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Piqueray brothers Gabriel and Marcel Piqueray

From an Afterword to the Works of Gabriel and Marcel Piqueray

By Philippe Dewolf

Translated by Robert Archambeau Robert Archambeau and Jean-Luc Garneau

1. Tuning In

Marcel and Gabriel Piqueray are twin brothers. The fact that they were born together on March 2, 1920, under the sign of Pisces, didn't mean that they would write in similar styles, though. Instead, it led to both great complicities and violent disagreements, in speech and in writing. But, as in a well regulated duel, the brothers always stopped at the first drop of blood. It has been noted that their sensibilities and their characters are essentially different. On occasion, of course, a few words or lines by one of them appear in the other's text, but not often. Usually, only the signature is in common. As Marcel Piqueray explained in 1944, their names had been and would remain inseparable: “one signature, one station signal, as they say on radio; one overall station signal for the Piquerist state of mind.” Five concerns characterize this state of mind: the quotidian, angst, tenderness, the fantastic, and humor.

Beyond Gestures, the Piqueray's first book, appeared in 1941. Three poets supported it enthusiastically. Chistian Dotremont wrote, in a promotional brochure, “you have an atrociously intelligent candor and your form mocks the eyes gaping at your quotidian revelations.” In his brief preface Paul Colinet calls their poetry a site for “demanding exercises in slow reading.” Finally, Marcel Lecomte writes that: “A certain brightness of the text illuminates the face of the reader.” Marcel Lecomte taught at the Athenee Royal d'Etterbeek when the Piqueray brothers were students there — Gabriel in 1937, Marcel in 1939. His influence on the choice of prose poems collected in Beyond Gestures was enormous. The brothers have said that, at the beginning, they owed everything to him: Lecomte had convinced them to read Franz Kafka and Sigmund Freud. Beyond Gestures is composed of a series of texts in which the quotidian, banal universe is observed in its tiniest details, the most unremarkable and the most revealing.

Four Prose Poems from Beyond Gestures and a poem

Translated by Robert Archambeau and Jean-Luc Garneau

The Raft Of The Medusa

for Geneviève, for Nathalie, for Jacques

55555 I speak of the folding, Y-shaped cane, a tool often used by hunters and horse-racing regulars — the former to make their aim more deadly, the latter as a portable, revolving chair, to follow more easily the movements of their circling horses. They say that Formality, everywhere, uses his all the time, being so stunned and so breathless at the merest suggestion of the chanciness of life.

Hidden Light

55555 This stately, low-wheeled carriage loaded with bright yellow boards never ceases to amaze people when they see it coming around the corner of the deserted street, pushed by a man in an apron.
55555 It is such a strange vehicle, too majestic for this kind of cargo, such an unexpected and improvised means of transport — but somehow you know you've seen it before, though you can't remember where. You're so sure of this that you're fixated by the sight of it, trivial as can be, as it rolls silently down the middle of the quiet street, through the middle of neighborhoods of accumulated memories through which we must walk, to understand.

A Day in the Life of Mésange

55555 “I'm going to eat sand,” announced Mésange.
55555 Then she started working the sewing machine. The machine itself sat high on a table with propped-up legs. To reach the pedal, Mésange had to strain, lifting her leg uncomfortably high. Soon this wore her out, and she lifted first her left leg, then her right, in a tremendous effort completely disproportionate to the end result.
55555 Things did not go well: the machine worked erratically, grinding terribly and constantly threatening to flip over and crash to the kitchen floor. Mésange kept at it, though, pushing the pedal harder and harder, sweating to make the wheel go just a little bit faster.
55555 In the end, noticing that the object pierced by the needle was no mere handkerchief but the smooth, shiny body of a fish, she gave it up, letting her tired legs rest.
55555 Her father, seeing her sighing and easing her her right leg down gingerly, said: “Come on Mésange, cheer up. Sure, today may not have been a big success. But so what? Don't let it get you down: tomorrow's another day! You're a resourceful girl — where's your confidence! Think of the future!” 55555
Consoled, Mésange went and kissed her dolls, set the table, and played at cooking sand.

What Happens in a Golden Summer

55555 The princess passes: a visit to the Hall of Mirrors. The guards are there, smoking their pipes. She takes a pipe from one of them, tastes it: it is unpleasantly bitter. There is blood on the pipe.
55555 The princess passes: a visit to the geometric gardens. Dukes, barons, and marquises loiter by the hedges. The August evening is thick with lilac. Her breast heaves deeply as she takes in the scented air. There is blood on the lilacs.
55555 The princess passes: a visit to the kitchens. There, she finds boards laden with roasted joints, orange peel, pheasant feathers, sage bouquets. The smell of garlic, the scent of burning evergreens, clouds of gnats. Two servants fight behind the princess. Their struggle is fierce and cunning. One of them pulls out his knife, and hurls it at his rival. The blade whirls through the air, missing its goal. The princess is hit, cries out and falls dead, the dagger in her back.
55555 A storm bursts over all of France.
55555 There is blood in the King's kitchens.


for Boris, for my Jewish sisters, and
for my Jewish brothers.

Mute as a Carp
the film by Boris Lehman,
moves me deeply.

Bathtub (murder)
Generic (animation)
Pond (fishing)
Fishmarket (large spaces)
Kitchen (preparation - chanting in the synagogue)
Prayer at the edge of the canal
Lighting of the candles (grandmother)
Meal (prayer - slower pacing)

The Pond
The Night


Oh Jew!
Yes, the omnipresence
Of white

Shallow pan
Car trunk

Yes, night
Yes, murder

Yes, the ancestors
Yes, the cantor
Yes, the blood
In the tub
Yes, the glass of red wine
On the white tablecloth

Yes, we are all of us,

Sometimes one of them
For a while
In escaping
The nets
Of Death

No to the Shoah
No to sacrifice
This shadow of reality
Calls out with a psalm of David

Here is
The meeting
The plenitude
The fervor
The blessing

The Table
Of the Feast
Of “eating together”

You understand

The good