’ai fait le bond sourd de la bête féroce.
J’ai appelé les bourreaux pour, en périssant, mordre la crosse de leurs fusils. J’ai appelé les fléaux, pour m’étouffer avec le sable, avec le sang. Le malheur a été mon dieu. Je me suis allongé dans la boue. Je me suis séché à l’air du crime. Et j’ai joué de bons tours à la folie.
Et le printemps m’a apporté l’affreux rire de l’idiot.
Or, tout dernièrement, m’étant trouvé sur le point de faire le dernier couac! j’ai songé à rechercher le clef du festin ancien, où je reprendrais peut-être appétit.
La charité est cette clef. – Cette inspiration prouve que j’ai rêvé!
“Tu resteras hyène, etc…. ,” se récrie le démon qui me couronna de si aimables pavots. “Gagne la mort avec tous tes appétits, et ton égoïsme et tous les péchés capitaux.”
Ah! j’en ai trop pris: – Mais, cher Satan, je vous en conjure, une prunelle moins irritée! et en attendant les quelques petites lâchetés en retard, vous qui aimez dans l’écrivain l’absence des facultés descriptives ou instructives, je vous détache des quelques hideux feuillets de mon carnet de damné.
I met Arthur in the late 90s as I sat in a half-lotus between the shelves of the public library. The meeting had been set up by a mutual friend of ours, Bob. Bob had mentioned Arthur to me several times, but he has an extremely nasal voice and does not always enunciate well, so sometimes he has to say things a few times before I understand him.
Bob and I were alone in my apartment, having one of our morning talks, which were quite frequent at that time. He was telling me about a string of shitty relationships he’d had in the vein of Arthur and his lover Paul. I’m intrigued by disaster, and, what’s more, I remembered having heard an anecdote about Arthur a few years before from another mutual acquaintance, Jack. I’d dismissed Jack’s story because he’s always talking about his buddies as if they are quite special, when many of them are not.
When I got to the library, I met a woman called Louise, who briefed me on Arthur’s life. She talked lovingly of Paul’s Bullet, and gang rapes by traveling soldiers.
Then Arthur arrived, looking aloof, and wove in and out of images of burnt flesh, corpses, horrid love. We didn’t speak the same language at all, but at the time, I thought Louise a faithful translator. I thought of kissing her, so she could kiss him for me in French.
Arthur’s monologue halted suddenly, and his face clouded. Louise shrugged like she had expected it all along when Arthur turned to walk away. I struggled to remember anything I could say in his language, but only came up with a line from a play I’d once been cast in, and some bits of courtesy and necessity I’d learned in an introductory course. I grabbed his arm and turned him to face me.
“Je m’appelle Pamel. Je te connais bien. Ou est le cabinet d’aisance?”
I looked him in the eye as I said it. The next hour in the bathroom of the public library was pure bliss.
Formerly, if I remember well, my life was a feast where all the hearts opened, where all the wines ran. One evening, I sat the Beauty on my knees. – And I found it bitter. – And I insulted it. I armed myself against justice. I fled. O witch, ô misery, ô hatred, it is with you that my treasure was entrusted! I managed to make disappear in my spirit all the
human hope. On any joy to strangle it I made the deaf jump of the wild animal. I called
the torturers for, while perishing, to bite the stick of their rifles. I called the plagues, to choke me with sand, blood. Misfortune was my god. I lay in mud. I dried myself with the air of the crime. And I played of goods towers to the madness. And spring brought the dreadful laughter of the idiot to me. However, being found all lately, me about to make the last false note! I thought of seeking the key of the old feast, where I would perhaps take again appetite. Charity is this key. – This inspiration proves that I dreamed! “You will remain hyena, etc…” recried the demon which crowned me of so pleasant poppies. “death with all your the capital appetites, and your selfishness and all sins Gains.” Ah! I took some too much: – But, dear Satan, I entreat you, a less irritated pupil! and while waiting for few small late cowardices, you who like in the writer the absence of descriptive or instructive faculties, I detach you from the some hideous layers of my notebook of damnation..
Arthur likes boys and I am a girl. This didn’t seem to matter in the public library’s bathroom, but afterwards, he was adamant about sodomy. Arthur wasn’t the first boy of ambiguous sexuality I’d been involved with, but he was the first to refuse my demands of orifary equality. What was worse was that he loathed lubricants and found condoms confusing and profane. He threw them out my bedroom window at passersby.
“Merde!” he yelled, as he sometimes did.
In the end I gave in and did things the way he wanted. He was the better writer, and often won such disagreements.
Time was, if I remember, my season was a banquet where all the hearts gaped, where all the wines cantered. One twilight, I sat The Beauty on my knees. And I found it Absinthian. And I flipped it off. I prosthetic-ed myself against square deals. I scampered. O, alternative practitioner, o squalor, o hard feelings, it is with you my funds were banked. I managed to efface in my liquor all the homosapien promised lands. On any revelry to
asphyxiate it, I made the soundless leap of the free beast. I hollered for the Inquisitors, while expiring, to gnaw the butt of their guns. I rang the pestilence, to asphyxiate me with dirt, plasma. Bad luck was my deity. I lazed in filth. I toweled off with the atmosphere of misdeed. And I aped the merchandise erection to The Madness. And leap brought the grody chortling of the simpleton to me. Alackaday, being discovered only recently, me about to make the final incorrect letter! I mused upon questing for the skeleton key of the old barbeque, where I would perhaps take again hunger. Good deeds are this key. This lightning bolt proves that I fancied! “You will remain hyena, and so on and so forth…” recries the succubus with climaxed me of so hedonistic heroin. “expiration with all your first-class tastes, and your pigishness and all misdoing’s prizes.” Ah! I ate too much: – But, dear Dark Lord, I beg you, a less rash-afflicted eye! And while delaying for a few small delayed fears, you who like in the scrivener the lack of anecdotal or teaching habits, I separate you from the few awful lines of my journal of the cursed.
We split our time between New York and Paris. Our matching looks of disdain for 1800’s Parisian literary intelligentsia were exquisite. He understood but dismissed them. I found their gesture and inflection intolerable. We stayed at Paul’s house only when we had no place else to go. From the rhythm of his voice behind closed doors, I assume Paul was reading Arthur his poetry. Arthur bellowed in derision. Paul’s wife cried a lot, and I tried to comfort her with seduction. I think it only made her feel worse.
In New York, I introduced Arthur to all of the smart and some of the awful people I knew. Mark fed him ecstasy, which failed to fool him into happiness. He and Aarik
never spoke again after Arthur punched holes in each of Aarik’s skinned percussion instruments. Sarah decided he was cute and talented, but ultimately a prick. (She added, however, that she would support the relationship as long as it made me happy.) I thought he would get along best with Jeff, who quit music when his didn’t change the world and has been a mumbling vagabond ever since, but Arthur’s screaming and coarse sexuality frightened him. I took him to parties in the basements of Brooklyn warehouses. He found the dancing laughable and the Absinthe enjoyable.
Arthur seemed to prefer Paris, even though he hated it. I preferred New York simply because we had a bed to ourselves. As we lay in it, I often looked at his frail, bare back and repeated, “I cannot understand you. Je te connais bien.”
Once upon a time lived a Boy-King who indulged in revelry. He thought himself loved. All eyes existed to see him. As night fell, he and Beauty wandered from the Banquet. As
he touched her, she trembled. Her lips, which promised wine, tasted of Absinthe. Her fake limbs fell to the ground.
The Boy-King returned to the Banquet. The hall was filled with witches, one-armed men, women with blind glass eyes. Heaven was vacationing at Guantanamo Bay. He sucked off the barrel of a gun. Hell was warming itself with dirt blankets. Apes sold Madness like souvenir Eiffel Towers.
If all went well, it would be eternal. Boys have dreams—nightmares are for Kings.
The day I turned eighteen, Arthur and I went to 6th Ave where I had a guy named Bulldog
tattoo a heart on my wrist. I had it put in the same spot as Arthur’s bullet wound. It said “Paul” in it. The sun was far too bright, and surreal snow was tumbling haltingly out of some cloud. We’d been awake for the better part of a week. Arthur was writing poetry constantly, and I fumblingly tried to derive essence from it. Sometimes, when I was alone, I called Louise and read her phrases.
Out on 6th Ave., I ran my finger over the still-raised ink of my tattoo. It had hurt enough to crystallize my whirling thoughts.
“Tu es mi Paul,” I said.
“En Francais, chatte!” he shouted at me.
“Merde,” I muttered. “You etais mon Paul. You bien poet, but still…”
He smiled. Something had amused him. I tried to press his scar against my scar, but he wouldn’t have it. We slept most of the day in Washington Square Park, and woke up with certain words stolen from our minds.
One night, we got very drunk.
“You’re so fucking childish,” I said. “A fucking baby wrapped up in symbolism. You delay me every chance you get. You’re fucking ruining my life. And my writing! Now I know how Lee felt when she was out in the Hamptons taking care of that fucking man-child she made the mistake of marrying. I don’t care about your talent: people shouldn’t fucking live this way. Why don’t you go back to Paris? Entertain the ugly old fucker for a while? He doesn’t understand you either, but you make more of an impression walking around with his dick in your mouth than you do being seen with me.You’re just a fucking baby. You’ve alienated everyone decent from my entire life. All that’s left are the junkies, the psychopaths, and the masochists. And my apartment is a fucking mess. You spilled milk on the floor four days ago and never bothered to wipe it up. It smells like a fucking compost heap. I fucking hate you. You me fait vomir. Je am going to vomir.”
When I lifted my head back up, Arthur was looking into my eyes, his eyes full of disdain.
“Mon amour,’ he said.
In the days that followed, he said those two words, two of the only words in his language that held any meaning for me, so many times they became senseless. Mon amour mon amour mon amour mon amour mon amour mon amour mon amour mon
amour. “Mon amour,” he said, reaching for a cigarette. “Mon amour,” he said, pushing
me away as I tried to decipher his notebooks over his shoulder. “Mon amour,” he said as he walked by me on the way to the bathroom. “Mon amour,” he said as he touched the bare hip of a prostitute. Every time he said it, he looked so far into my eyes that I began to believe he was moving past them, projecting some orgasmic violence inside of me.
It was around that time that I began to see Louise in Brooklyn. She was never exactly where Arthur was, but I had my suspicions. They seemed borne to fruit the day I came home to find a page torn from Arthur’s notebook of the damned and placed on my table. Au revoir, putain! it read in his unmistakable scrawl. Then, underneath, in a
tighter, more feminine hand: Goodbye, slut! I consulted my French-to-English dictionary and found that putain could also mean whore. Au revoir, however, always meant goodbye.
I cried until I puked, even though it was for the best. I called Bob, who has seen me blotchy-faced and bawling more than once. He told me that life was “a bust.” I asked him to say it again, but not because I thought he meant life was a sculpture showing only the head and shoulders of the subject. Then I asked him to tell me a story about a girl he had followed to places with lovely, familiar names, like Honolulu, San Francisco, and Ashtabula.