Emmanuel Moses

She Painted Artichokes
October 9, 2014 Moses Emmanuel

She Painted Artichokes

For my mother

You had nothing to say so you painted some splendid artichokes

You took them from the kitchen and placed them on a black chair

You didn’t think about it

You had no doubts

You went from the kitchen to the studio

Like a priest passing from the sacristy to the altar

The all had turned to nothing

And now this nothing became something once again

The artichokes told the extraordinary story of green

And the chair the humble tale of black

Their stories were like those told by old women

On the village square, near the fountain

At the close of day

Filaments of time, of life

That are no longer anything and once were everything

And become something again in the tender evening light

You had nothing to say, so you took your brushes and spatulas

You pressed the tubes of paint

And you painted metaphysical vegetables

On an existential chair

You told the extraordinary tale of everything turned to nothing

Re-transformed into something by a pair of artichokes





Tu n’avais rien à dire alors tu as peint des artichauts admirables

Tu les as pris dans la cuisine et tu les as posés sur une chaise noire

Tu n’as pas réfléchi

Tu n’as pas douté

Tu es passée de la cuisine à l’atelier

Comme un prêtre passe de la sacristie à l’autel

Les légumes sont devenus un symbole

Le tout est devenu rien

Et ce rien est redevenu le tout

Tu n’avais rien à dire alors la toile est restée intacte là où tu ne savais pas

Quoi y mettre

Elle est restée nue mais tu n’as pas eu honte de sa nudité

Les artichauts racontent l’histoire extraordinaire du vert

Et la chaise l’histoire humble du noir

Ces histoires sont comme celles des vieilles

Sur la place du village, autour de la fontaine

À la tombée du jour

Des filaments de temps, de vie

Qui ne sont rien, l’un, l’autre, après avoir été tout

Et le redeviennent dans la lumière tendre du soir

Tu n’avais rien à dire alors tu as pris tes pinceaux et tes spatules

Tu as pressé les tubes de couleur

Et tu as peint des légumes métaphysiques

Sur une chaise existentielle

Tu as raconté l’histoire extraordinaire du rien

Transformé par une paire d’artichauts en tout




Translator: Marilyn Hacker is the author of twelve books of poems, including Names and Desesperanto (Norton P), and an essay collection, Unauthorized Voices (Michigan P). Her translations from the French include Marie Etienne’s King of a Hundred Horsemen (Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux), which received the 2009 PEN Award for Poetry in Translation, and Amina Saïd’s The Present Tense of the World (Black Widow P). For her own work, she received the PEN Voelcker Award for poetry in 2010. She is a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.

Emmanuel Moses, French poet and novelist born in 1959, is the author of thirty collections of poems, novels and prose texts. This piece is from Polonaise, a collection of prose poems published by Flammarion in 2017. Two books of his, in Marilyn Hacker’s translation, have been published by Oberlin College Press: He and I (2009) and Preludes and Fugues (2016).