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3 poems by Max Jacob

Poem in a Mode that Isn’t Mine

to you, Rimbaud

My horse tripped over the semiquavers! The notes splatter up to the green sky of my soul: the eighth sky!

Apollo was a doctor and me I’m a pianist of the heart, if not in fact. It would be necessary, with the flats and all the bars, to unload the scribbled steamers, to collect the tiny battle flags to compose some canticles.

The minuscule, it’s huge! Whoever conceived Napoleon as an insect between two branches of a tree, who painted him a nose too large in watercolor, who rendered his court with shades too tender, wasn’t he greater than Napoleon himself, o Ataman Prajapati!

The minuscule, it’s the note!

Man bears upon himself photographs of his ancestors like Napoleon bore God, o Spinoza! Me, my ancestors, these are the notes of harps. God had conceived St. Helena and the sea between two branches of a tree. My black horse has a good eye, though albino, but he tripped on the harp notes.

Poem of the Moon

There are on the night sky three mushrooms, which are the moon. As abruptly as sings the cuckoo from a clock, they rearrange themselves each month at midnight. There are in the garden some rare flowers which are little men at rest that wake up every morning. There is in my dark room a luminous shuttle that roves, then two … phosphorescent aerostats, they’re the reflections of a mirror. There is in my head a bee that talks.

Translated from the German or the Bosnian

To Madame Edouard Fillacier

My horse stops! I fear yours stops as well, comrade! between the slopes of the hill and us, the grassy slopes of the hill, it’s a woman, if it’s not a great cloud. Stop! she calls me! she calls me and I see her beating breast! her arm signals me to follow, her arm … if her arm is not a cloud.

— Stop, comrade, I’m afraid, stop! Between the trees on the hill, the tilted trees on the hill, I saw an eye, if this eye was not a cloud. It fixes me, disturbs me; stop! It follows our steps on the road, if this eye is not a cloud.

— Listen, comrade! phantoms, lives of this world or another, we don’t speak of these beings in the village so as not to be treated as irksome.

Max Jacob (1876-1944) was a French poet and artist whose circle of friends included Guillaume Apollinaire, Jean Cocteau, and Pablo Picasso. Born Jewish, he later converted to Catholicism. Jacob died of pneumonia in an internment camp. These poems are from his book Le cornet dés (1914).

Elisa Gabbert’s recent work can be found in Colorado Review, Diagram, Pleiades, Washington Square, and other journals. She is the author of two chapbooks from Kitchen Press, Thanks for Sending the Engine (2007) and My Fear of X (forthcoming). She is also co-author, with Rooney, of Something Really Wonderful (dancing girl press, 2007) and That Tiny Insane Voluptuousness (Otoliths, 2008).

Kathleen Rooney is the editor of Rose Metal Press and the author of Reading with Oprah: The Book Club That Changed America (University of Arkansas Press, 2005) and the forthcoming memoir Live Nude Girl: My Life as an Object (Arkansas, 2009), as well as the poetry collection Oneiromance (an epithalamion) (Switchback Books, 2008). She lives in Chicago.