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Bastille

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You let your shirt hang down
putting on airs of cuffs
at the edge of ending night
like the end of a java with double ritournelles
or the way the canaries in the cage of still-closed mornings
were singing that it mattered little
to them that their windows were open
the stones the paving stones the door-frames the armatures
the window-frames the sheets of the bed clothes in their colors
were beating the dawn along with us
better drums than your belly
better drumsticks than my fingers
and the trees and the roofs the river and its bridges
the clear distances of the city the factories without smoke
bathed as at their birth stammered
a trial hello
that only ended however
in this word round as a doubloon
placed on the edge of that day
by a considerate friend
the sun on your arms naked against my cheeks
hello I said to you
the day of quatorz’juillet

“Bastille” 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 October 2000 issue of Poetry magazine

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Bastille

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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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