Translator's notes

HOW ELSE TO SEE THE SKY

By ARIANE DREYFUS

A girl, alone, nameless, walks out into the sea. ‘The others’ stay behind on the beach. Who are they? Male, or male and female, lurking in the masculine plural restés. The water is cold, but not embêtante, a childish word which here suggests relief: the sea gives her no unwanted attention.

Her princesse is not that dolled-up fairy-tale cipher for female submission, with its corsets and whalebone hoops. This girl – heading out of her depth, drawing a wake of glittering water – channels the grandeur of the deep feminine mysteries of the sea, and the sun, source of creation: Le soleil y va, en profondeur

French has more possessive forms than English, expressing different relationships with body parts. Consider the strangeness (for English) of son bras, sa jambe, (whose limbs?), and elle lève les coudes (‘she lifts the elbows’). I wanted to play with these possibilities in my translation, thinking about the control and lack of control girls have over their maturing bodies, and the embodiment/disembodiment found in the ambiguity of personne (‘somebody/nobody’), the last word in the poem. 

The first (French) word on the page is rien (‘nothing’), and so, in one reading, what frames the vertiginous sweep of the sky, the endless horizon and bottomless sea – is nothing, and nobody. The normalising constraint felt in the original title, and perhaps implicit in the presence of the group back on the beach, is barely sensed by her, here. 

In the sea, transparency is effortless: it offers a new model for existence. Her royal train, her splendour and power, are fluid, and invisible, as her body becomes weightless, porous – pure being. Here, in the portable form of a poem, Dreyfus opens up a vast, free space, where a girl can connect to the infinite, where she discovers escape as a form of resistance.

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