Translation p. 3


It was like Cops and Robbers
We had stolen the treasure of Golconda
And we were taking it on the Trans-Siberian to hide it on the other side
   of the world
I had to guard it from the thieves in the Urals who had attacked the
   circus caravan in Jules Verne
From the Khunkhuz, the Boxers of China
And the angry little Mongols of the Great Lama
Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves
And the followers of the terrible Old Man of the Mountain
And worst of all, the most modern
The cat burglars
And the specialists of the international express.

And still, and still
I was as sad as a little boy
The rhythms of the train
What American psychiatrists call “railroad nerves”
The noise of doors voices axles screeching along frozen rails
The golden thread of my future
My Browning the piano the swearing of the card players in the next
The terrific presence of Jeanne
The man in blue glasses nervously pacing up and down the corridor
   and glancing in at me
Swishing of women
And the whistle blowing
And the eternal sound of the wheels wildly rolling along ruts in the sky
The windows frosted over
No nature!
And out there the Siberian plains the low sky the big shadows of the
   Taciturns rising and falling
I’m asleep in a tartan
Like my life
With my life keeping me no warmer than this Scotch
And all of Europe seen through the wind-cutter of an express at top
No richer than my life
My poor life
This shawl
Frayed on strongboxes full of gold
I roll along with
And smoke
And the only flame in the universe
Is a poor thought . . .

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