Translation p. 9


At Irkutsk the trip suddenly slows down
Really drags
We were the first train to wind around Lake Baikal
The locomotive was decked out with flags and lanterns
And we had left the station to the sad sound of “God Save the Czar.”
If I were a painter I would splash lots of red and yellow over the end of
   this trip
Because I think we were all slightly crazy
And that an overwhelming delirium brought blood to the exhausted
   faces of my traveling companions
As we came closer to Mongolia
Which roared like a forest fire.
The train had slowed down
And in the perpetual screeching of wheels I heard
The insane sobbing and screaming
Of an eternal liturgy

I saw
I saw the silent trains the black trains returning from the Far East and
   going by like phantoms
And my eyes, like tail lights, are still trailing along behind those trains
At Talga 100,000 wounded were dying with no help coming
I went to the hospitals in Krasnoyarsk
And at Khilok we met a long convoy of soldiers gone insane
I saw in quarantine gaping sores and wounds with blood gushing out
And the amputated limbs danced around or flew up in the raw air
Fire was in their faces and in their hearts
Idiot fingers drumming on all the windowpanes
And under the pressure of fear an expression would burst like an abscess
In all the stations they had set fire to all the cars
And I saw
I saw trains with 60 locomotives streaking away chased by hot horizons
   and desperate crows
In the direction of Port Arthur.

At Chita we had a few days’ rest
A five-day stop while they cleared the tracks
We stayed with Mr. Iankelevitch who wanted me to marry his only
Then it was time to go.
Now I was the one playing the piano and I had a toothache
And when I want I can see it all again those quiet rooms the store and
   the eyes of the daughter who slept with me every night
And the lieder of Hugo Wolf
And the sands of the Gobi Desert
And at Khailar a caravan of white camels
I’d swear I was drunk for over 300 miles
But I was playing the piano—it’s all I saw
You should close your eyes on a trip
And sleep
I was dying to sleep

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