From the Notebooks of Anne Verveine

Diebenkorn Girl in White Blouse 1962

Richard Diebenkorn, Girl in White Blouse, 1962


From the Notebooks of Anne Verveine

By Rosanna Warren




When his dogs leapt on Actaeon, he

cried (did he cry out?)—He flung


his arm to command, they tore his hand

from the wrist stump, tore


guts from his belly through the tunic, ripped

the cry from his throat.


That’s how we know a god, when the facts

leap at the tenderest innards, and we know


the god is what we can’t change. You

stood over me as I woke, I opened my eyes, I saw


that I’d seen and that it was too

late: the seeing


of you in the doorway with weak electric light

fanning behind you in the hall, and my room and narrow pallet steeped in shadow


were what I couldn’t change, and distantly

I wanted you, and, as distantly,


I heard the dogs, baying.





And yet the fountain spends itself, and it is

in the clear


light of its losing that we seem

to take delight:


you dipped your hand in its running braid

to sprinkle my forehead, my lips.


Garden deities observed us: three nymphs

with moss staining their haunches, a pug-nosed faun.


The wound in water closed

perfectly around your gesture, erasing it,


so that only the glimmer, swiftly

drying, on my face recalled


our interruption

of the faultless, cold, passionate, perpetual


idea of the stream’s descent—

which, unlike ours, would always be renewed.





I kissed a flame, what did I expect.


Those days, you painted in fire. Tangerine, gold:

one would have had to be a pilgrim to walk

through that wall of molten glass.


And purification

could be conceived, if not

attained, only after many years,


in autumn, in a fire greater than yours,

though menstrual blood still tinged the threshold

and our ex-votos were sordid—scraps of blistered flesh


taped to kitsch prayer cards—and neither of us knew

the object of this exercise, except

having, inadvertently, each of us, burned


we recognized the smell

of wood smoke, the slow swirl

flakes of wood ash make in heavy air;


and we were ready, each in a private way, to make

the gifts the season required.

Mine was the scene


of my young self in your arms,

eyes in your eyes, clutched in the effort

to give each other away—when I glimpsed


behind your pleasure, fear; behind

fear, anger; and knew

in a bolt some gifts


conceal a greater gift.

I have kept it. Now I am ready to give it back

into darker flame


in this season of goldenrod, the ardent weed,

and Queen Anne’s lace in its mantilla of ash.

And yet, how lumpishly, how stupidly I stand.


How much that is human will never burn.





And if you should answer?

I listened, years before I knew you, to the whine

of wind through the high stony pastures above my childhood village;


I breathed lavender and thyme and burned my bare legs

on nettles, scraped them on thistles, and rubbed

the sore skin till it reddened all the more. When we


walked the uplands together, you burned your hand

and I kissed the crimsoning nettle-rash. “We are the Lords of need,”

you said Hafiz said,


and I believed you, and we were.

In the rugs of your country, carmine is crushed

from insects, cochineal; saffron gold


is boiled from crocus stamens; and indigo

of heaven and fountain pools is soaked, hours upon hours,

from indigo leaves. “Like the angel Harut,”


you said, “We are in the calamity of love-desire.”

The angel is chained by neck and knees, head down, in the pit of Babel

for falling in love. Your carpets


told a different story: scarlet and saffron

blush as in Paradise, and God reveals himself

in wine, flame, tulips, and the light in a mortal eye.


All night you held me, sleepless, on my childhood cot in the stone house;

all night the wind seethed through crags and twisted olive trees,

high on the scents of thyme and goat droppings. “All night,”


Hafiz sang, “I hope the breeze of dawn will cherish the lovers.”

But the breeze of dawn is the angel of death.

You are in your far landscape now, I am in mine:


the wind complains and I can’t understand the words.

And if you should answer?

You, ten years away, in a different wind.


“We are in the calamity,” Hafiz sang. “But tell the tale

of the minstrel and of wine, and leave time alone. Time

is a mystery no skill will solve.” We should


thread words like pearls, you said, and the grateful sky

would scatter the Pleiades upon us

though we couldn’t see, and that was long ago.





The carpet is not a story. It is a place,

garden of crisscrossed pathways, labyrinth,

fountain, pool, and stream.


As though the fabric had ripped at the vanishing point

at the top of the street

of ashen façades and slate-sloped roofs, you stepped


through the gap, out of your own world.

I had already lost my world.

We met in a torn design


which we tore further, pulling the tall warp,

thread wrapped tightly around our fingers until it bit the flesh

and the rue de Lille unravelled.


I know about design: it’s my job,

arranging other people’s letters in star charts

that phosphoresce in the dark between the closed covers of books.


You knew about design from the holes

blown through your country.

We spoke in a language of no country on earth.


You moved slowly, in shadow, teaching the shadows

to echo my name. You ripped my shirt at the neck.

Was it The Beloved I held, holding you?


Down the middle of the carpet the river

weaves a thousand gray glimmers into the deeper green.

The river knows about mourning; that’s its job.


How many years has it practiced? With such fleet fingers. A man

woke me at dawn this morning, sobbing and cursing in the street,

reeling from sidewalk to gutter and back again.


On my long gray street, the rue de Lille, where I still live.




NOTES: Anne Verveine is an imaginary French poet. She was born in 1965 in the village of Magagnosc in the Alpes Maritimes, and attended the lycée in Grasse. She never studied at a university. She lived obscurely in Paris, avoiding literary society and working as a typographer and designer for a small publisher of art books. She published a few poems in provincial journals, but no book of her own work. She was last seen hitchhiking in Uzbekistan in August 2000; is presumed kidnapped or dead. Anne Verveine’s sister found these poems in notebooks in the poet’s small apartment in Paris after her disappearance.

I translate them.



“From the Notebooks of Anne Verveine” from Departure,

W. W. Norton & Co., 2003



On September 25th, 2012, at 4:30pm Rosanna Warren, Bain-Swiggett Vis­it­ing Pro­fes­sor of Poetry, will be reading and discussing her work in McCosh 40 as part of the Princeton Contemporary Poetry Colloquium‘s guest speaker series.