Sleep Log

By Alain Borer Alain Borer

Translated from the French by Mark Irwin and Alain Borer Read the translator's notes

           Derelict thoughts
   (scattered over the South Pacific)
       of one dying in the ship’s hold
somewhere between 15–30 degrees latitude
and 135–150 degrees southern longitude
at the crux of time stretched to its limit.

   The ocean never finishes in the wake of boats.

   An unceasing torment infinitely prolonged
that I would not wish on my worst enemy.
Especially since my worst enemy is myself.

   I cross the South Pacific like a deserted countryside
on a winter’s night: not even a beast in sight.

Reduced to its own insularity, I becomes island.

   When seasick there’s no place for Narcissus: one
cannot drink one’s own likeness.


   In this singular life we can only scout new places.  

   Other than obligation, what keeps us on this earth?    

   Every day approaches death—some more than others.


   In the year 14,000 the Southern Cross will shine over Paris...
   We will no longer exist, neither perhaps will Paris...
   But I will be here in a certain manner, if only to know it.

   There is no black box or recorder for ships. They disappear completely.
   A ship’s black box is called the coffin. But the only coffins that one
sees on the ocean are the ships themselves.

   There is also a black box within you. It’s the frailness of humans;
they wear that fragility on the outside—Eros, a child, a book.

   For boats, there are packages heavier and not hurried:
I travel like that, a package in order, but a piece of mail.


   The universe is curved like a banana.

   I am an atheist because God does not believe enough in me.

   He was so afraid of death that arriving in old age he
felt stupid.

—To search for God without expectation.


   Life opens, gives and invites you—or it goes to hell.

   One must live to write. Our time here is for utterance.

—Sad animal post-cogitum.


   Linger only with healthy ideas. Salty ones.

   Stupor is second nature.

   There are those born too soon and those born
too late who preserve with haunting smiles the mistakes,
the traces. And the one born at the right moment is
forever vivid, intensely illuminating  each instant.

   To write is to leave the world’s surface, to descend
under the sea; the smallest pencil is my tuba.

   One doesn’t report great things from grand
events, the one suffering from depression thinks.
After his world tour, Bougainville extravagantly
gave his name to a flower; the botanist La Billardière
gave his name to a type of grass—not bad; and you,
to what?—A pail for vomit?

FOOTNOTES: To see this poem as it was originally printed in Poetry magazine, download the pdf.

NOTES: To see this poem as it was originally printed in Poetry magazine, download the pdf.

Source: Poetry (March 2012).


This poem originally appeared in the March 2012 issue of Poetry magazine

March 2012


Alain Borer is a poet, novelist, art critic, and playwright, as well as an internationally-known specialist on the work of Arthur Rimbaud. His published works include Rimbaud in Abyssinia (William Morrow, 1991), Icare & I don’t (Editions de Seuil, 2007), and Le ciel & la carte (Editions de Seuil, 2010), winner of the Pierre Mac Orlan Prize.

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Living, Life Choices, The Body, Activities, Travels & Journeys

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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