Translation p. 2

Still, I was a really bad poet.
I didn't know how to take it all the way.
I was hungry
And all those days and all those women in all those cafés and all those
I wanted to drink them down and break them
And all those windows and all those streets
And all those houses and all those lives
And all those carriage wheels raising swirls from the broken pavement
I would have liked to have rammed them into a roaring furnace
And I would have liked to have ground up all their bones
And ripped out all those tongues
And liquefied all those big bodies naked and strange under clothes that
   drive me mad . . .
I foresaw the coming of the big red Christ of the Russian Revolution . . .
And the sun was an ugly sore
Splitting apart like a red-hot coal.

Back then I was still quite young
I was barely sixteen but I’d already forgotten about where I was born
I was in Moscow wanting to wolf down flames
And there weren’t enough of those towers and stations sparkling in
   my eyes
In Siberia the artillery rumbled—it was war
Hunger cold plague cholera
And the muddy waters of the Amur carrying along millions of corpses
In every station I watched the last trains leave
That’s all: they weren't selling any more tickets
And the soldiers would far rather have stayed . . .
An old monk was singing me the legend of Novgorod.

Me, the bad poet who wanted to go nowhere, I could go anywhere
And of course the businessmen still had enough money
To go out and seek their fortunes.
Their train left every Friday morning.
It sounded like a lot of people were dying.
One guy took along a hundred cases of alarm clocks and cuckoo clocks
   from the Black Forest
Another took hatboxes, stovepipes, and an assortment of Sheffield
Another, coffins from Malmo filled with canned goods and sardines
   in oil
And there were a lot of women
Women with vacant thighs for hire
Who could also serve
They were all licensed
It sounded like a lot of people were dying out there
The women traveled at a reduced fare
And they all had bank accounts.

Now, one Friday morning it was my turn to go
It was in December
And I left too, with a traveling jewel merchant on his way to Harbin
We had two compartments on the express and 34 boxes of jewelry from
German junk “Made in Germany”
He had bought me some new clothes and I had lost a button getting on
   the train
—I remember, I remember, I’ve often thought about it since—
I slept on the jewels and felt great playing with the nickel-plated
   Browning he had given me
I was very happy and careless

Detail of Blaise Cendrars (1887–1961), La Prose du Transsibérien et de la petite Jehanne de France. Illustrations by Sonia Delaunay-Terk (Paris: Éditions des hommes nouveaux, 1913). Gift of Dr. Gail Levin, 2021; PML 198726 © Blaise Cendrars/Succession Cendrars. © Pracusa 20230412