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Coming and Going

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As long as you believe in miracles
You watch the sun fall into the sea
Every evening
Then you turn your back and sink
Among the ferns sparkling from a moon or from the other
Night up to your knees under the vault of cries.   
The pubescent monkeys, the adolescent pumas
Contemplate the slender crescent
Of the earth
In the eyes of a dead viper
That knots on the asphalt
The alpha of a future alphabet.   
It’s the end of night the mosquitoes
Place themselves on your forehead and die with you
In the ruins of your dreams erected
By the distant suggestions of cities
Where you wish to find an empty
Bed to die in.   
The cathedrals the cinemas the soliloquies
The beggar’s ear glued to the violin
To be lovesick when the songs
All temple prostitutes all rotgut for two cents
Are going to end up in the pink slit of a jukebox.   
Hope is under the hand that weak flesh
Groped massaged turgescent with eyes shut
Comes and goes
Let’s keep knotted kisses to ourselves for a long time
Until another day erases
The trace of each passing.

“Coming and Going” from The Landscapist: Selected Poems by Pierre Martory, translated by John Ashbery. English translation copyright 1961, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2008 by John Ashbery. Reprinted by permission of Georges Borchardt, Inc., on behalf of John Ashbery. All rights reserved.
Source: The Landscapist (The Sheep Meadow Press, 2008)

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This poem originally appeared in the June 1993 issue of Poetry magazine

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Coming and Going

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  • French poet Pierre Martory was born in Bayonne, France, grew up in Morocco, and attended the School of Political Science in Paris. He fled Paris before the Germans arrived and served in the French Army in Morocco during World War II. After the war, he worked as a drama and music critic for Paris-Match and published a novel, Phébus ou le beau marriage (1953). In 1956, he met the poet John Ashbery in Paris; he and Ashbery lived together for nine years, and Ashbery eventually became his English translator.

    His collections of poetry include Every Question but One (1990), The Landscape Is Behind the Door (1994), Veilleur de jours (1997), and the posthumous Oh, Lac / Oh, Lake (2008) and The Landscapist: Selected Poems (2008). Martory’s poetry is often associative and surreal, sharing some similarities with the work of Ashbery. Mark Ford, reviewing The Landscapist in the Times Literary Supplement, described...

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