Rimbaud in Africa

            I am sending you a bird’s head in a steel box filled with alcohol. I believe this 
           bird is unique to the Harar area; it is  known here as koumou.Perhaps you 
           saw it when you were here. It is the size of a large turkey, and is completely 
           black.

  

Forgetting for a moment the dangerous imprecisions of the spirit. On the 
docks,   in    Harar,   where    the   ships  drift.    On  the   docks.   In  Harar 
finding   the   spirit  seeking  new  directions.  Avalanches  of  books (soul 
asleep).    Dear   Paul,  a  feeling  comes  (once  in  a  while)   of   falling—
having   really   disappeared— though   imprecisely,   though   imperfect, 
as  we must  when.  Leafing  through  my  copy  of  Guide du  Voyageur
numbers  descending  in  clear lines;  realising,  imperfectly ,  the sounds 
of   sleep:  steel  box  filled  with  heads—unique   and  black,   large  and 
completely.   In  sleep, in  drifting  I  have  found, I have not found what I 
expected
.
   
Some  verdigris.  Some  weeks aboard  the Wandering Chief, cargo and 
the  salt  waves,  bravely,  towards  the  sun.  The  year  1876 saw a very 
strange adventure.  
Here—“among  the  delinquents  and  the   fugitives 
and   outcasts”.   Among   the    fugitives,   at   the   funeral,  along  steel 
railings with  head shaved, railing against. Come back, come back, dear 
friend, one friend, come back
.  Bravely,  patiently, weeping.  Passing, in 
darkness,  the  desolate  harbours,  “great   peninsulas  unmoored”.  Salt 
waves.   Here,   my   friends—turning,   weeping,   once  more—into  the 
desert    where      Once    more,     he    disappears    from    all    record.
   
The arrival, at A long, low building set back from the sea, of the former 
poet.   In  Aden,  to   be  confused   with   Eden,   I  met   a   porter  who 
recalled  the blue  eyes, tousled  hair.  It  was spring in the interior, and 
with  great ceremony,  having  lost ourselves  among  the  blue, having 
lost,    we     repaired    to    the    foyer    of   the   GRAND   HOTEL   DE 
L’UNIVERS.  In   the   evening  with  the  dining  chairs  set back against 
the  long,  low  crescent  (the  road,  the  sea).  Eleven  arcades,  boxed 
gardens.  Strolling  to  a  clearing  in  the circle of trees (forest beneath 
the  palace,  the  sea).  Dear          , in  Arcadia  I  too—. But  the sea, the 
long,  the  low,  said  the  porter,  said:  “this  gamin,  with  his  little felt 
hat”.
 
Dear    Sir,  I  am  interested  in  developing  the  market  for   precision
instruments in the East. Mathematical, optical, astronomical, electrical, 
meteorological,   pneumatic,   hydraulic,  mineralogical.  Only, remove 
surgical—remove:  meat  on  the   blade,  the  old/the  blind   assassins. 
Measure,  with  precision,  so  that  to  remove  so  to  avenge,  avenge 
completely.  That  bright  vision,  the  East,  once in  corridor of dream:
flight  of  the  dove  in  flight.  Along  roads,  through  temples in fright. 
Unique  bird  (that  setting,  the  hour) in madness and hope; wheeling 
from  door  to  door  until.  At the inn,  something seized by the blood 
of the throat.
  
Sotiro  “bristles  with  cartridges”. Sotiro  “holds  an  unlit   cigarette in 
his  left  hand”.   Sotiro  advances  and  smiles. Carries   a   Winchester 
repeating  repeating  rifle.  Sotiro  strides  and  the   dust   lifts   gently. 
Riding   boots,   spurs;   children   gathering   in   clouds  about.   Dear 
Sotiro—black  cloud  of  smoke  and   behind  the  camera   R,  chiefly 
engaged  in  portraiture, chiefly  aperture and shutter. Closing on the 
long,  dark  avenue   of   the  shore;  along   quiet   boulevards  falling, 
advancing—darkly,  quietly,  rampantly—“banana  trees  flourish”.
  
Footsteps  in  the  hall.  In  autumn,  my  last  ship,  where outside the 
sun,  the  weather.  Recalling  again  how  many  I had read,  so  often 
blind:  I  wish  you good  health  and  prosperity,  fine  weather  and a
good time.  Curious fact, to come back—to pay, so dearly, in sleep so
to   bury.    Along   railings   brief   chaos,   forgetting,  for  a  moment,
footsteps sounding in the interior: dining chairs / those blonde, grand 
arcades  set  back  against.  (Long  paths,  and low.)  We  had  repaired, 
drifting    into   blue   some   vault;   through  childhood,  white  tomb, 
boxed   walls—D:   “When  will  you  leave  again?”  A:  “As   soon   as 
possible.”
  
Those winter nights on the road. Little Rimbaud, from door to door
on its hinge. In the wind, the past walking itself—bridge to— Across 
sullen star: red path and the child returned by way of flight, by way 
of shadow, to itself. In night, In the shadow of the corridors, by dark 
edges illumined: “passes through his life like a meteor”.   Dear lights 
disappearing,   one   by  one  along   the   bridge   my star,   passing, 
passes—
 
In Paris, “the crowd surges around the Hôtel de Ville”.

 

Sources
Nicholls, Charles. Somebody Else: Arthur Rimbaud in Africa 1880–91. London: Jonathan Cape, 1997.
Rimbaud, Arthur. A Season in Hell and The Drunken Boat, translated by Louise Varèse. New York: New Directions, 1961.
Rimbaud, Arthur. Illuminations, translated by Louise Varèse. New York: New Directions, 1957.
Rimbaud, Arthur. Selected Poems and Letters. London: Penguin, 2004.  

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