|Poems by Francis Ponge (from Another Republic)
The Pleasures of the Door
Kings do not touch doors.
They know nothing of this pleasure: pushing before one gently or brusquely one of those large familiar panels, then turning back to replace it—holding a door in one’s arms.
…The pleasure of grabbing the midriff of one of these tall obstacles to a room by its porcelain node; that short clinch during which movement stops, the eye widens, and the whole body adjusts to its new surrounding.
With a friendly hand one still holds on to it, before closing it decisively and shutting oneself in—which the click of the tight but well-oiled spring pleasantly confirms.
Below me, always below me is water. Always with lowered eye do I look at it. It is like the ground, like a part of the ground, a modification of the ground.
It is bright and brilliant, formless and fresh, passive yet persistent in its one vice, gravity; disposing of extraordinary means to satisfy that vice—twisting, piercing, eroding, filtering.
This vice works from within as well: water collapses all the time, constantly sacrifices all form, tends only to humble itself, flattens itself on the ground, like a corpse, like the monks of certain orders. Always lower—that could be its motto; the opposite of excelsior.
One might almost say that water is mad, because of its hysterical need to obey gravity alone, a need that possesses it like an obsession.
Of course, everything in the world responds to this need, which always and everywhere must be satisfied. This cabinet, for example, proves to be terribly stubborn in its desire to stay on the ground, and if one day it found itself badly balanced, would sooner fall to pieces than run counter to that desire.But to a certain degree it teases gravity, defies it; does not give way in all its parts: its cornice, its moldings do not give in. Inherent in the cabinet is a resistance that benefits its personality and form.
LIQUID, by definition, is that which chooses to obey gravity rather than maintain its form, which rejects all form in order to obey gravity—and which loses all dignity because of that obsession, that pathological anxiety. Because of that vice—which makes it fast, flowing, or stagnant, formless or fearsome, formless and fearsome, piercingly fearsome in cases; devious, filtering, winding—one can do anything one wants with it, even lead water through pipes to make it spout out vertically so as to enjoy the way it collapses in droplets: a real slave.
The sun and the moon, however, are envious of this exclusive influence, and try to take over whenever water happens to offer the opening of great expanses, and above all when in a state of least resistance—spread out in shallow puddles. Then the sun exacts an even greater tribute: forces it into a perpetual cycle, treats it like a gerbil on a wheel.
Water eludes me…slips between my fingers. And even so! It’s not even that clean (like a lizard or a frog): it leaves traces, spots, on my hands that are quite slow to dry or have to be wiped. Water escapes me yet marks me, and there is not a thing I can do about it.
Ideologically it’s the same thing: it eludes me, eludes all definition, but in my mind and on this sheet leaves traces, formless marks.
Water’s instability: sensitive to the slightest change of level. Running down stairs two at a time. Playful, childishly obedient, returning as soon as called if one alters the slope on this side.
Many times the size of a man, the horse has flaring nostrils, round eyes under half-closed lids, cocked ears and long muscular neck.
The tallest of man’s domestic animals, and truly his designated mount.
Man, somewhat lost on an elephant, is at his best on a horse, truly a throne to his measure.
We will not do away with the horse, I hope?
He will not become a curiosity in a zoo?
…Already now, in town, he is no more than a miserable substitute for the automobile, the most miserable means of traction.
Ah, the horse is also—does man suspect it?—something else besides! He is impatience nostrilized.
His weapons are running, biting, bucking.
He seems to have a keen nose, keen ears, and very sensitive eyes.
The greatest tribute one can pay him is having to fit him with blinders.
But no weapon…
The horse, terribly nervous, is aerophagous.
Hypersensitive, he clamps his jaws, holds his breath, then releases it, making the walls of his nasal cavities vibrate loudly.
That is why this noble beast, who feeds on air and grass alone, produces only straw turds and thunderous fragrant farts.
What am I saying, feeds on air? Gets drunk on it. Sniffs it, savors it, snorts it.
He rushes into it, shakes his mane in it, kicks up his hind legs in it.
He would evidently like to fly up into it.
The flight of clouds inspires him, urges him to imitation.
He does imitate it: he tosses, prances…
And when the whip’s lightning claps, the clouds gallop faster and rain tramples the earth…
Out of your stall, high-spirited over-sensitive armoire, all polished and smoothed!
Great beautiful period piece!
Polished ebony or mahogany.
Stroke the withers of this armoire and immediately it has a faraway look.
Dust cloth at the lips,feather mop at the rump, key in the lock of the nostrils.
His skin quivers, irritably tolerating flies, his shoe hammers the ground.
He lowers his head, leans his muzzle toward the ground and consoles himself with grass.
A stepstool is needed to look on the upper shelf.
Ticklish skin, as I was saying…but his natural impatience is so profound, that inside his body the parts of his skeleton behave like pebbles in a torrent!
Seen from the apse, the highest animal nave in the stable…
Great saint! Great horse! Beautiful behind in the stable…
What is this splendid courtesan’s behind that greets me, set on slim legs, high heels?
Giant goose of the golden eggs, strangely clipped.
Ah, it is the smell of gold that assails my nostrils!
Leather and manure mixed together.
Strong-smelling omelette, from the goose of the golden eggs.
Straw omelette, earth omelette, flavored with the rum of your urine, dropping from the crack under your tail…
As though fresh from the oven, on a pastry sheet, the stable’s rolls and rum balls.
Great saint, with your Byzantine eyes, woeful, under the harness…
A sort of saint, humble monk at prayer, in the twilight.
A monk? What am I saying?…A pontiff, on his excremental palanquin! A pope—exhibiting to all comers a splendid courtesan’s behind, generously heart-shaped, on slender legs ending elegantly in high-heeled shoes.
WHAT IS THIS CL
THESE DULL THUDS IN THE STALL?
WHAT’S GOING ON?
PONTIFF AT PRAYER?
SCHOOLBOY IN DETENTION?
GREAT SAINTS! GREAT HORSES (HORSES OR HEROES?), OF THE BEAUTIFUL BEHIND IN THE STABLE,
WHY, SAINTLY MONK, ARE YOU WEARING RIDING BREECHES?
—INTERRUPTED DURING HIS MASS, HE TURNED HIS BYZATINE