Poem translated into a Sonnet in English (Italian sonnet version rhyme pattern could not be kept) trying to keep some of the same meanings and attempting to maintain somewhat a rhyme pattern
See the lasting scent of the white lilies
January 18, 2016
The time unchangeable seasons solstices
Seasons of the heart, song for the dumbstruck
Embracing the pains slender tuning forks
Words unaffordable closed chalices
Tired impenetrable of rock the interstices
The reasons of fear, refrains for change
Impatient colors the storms derange
See the lasting scent of the white lilies
Reasons derision debates interval
The exposed flank many the vultures
Loves confusion trampled offal
Past perfect compounded time of detours
Humor infusions the heart being felled
Imposed silence leaves on three little tours
It is as always very difficult to translate poetry from French into English. I shall just take an example to showcase this which is not due merely to the words but also to the different cultural references. For example the last words of the poem “s’en va trois petits tours” which illustrates well this difficulty in translating some French poems into English:
Trois petits tours alludes to the children’s song, the equivalent of nursery rhymes in English, “Trois petits tours et puis s’en va” which somehow brings to mind a pattern of something coming to play along and then leaving for some other playgrounds elsewhere before coming back again.
At the same time there is an implicit reference to three towers that could be three choices that would lock the poet but we don’t know what is the nature of each tower, whether it could be an ivory tower of isolation or a tower of loss of independence, the tower of a lover, the tower of a tyrant etc. I let you imagine different outcomes as the case may be with your own personal experience 🙂
A very big thank you to Globalinfo4all (https://globalinfo4all.wordpress.com/) who sent me the reference of this fantastic composer Yuhki Kuramoto that just ignited the writing of this poem. My poems are always based on personal experiences but these are somehow dormant inside until a spark ignites them, such as the one today from my friend G4all. Note: I wish people would put clearly their name in their gravatar (available under public display name for your gravatar). You can name your wordpress website whatever you want but it would be really nice if you actually went to your gravatar and put a proper public display name that we could refer to you by (and I mean this for all people who have those mysterious or totally unreadable or “unmouthable” names). We poets and writers love to relate so if you want to remain anonymous, please at least put a fake name that we can call you by 🙂
She was always at the same corner of Rue de Berne although at times she also stood in Rue Sismondi when it was far too cold as she usually stood in a miniskirt with her midriff exposed most of the time. Although a fake fur coat covered her shoulders and back, some days the biting cold would chill her to the bone and she knew she could not close the coat if she wanted to earn enough income before the night was through.
It was at Rue Sismondi that she caught him looking at her intently from the small window of his apartment. When their eyes met, he would often venture out and hover around, visibly lovesick and dumbstruck, eyeing her shyly when he thought she was not looking. At the beginning she had taunted him playfully hoping he could become a client but then one night she had peeped in and the dingy room she had seen him in convinced her otherwise. Sometimes some of his friends came to fetch him and slowly week after week she gathered that his name was Jean, that he was French and a student in law school about to graduate. That proved to be the final turnoff and she stopped even looking at him as she knew students were hopelessly broke.
She remembered with some nostalgia her own beginnings at the faculty of arts where she had wanted to become a journalist before all of this happened. That Devil of Branislav, if it had not been for him, she would still be studying but now it was too late to change anything. It was not so bad after all she thought, only the beginning had been tough but she had got used to it now. She stared across the street at the feathered hat hiding his face but not hiding the cigar and its red glimmer in the night and her jaw clenched. If there was one person she hated in the world it was Branislav. One day she would get back at him but not now. For now, her beloved Sacha and her mother were doing well. She had got them a house in the countryside with her earnings and so many useful as well as beautiful things to put there. Twelve long years between verbal abuse and beatings until Branislav had finally agreed to give her more than 60% of her earnings of each night. The money flowed incredibly with all these tight lipped Swiss whose wives could not even do a decent job of satisfying their husbands at least monthly so she had her fair share of lonely men and regulars even though competition was becoming fiercer by the day.
On nights when she had felt too cold, she would think about the wonderful chimney Sacha and her mother had built in the country house and the wonderful and plush green sofas that they had set in front of it and used to sit in watching the fire as it warmed their feet. She had of that scene a withered photograph many times folded and unfolded so much so that it was tearing at the creases. She held it close to her heart and kissed it with fervor, carefully putting it on her night table before lying down with any client.
A small movement caught her attention and stopped her chain of thoughts. Jean was coming towards her with a piece of cake and some tea. She was all too grateful for this unexpected mercy as she had not eaten yet and it was really chilly. She gulped down the tea, partially burning her tongue as she did and ate the cake hungrily as he watched her. What’s your name he asked and she was surprised to find that his voice was strong and beautiful, not at all the soft meek voice she expected given his behavior and lanky frame. Did he think he was entitled just because of a miserable tea and a piece of cake? Her eyes shot deadly rays at him but she said nothing merely gulping down the remainder of tea. He nodded, slowly retreating and lifted both arms palms outstretched in a hopeless gesture or perhaps to say he meant no harm and grinned mouthing “I love you”. There was something endearing about his grin. He reminded her right then of Sacha.
Jasmine but you can call me Jas, she said in a low voice and this time he seemed surprised. He probably expected her to have that hoarse voice that most of the women on these streets had from hollering too much and countless Gitanes smoked to the very last bit almost to the end of the paper.
She did not smoke however and was never keen on drinks either. All her money was meticulously put aside since the day she had been given a share of her earnings and every time she had sent it back to her home in Gori Georgia where her mother made good use of it. At first Branislav had offered to have it sent to her home using a favourable rate but she knew he was no good and would actually use her money and pretend to have sent it. Even after Sacha had died and her mother was at the old age home and could no longer take care of the house at the countryside she continued sending money home instead of using it on drink, smoke or even anything fancy for herself.
Jean on the other hand seemed to like smoking. She had watched him from the corner of her eye snuff out countless cigarettes as he sat watching her. She did not care much. We all die one day she thought to herself. Sacha was there one day and then one day he had died, not even waiting for her to return and live at least a few years with him before he died. We all die, some quicker than others she thought bitterly as she remembered how some of her classmates had died that day when the bombshell had fallen in the middle of the classroom. She had been lucky to have been away to the toilet and when she came back all that met her was death and desolation as some of her friends lay there dead and others mutilated. If this was the way Jean wanted to go then it was his problem not hers. She had seen enough death in her homeland and never understood why people would want to welcome say even call for death. She had been lucky and the times when shells were being dropped on her hometown were now merely a memory. It was not the case of many of her neighbours either whom the shells had killed or mutilated like her classmates. She had been very lucky indeed. Kurta had been the siege of many battles and ultimately Sacha and her mother had decided to move to the countryside of Gori where they had stayed several years before Sacha’s death.
Jean offered her a cigarette and she refused saying she did not smoke which earned her yet another curious stare from him. He put out a hand and touched her cheek softly even as she was drawing back.
You should not, he said with that same grave and soothing voice. You are a flower and all a flower needs is sun, water and the perfect soil. You are Jasmine after all and it has a heavenly scent, you are a beautiful flower and I love you even if I don’t have the money to be with you.
The way he said it made something move inside her. The memory of Sacha’s smile flashing at her while he proposed shot through her mind. She smiled both at the memory and at Jean before pushing him away. She had just realised that she had missed out on two of her regular clients who had walked past and thinking she was transacting with Jean they had moved further ahead to one of the newer girls. She ran towards the second one who was not yet engrossed in bargaining and flashed her midriff at him.
It was Pascal, one of her older regulars who could hardly do anything at all yet she made him believe that he was being fantastic and moaned and bit her lip faking it discreetly enough that he actually believed it was real. He looked relieved that she was free after all. These younger girls did not quite get his touch and they just placidly waited which made it even more difficult for him. Jas was something else, she was an artist and he felt on top of the world with her. Sometimes he would even ask her to come away with him to some nice place he would rent for her promising he would take care of her but Jasmine could not care less for that life of safety. She knew she would earn very little and ultimately he would probably get tired of her like he had got tired of his wife and she would be left with nothing much. Her safety lay here, in working and gathering enough to retire after a few more years going back to Gori, to her mother and to Sacha even though he was dead now. She would then spend the rest of her days sitting in those green sofas, watching the fire warm her feet and cracking nuts to feed her mother with and have her mother feed her like when she was a child. She would get her out of that nursing home and take care of her. Perhaps if things went well she could even marry again, someone calm and pleasant like Sacha had been.
Pascal was his usual pleasant and unobtrusive self but after he had finished he fidgeted about and seemed to want to stay behind, unlike himself as he usually left almost immediately after. She reminded him that the night was young and that she needed to go get other customers but he raised a hand silencing her.
I am dying Jas, he said, in a resigned voice.
She looked at him, some pity stirring in her but not enough to make her want to sit there listening to him instead of earning her money.
I am so sorry but I have to go, she said in a soft voice. If you wish, you can stay a few minutes to compose yourself but when I whistle it means I have found a client and you will have to leave before we enter the room.
I am rich you know, he said sharply. I can give you a lot of money, you don’t need to leave now.
Why would you be wearing these clothes then Pascal if you were rich, she said softly gesturing towards his corduroy pants and faded shirt and coat.
I did not want my wife to spend it all so I always pretended I did not have much but there is a lot, really a lot, he added. Now I am going to die and she will waste it all with those vultures of children she has from her first marriage. I accepted them even though they were unruly adolescents and raised them paying for them as if they were my own but they never loved me, only saw me as a cash machine, paying for their bills. They never even respected me, ridiculing my height and age. I know I am not tall and am much older than their mother but I tried so hard to be kind with them; they never accepted me though. Now I don’t want them to have all that money, they would not use it well. I want you to have it, all of it. You’ve been kind to me over the years. I know you don’t love me but you have shown me more kindness and affection than my wife ever had in a very long time. I knew she had married me only as a meal ticket and as support for her children but I was grateful at the beginning to finally have a family of my own. I never knew then that it would be so horrible year after year.
Jasmine looked at him feeling sorry for him but also anxiously stole a glance at his watch. It was getting late and she was not sure he was inventing all of this. He saw the hesitation in her eyes and took out a small key from his pocket as well as a thick wad of several thousand Swiss franc notes.
I ask of you that you come with me and I will show you that I am not lying he said. This is the key of a safe in UBS that has all the papers and all the cards of the various bank accounts I have opened in the past and where I have stashed all my money from the time I was a jeweler. My wife never knew about those times and I am thankful now that I never told her. She always thought I was simply a retired teacher. This money is for you immediately for now, to compensate your time and so that you will worry less about earning for the night. In the bank accounts I have twenty million Swiss francs and I want you to have all of it but on one condition. I have maybe a couple more months or so to live but I don’t want to live them. I want to go within a couple of days but with you by my side, living as though you are my wife. I have already rented the place and will take you there now if you come with me.
Jasmine did not hesitate one instant as the amount he was offering her then and there was enough to cover several months of income. She did not really care whether the story about the money was true and was willing to do it just for the amount he was waving in front of her. Soon enough she found herself in a small but cozy apartment where there was a huge refrigerator and a TV as well as a whole living room with a small corner as a dining room. She had never seen anything so wonderful in her whole life. She hugged Pascal and set about to be what he expected of her.
You are a flower and must be handled delicately, he said smiling on the second day and he seemed younger and happy. His smile almost reminded her of Sacha and Jean. Tomorrow I will buy the morphine and you must help me so I can inject it properly. My old hands shake too much he said with an apologetic smile. Today we will go to the bank and I will show you everything.
Jasmine merely smiled. She did not truly believe that he had the money but what a shock expected her that afternoon. He did have all that money and she felt faint at the idea that she was about to receive this vast sum. She could not even begin to imagine what she could possibly do with so much money. She had never in her life imagined what it would be possible to do with even one hundredth of such an amount. Not even in her wildest dreams could she have even thought of this. As they came out of the bank, she saw Branislav’s feathered hat and her heart froze. Was he following them? Had he heard anything?
She looked at Pascal but he seemed oblivious to the presence of Branislav whom he had only identified as some bodyguard she kept not too far from her home. The days of actual pimping were gone and even though she had been subjected to Branislav’s harsh taming twelve years ago, today all prostitutes were officially free to do as they please so he could not attack her in broad daylight. She was supposedly registered as an official sex worker without a pimp. Obviously everybody pretended the old pimping system did not work anymore but the ladies still gave a significant amount of their income (most of the time over half of it) for the protection of their “bodyguards”. Over my dead body she thought to herself. He would never have a dime of that fortune she was about to get.
When she looked again Branislav had disappeared and she breathed a sigh of relief. Perhaps it was by coincidence that he had been there. Nobody came to the apartment and she started fully relaxing. The next morning, they went to the pharmacy where Pascal had a friend and he got his dose of morphine. Jasmine asked him if he was sure he wanted to do this and he nodded firmly yes.
I don’t want to be a decrepit old man dying of cancer and losing all my teeth and hair in a useless effort to delay the inevitable. The cancer is generalised now and it is all over my body. I am too old to suffer one surgery after another before I even reach the chemotherapy time. I just want to go my own way. All I ask is that you stay by me and have me buried appropriately afterwards.
I will, said Jasmine.
She felt a pang of guilt wondering if she was not protesting more simply because she would get so much money when he died or because she truly respected his wishes. Thinking back to how important free will was for her and how much she had suffered during her taming when she had been deprived of her free will, she reckoned she actually did want to respect his wishes.
Jasmine sat next to the bed full of white rose petals (his favourite flower) and with candles all around it some white flowers strewn across the floor of the apartment including jasmine as a reference to her proximity to him, just like he had asked her to prepare it. He prepared the needle and as she watched him he smiled at her asking her to remove her clothes and lie down next to him. This was part of the deal and although the thought of lying next to a dead body disgusted her, she realised that at least she could help him go away with some love around him so she stripped and lay down beside him. He asked her to just hold his elbow so that his hand would not shake too much and she felt him fumbling around and when his body slowly relaxed she realised he had injected himself with the lethal dose. Slowly, she felt him slip into eternal sleep his arm around her waist and bizarrely she herself felt exhausted and sleep overtook her too.
A few hours later, she woke up not remembering where she was before the touch of the cold body next to hers brought the memories back. Pascal was ice cold and his fingers as well his toes were curled up and rigid. She stared for a long time into his unseeing eyes before she slowly closed them and put five Swiss francs on each of his eyelids to keep them closed as they would not stay closed. She put her clothes back on sluggishly. It seemed like this whole staging of his death in those perfect conditions had got the better of her nerves or perhaps it was the first time that she had ever slept so soundly in the apartment those two nights before this afternoon and sleep was catching up on her. She packed her belongings neatly into one bag and took the small key to the safe that she slid into one of her gloves before putting on her coat and stepping out of the apartment. She must go about alerting the police somehow and then must arrange for his funeral just as she had promised him she would do.
The minute she had stepped out of the apartment, Branislav swooped upon her choking her with one hand and with the other motioning her to stay quiet with a large knife he raised to his ugly lips curling upwards in a sneer. She felt her heart sink and thought that he must have heard her talking with Pascal two nights ago but he just shoved her back inside the flat barking at her to give him Pascal’s wallet. He told her he had followed them and realised that the poor bloke must have emptied his account and she must be leaving with the jackpot. Her heart sank again when he jeered at her while telling this.
How much did he give you that old fool? Ten thousand? Fifteen thousand? You hit the jackpot eh you little whore? You’ve never seen so much money in one go. How much, he repeated, jabbing at her arm with the knife as she just stared at him in shock, the truth of his stupidity and utter ignorance on so many levels just sinking into her relieved but numbed mind.
He jabbed at her again calling her a whore and a good for nothing who wanted to cheat him out of his money. He kept jeering at her, saying that she might have been the goods but that without the craft of his years of training she would never have even been worth ten Swiss francs. He kept calling her a whore and poking her with the knife and the constant jabbing with the drops of blood falling on the flowers strewn across the floor just made her snap.
All of a sudden she caught hold of the knife from the top of it yanking it out of his reach and it fell with a clang on the floor. They struggled and he slapped her across the face but when she did not sit still like she had grown accustomed to when he would slap her that way, he hit her again with the full force of his fist across her jaw. She reeled under the blow and fell to her knees. He went to where her purse had fell and took out the wad of thousand Swiss francs counting and laughing like a manic while repeating “Fifty thousand Swiss francs for such a cheap whore. Pascal oh Pascal you were a bigger old fool than I thought” he laughed to himself. She got up slowly attempting to make a quick exit to the door but he was upon her in no time and determined to tame her again as she seemed to have gone wild.
I will teach you how to obey he panted, frothing at the mouth in anger that she had tried to keep from him the fifty thousand francs. He hit her again across the face with his closed fist and her lip opened while at the same time she felt her teeth crack and she tasted her own blood. He took out the knife again from his waist where he had secured it and slowly, with purpose, waved it in front of her to ensure that she fully realised what he was about to do.
Yes, you’re guessing right, he said as he saw the wild look in her eyes. I am going to tattoo you with Pascal across your face so you remember why your face looks so ugly. Nobody decent will ever want to be your client again so I will sell you to one of the captains at the docks. I am done with you, stupid little whore, he snarled
I am a flower, I am a flower, she screamed at him her eyes turning red with rage before she blacked out.
Somehow a few minutes after she found herself on top of him, her hands covered with his blood which was oozing from all over his body covered in wounds. She did not understand what had happened and remained in that state of bewilderment throughout her time in prison while she awaited her trial. Jean visited her many times. The neighbours had alerted the police when they had heard her screaming and he reassured her that everything would be alright because it had to be self-defense even though the circumstances were a bit strange.
Later on, she learnt from him and from the lawyer who defended her – a fine lawyer whom Jean had paid with money he had begged from his folks apparently without telling them what it was for – that she seemed to have stabbed Branislav twenty-three times all over his body. Considering the number of the blows she had dealt and the fact that he was already dead before she had stabbed him the fourth time, it was a difficult case to defend but the self-defense theory stood valid considering her cracked lip, broken jaw and teeth as well as the history of Branislav who was notorious for beating up the women he was supposed to be the bodyguard of. Aside from that, breaking the law of silence that shrouded the Pâquis, one young prostitute had testified about the taming techniques of the unofficial pimps in the Pâquis and her defense lawyer immediately used all of that to argue on the grounds of self-defense coupled with temporary insanity.
When finally, it looked like she would be getting away free after just a few weeks in jail during her trial, she felt relieved and started understanding what exactly had happened while people in the courtroom continued to discuss the case around her. She seemed to have got the energy of desperation that allowed her to overpower Branislav before he could carve out her face and ruin her life forever as she would never have been able to retire and go back to Gori and her mother. After that probably the years of hatred had taken over her making her unable to stop. Whatever it was, she did not feel sorry for him. He had deserved to die and she was glad it was he who was lying six feet under now and not her.
At the final stages of the trial, the judge asked her to rise and said she could say a few words if she wished before the jury’s verdict. She stood up and looked around, not finding anything to say. When the judge pressed her again on whether she wanted to say something, she gazed at him and then back towards where Jean was, where he had been sitting during those few weeks that the trial had carried on.
I am a flower, she said. She noticed the sneering of the people in the front row as they looked at her but she did not care. Jean was looking at her, his eyes shining and on his face that grin which he had given her when he had brought her the cake and the tea. I am a flower she repeated in a stronger voice, her face flushed with pride.
When she left the prison, she was given all her belongings including that small key she had so feared not to find again. The policemen had found it in her glove and kept it aside when she was at the prison hospital shortly after the murder of Branislav. Jean came to fetch her as she was leaving the prison. She toyed with the idea of telling him everything but decided it was too soon. She just hugged him and told him she had an errand that afternoon but would be back later.
She emptied all the accounts that had been transferred to their joint names before Pascal’s death and created new accounts in her name like he had taught her to do that day. In one of the accounts she put a few tens of thousands more than the amount that Jean had paid for her lawyer and spoke to him about it. She told him that he could take all the money but he insisted that he would find an arrangement with his parents and she could not use her hard earned money for she would then find herself penniless and he did not want her to go back to working as a prostitute.
She felt terrible when he told her this and was so close to telling him about the larger amount but decided not to do so. She chose to only tell him that actually she had almost three hundred thousand Swiss francs stashed away and they could buy a small house in the countryside with it. She had seen how year after year men could tire of their wives and how they could start hating them when the marriage turned awry, just like Pascal had hated his wife. She did not want to take the risk of what would happen if that hatred was coupled with the knowledge that a fortune was to be had if only she were dead. Yes, he loved her today but tomorrow was another day. She smiled to herself and slid the card into his jacket pocket.
Take it she said and at least reimburse your parents. We will work on acquiring the rest for our retirement slowly together. I always wanted to have a house by the countryside and turn it into a bed and breakfast. You can work from home and take only the cases that interest you.
That’s a wonderful idea he said. We can have a beautiful chimney and sit in front of it during the winter months roasting chestnuts and our feet while the guests sleep
Yes we can do that she said, smiling slowly.
He really reminded her a lot of Sacha she thought as he took her arm and guided her to the train which was going to the airport. They had decided that finally she would bring her mother to Switzerland and they would all live in the countryside of Vaud. After all, it was a much safer country than Georgia. She was really lucky she thought, already back then when she had gone to the toilet by coincidence just as a shell had fallen into her classroom. She just hoped her luck would not run out. She slowly lay her head on Jean’s shoulder as the train began its journey towards the airport.
You know Jean, she said in a low voice, I am a flower. They both laughed.