Arthur Rimbaud | Illuminations (1872-1874)

Kiki Smith | Kourai, 2005


After the idea of the Flood had receded,
A rabbit rested within swaying clover and bellflowers, saying his prayers
to a rainbow spied through a spider’s web.
Oh what precious stones sunk out of sight, what flowers suddenly stared.
On the dirty main drag it was back to business; ships went to sea, piled
on the water like a postcard.
Blood flowed—at Bluebeard’s, in slaughterhouses, in circuses—
wherever God’s mark marred windows. Milk and blood flowed.
Beavers dammed. Steam rose from coffee cups in small cafés.
The mansion’s windows were still streaming, mourning children within
contemplating amazing scenes.
A door slammed, and the child whirled his arms through the town
square, movements understood by weathervanes and weathercocks
everywhere, beneath a tumultuous downpour.
Madame ✩✩✩ put a piano in the Alps. Mass and First Communion
were given at the hundred thousand altars of the cathedral.
Caravans left. The Hotel Splendide was built atop a chaos of ice in the
polar night.
Ever since, the Moon has heard jackals whimpering in thyme-strewn
deserts, and club-footed eclogues growling in orchards. At last, in a violet,
blooming stand, Eucharis said: Spring Is Here.
Rise, waters. —Foam; roll over the bridge and through the woods—
black veils and organ strains—lightning, thunder—rise and roam. Waters
and sorrows, step forward and reveal the Floods.
For since they relented—what precious stones have sunk—what flowers
have bloomed—who cares! And the Queen, the Witch who sparks her
blaze in a bowl of Earth, never tells us what she knows, and what we do






This idol, black-eyed and blonde-topped, without parents or playground,
and nobler than Fables, whether Aztec or Flemish: his domain of insolent
blues and greens borders beaches named by shipless waves, names
ferociously Greek, Slav, Celt.
At the edge of the forest—dream flowers chime, brighten to bursting—
an orange-lipped girl, cross-legged in a flood of light soaking the fields, her
nakedness shaded, crossed, and clothed by rainbows, blossoms, sea.
Ladies promenading on terraces by the sea; toddlers and giants, gorgeous
black women garbed in gray moss-green, jewels set just so into the rich
ground of the groves, the unfrozen gardens—young mothers and elder
sisters, faces flushed with pilgrimage, sultanas, princesses pacing in lordly
gowns, girls from abroad, and sweetly melancholy souls.
What a bore, to say “dearest body” and “dearest heart.”



There: the little dead girl, behind the rosebushes. —The dead young mother
comes down the steps. The cousin’s carriage creaks on the sand. —
The little brother—(off in India!) in a field of carnations at sunset. —Old men
buried upright in a rampart of wallflowers.
A swarm of golden leaves surrounds the general’s house. We’re in the
south. You follow the red road to reach the empty inn. The château is for
sale; its shutters have fallen off. —The priest must have fled with the key to
the church. —All around the park, groundskeepers’ cabins stand
empty … The fences are so high you only see the tips of trees rustling
above them. But there’s nothing inside to see.
Meadows reach across to roosterless villages and blacksmithless towns.
Floodgates are wide open. O the calvaries and windmills in the wilderness,
the islands and millstones.
Magic flowers buzzed. Hillsides cradled him . Beasts of fabulous
elegance made rounds. Clouds gathered on a rising sea, filled by an eternity
of hot tears.



A bird is in these woods, its song stops you, makes you blush.
And here’s a clock that will not chime.
And here’s a pit with a nest of white beasts.
And here’s a cathedral that sinks, and a lake that rises.
And here’s a little carriage abandoned in a thicket, or that rolls
beribboned down the road.
And here’s a troupe of little actors in costume, spied on the edge of the
And when you’re hungry and thirsty, here’s someone to chase you away.



I’m the saint praying on a balcony—like peaceful beasts grazing along the
Sea of Palestine.
I’m the scholar in a plain reading chair. Branches and rain beat the
library windows.
I’m the pedestrian on the high road through the stunted woods; the sound
of floodgates drowns out my footsteps. I stare at the melancholy wash of
another golden sunset.
Or I could be the child abandoned on a high seas jetty, a bumpkin along
a lane that butts the sky.
The path is harsh. The hillocks are weed. The air is still. How far we are
from birds and streams. The end of the world must be just ahead. So rent
me a tomb whose cinderblocks peek through their whitewash—deep below
I rest my elbows on the table, the lamp brightly illuminates newspapers
and boring books I’m dumb enough to reread.
Far, far above my subterranean sitting room, houses settle and spread,
fog gathers. Mud is red or black. Monstrous city, endless night!
Nearer are the sewers. At my flanks, the width of the world. Or perhaps
azure abysses, pits of fire. Perhaps moons and comets collide at these
depths, seas and stories.
In these bitter hours, I imagine spheres of sapphire and steel. I have
mastered silence. So what’s that vent doing, up there, illuminating a corner
of my ceiling?





A Prince was troubled by his tendency to act on only his most obvious
impulses. He could imagine a sort of revolutionary love, and suspected his
wives capable of more than mere complaisance embellished with blue skies
and riches. He wanted truth, hours of complete desire and satisfaction.
Whether an aberration of piety or no, he wanted it all the same. At the very
least, he was willing to find out.
—All the women who had been with him were put to death. Slaughter in
Beauty’s garden. They blessed him beneath the blade. He sought no
replacements. —Yet the women reappeared.
He killed all his followers, after hunting or drinking. —None ceased to
follow him.
He took pleasure slitting the throats of rare beasts. He torched palaces.
He pounced on people and tore them apart. —Yet the crowd, the golden
roofs, the beautiful beasts: all remained.
Can one rejoice in destruction, be rejuvenated by cruelty? His people
didn’t grumble. None objected.
One night, he galloped high in his saddle. A Genie appeared, of
ineffable, inexpressible beauty. His face and bearing suggested a complex,
multifaceted love; unspeakable—even unbearable—happiness! The Prince
and the Genie vanished into each other, completely. How could they not
have died of it? They died together.
But the Prince passed away in his palace, at a routine age. The Prince
was the Genie. The Genie was the Prince.
Our desires lack an inner music.






Muscle-bound goons. The kind that rape the world. Self-satisfied, in no
hurry to devote their remarkable faculties to understanding another’s mind.
Such wise men. Stares as blank as summer nights, red and black, tricolored,
golden star-stung steel: twisted features, leaden, pale, inflamed; hoarse
guffaws. A grim onslaught of pretense. To hear what these kids would say
about Cherubino in their rough voices and violent ways. They’re heading to
town to get it from behind, all decked out in sickening luxury .
A violent Paradise of runaway sneers! But no match for your Fakirs and
hackneyed theatrics. In costumes sewn together with all the taste of a
nightmare, they strut through assorted laments, tragedies filled with all
every brigand and demigod missing from religion and history. Chinese,
Hottentots, bohemians, fools, hyenas, Molochs, ancient lunacies, sinister
demons—they slip savage slaps and tickles into your mother’s old
chestnuts. A little avant-guarde here, some three-hankie stuff there. Master
jugglers who use riveting comedy to transform players and scenes. Eyes
ignite, blood sings, bones stretch, tears and red rivulets run. Their clowning
can last minutes, or months.
Only I have the key to this savage sideshow.


Kiki Smith | Wearing the Skin, 2001



Graceful son of Pan! Beneath your flower- and berry-crowned brow, the
precious spheres of your eyes revolve. Your wine-stained cheeks seem
hollow. Your fangs gleam. Your chest is a lyre, music flows from your pale
arms. Your heart beats in a belly where two sexes sleep. At night, wander,
softly moving this thigh, then this other thigh, and this left leg.





Out of the snow rises a Beautiful Being. Whisperings of death and rounds
of unheard music lift this worshipped shape, make it expand and tremble
like a ghost; black and scarlet wounds colonize immaculate flesh. Life’s
colors deepen, dance, and radiate from this Vision fresh off the blocks.
Tremors rise and rumble, and the wild flavor of these effects is outdone by
mortal whisperings and raucous music that the distant world hurls upon our
mother of beauty: she pulls back, she rears. Oh! Our bones are draped in
amorous new flesh.


✩  ✩  ✩  ✩


O the ashen face, the coarse thatch, the crystal arms! The cannon I collapse
upon, through a topple of trees and soft air.






O the vast avenues of the holy land, the terraces of the temple.
What became of the Brahman who taught me the Proverbs? From then, from
there, I still see images, even of old women. I remember hours of silver and
sun along rivers, the hand of the land upon my shoulder, and our caresses
in the fragrant fields. A rising flock of scarlet pigeons thunders through my
thoughts. —In exile, life was a stage where literature’s masterpieces were
played out. I could share untold riches that remain unknown. I watch you
unearth your discoveries. I know what will be! My wisdom? You disdain it
like chaos. What is my nothingness, in the face of the stupor awaiting you?



I’m an inventor unique among my predecessors; think of me as a musician
who has discovered the key of love. For now, a gentleman from a barren
land and a sober sky, I try to stir myself with memories of a beggar’s
boyhood; my apprenticeship, days in wooden shoes, arguments, five or six
unimaginable losses, and a few wild nights where my stubbornness kept
me from losing it completely. I don’t regret my earlier allotment of divine
joy: the sobriety of this desolate landscape nourishes my wild skepticism.
But because this skepticism no longer has its place, and since I’m
consumed with a brand-new mess—I’m destined to become a miserable



I met the world, in an attic I was confined to at twelve. There, I furnished
illustrations to the human comedy. I learned history, in a cellar. At some
nocturnal celebration in a northern city, I met women who modeled for the
old masters. I was schooled in the sciences in a Paris back alley. I made my
own masterpieces and retired to an appropriately magnificent Oriental
retreat. I brewed my blood. My burden was lifted. My brooding was over. I
am beyond all parting, and past persuading.





Seen enough. Visions confronted in every weather.
Had enough. Urban tumult, by night and day, forever.
Known enough. Life’s still-points. —O tumult and Visions!
Departure for fresh affection and noise!


Kiki Smith | Home, 2010



One fine morning, in a land of very decent people, a gorgeous man and
woman were shouting in the town square:
“Friends, I want her to be queen!”
“I want to be queen!” She laughed, and trembled.
He spoke to his friends of revelation, of an ordeal undergone. They
swooned, one against the other.
And so they ruled all morning, as crimson curtains blazed from
windows, and then all afternoon, as they strolled the palm gardens.





Striking your finger on a drum discharges all sound and begins a new
Taking a single step suggests the advent and advance of new men.
Your head turns away: new love! Your head turns back—new love!
All the children sing: “Change our fates, hobble the plague, start with
time.” They beg: “Elevate anywhere our fortunes and hopes.”
Arrival from always, for departure to everywhere.





Goodness and Beauty, and they’re mine ! The noise is unbearable but it
won’t faze me! Storybook tortures! Hurray (for once) for great work and
bodily miracles! Children’s laughter marks both beginning and end. This
poison lingers in our veins even when we withdraw to the silence of prior
discord. Now that we warrant such torture, let’s make good on the
superhuman promise our bodies and souls deserve: this promise, this
madness! Elegance, science, violence! They promised to bury the tree of
good and evil in the shadows, and cast off tyrannical shackles of decency,
so we could cultivate true love. The beginning was begun on the border
with disgust, and the end—unable to seize eternity while on the run—the
end unfolds with a stampede of perfume.
Children’s laughter, sobriety of slaves, austerity of virgins, fear of faces
and forms from this place—be blessed by the memory of this night. In the
beginning there was hooliganism, in the end angels of ice and fire.
Sacred drunken night! Sacred if only for the mask you grant us. Fair
enough! We won’t forget how you blessed our hours. We put faith in
poison. We know how to live completely, every day.
Behold an age of Assassins.





When the world is no more than a lone dark wood before our four
astonished eyes—a beach for two faithful children—a musical house for
our bright liking—I will find you.
Even if only one old man remains, peaceful and beautiful, steeped in
“unbelievable luxury”—I’ll be at your feet.
Even if I create all of your memories—even if I know how to control
you—I’ll suffocate you.




When we are strong—who retreats? When happy, who feels ridiculous?
When cruel, what could be done with us?
Dress up, dance, laugh. —I could never toss Love out the window.




My companion, my beggar, my monstrous girl! You care so little about these miserable women, their schemes—my discomfort. Seize us with your unearthly voice! Your voice: the only antidote to this vile despair.




Kiki Smith | Shift, 2006



A cloudy morning in July. The taste of ash floats in the air; the smell of
sweating wood in a hearth—flowers rotting in water—havoc along
walkways—drizzle of canals moving across fields—and why stop there—
why not add toys, and incense?




I ran ropes from spire to spire; garlands from window to window; gold
chains from star to star; and I dance.




The mountain pond smokes endlessly. What witch will rise against the
whitening sunset? What violet foliage will fall?




While public funds are spent on brotherly bacchanals, a bell of rosefire
rings in the clouds.




A black powder rains gently on my evening, kindling an agreeable taste for
India ink. —I lower the gas-jets, throw myself on the bed, and, turned
towards the shadows, I see you: my daughters—my queens!





O the warm February morning. How the sudden South rekindled our
memories of unbearable poverty, of youthful miseries.
Henrika had on a brown-and-white-checkered cotton skirt straight out of
the last century, a ribboned bonnet, and a silk scarf. It looked sadder than
mourning. We took a walk in the suburbs. It was overcast, and the South
wind stirred rank smells of ravaged gardens and starched fields.
All this couldn’t have wearied my wife as much as it did me. Along a
high path, in a puddle left by the previous month’s flood, she pointed to
some tiny fish.
The city, its smoke and noise, pursued us down the roads. O better
world, a habitation blessed only by sky and shade! The South only reminds
me of miserable childhood moments, summer despairs, the awful glut of
strength and knowledge that fate has always denied me. No: we won’t
spend summer in this cheap country where we’ll be little more than
orphans betrothed. I won’t let these hardened arms drag a beloved image
after them.





Crystal gray skies. A strange pattern of bridges, some straight, some
arched, others falling at oblique angles to the first, their shapes repeating in
the illuminated curves of the canal, all of them so long and light that the
banks, heavily canopied, sink and shrink. A few of these bridges are still
freighted with hovels. Others sport masts, flags, fragile parapets. Minor
chords crisscross as ropes rise from shore. You can make out a red coat,
maybe some other outfits, and musical instruments. Are the tunes familiar,
bits of chamber music, remnants of national anthems? The water is gray
and blue, broad as an arm of the sea. —Falling from the top of the sky, a
white beam of light obliterates this comedy.





I am a transient, and not altogether unhappy, citizen of a metropolis
considered modern, given every conceivable standard of taste has been
avoided, in both interior decoration and exterior architecture, and even in
the plan of the city itself. You’d be hard-pressed to find the barest trace of a
monument to superstition here. Morality and Language have finally been
refined to their purest forms! These millions of people who have no need to
know one another conduct their educations, professions, and retirements
with such similarity as to suppose that the length of their lives must be
several times shorter than statistics would indicate for continentals.
Moreover, from my window, I see new ghosts rolling through
unwaveringly thick coal-smoke—our dark woods, our summer night! —a
new batch of Furies approaching a cottage that is both my country and my
fullest heart, as everything resembles it here. Death without tears, a diligent
servant girl, a desperate Love, and a perfect Crime, whimpering in the
muddy street.


Kiki Smith, Wave, 2005



On the right, the summer dawn stirs the leaves and mists and noises of this
corner of the park, while on the left, embankments paint the wet road’s
thousand little ruts in violet shadow. A stream of enchantments: Wagons
filled with gilded wooden animals, poles, and motley tenting, drawn at full
gallop by twenty dappled circus horses, and children and men riding
amazing beasts: twenty gilded conveyances, flagged and flowered like
ancient coaches, like something from a fairy tale, filled with children
dressed for a country fair. There are even coffins, sporting ebony plumes,
beneath night-dark canopies, behind the trot of massive blue-black mares.





Such cities! Alleghenies and Lebanons out of a dream, staged and scaled
for a people their equal. Chalets of crystal and wood move on invisible
pulleys and rails. Bordered by colossi and copper palms, ancient craters
bellow melodiously through flames. Feasts of love ring out across canals
strung behind the chalets. A pack of pealing bells calls from the gorges.
Guilds of gigantic singers gather, wearing clothes and bearing banners as
dazzling as light from the summits. On platforms in passes, Rolands sound
their valor. On footbridges spanning abysses and rooftops of inns, the
ardent sky ignites flagpoles. The collapse of old apotheoses joins heaven to
earth, fields where seraphic centauresses gambol and dance between
avalanches. A sea freighted with orphic fleets and rumbling pearls and
precious conches unfolds above the highest peaks, disturbed by Venus’
perpetual birth—a sea that sometimes darkens with fatal flashes. Harvested
flowers as big as guns and goblets are lowing on the hillsides. Parades of
Mabs climb the ravine in red and opaline dresses. Up above, their feet in
the falls and brambles, stags suckle Diana’s breasts. Suburban Bacchantes
sob, the moon burns and bawls. Venus visits the caves of blacksmiths and
hermits. Groups of belfries sing the people’s ideas. Unfamiliar music
escapes from castles of bone. All the old mythologies gambol and dance,
and urges, like elk, stampede through the streets. The Paradise of storms
collapses. Savages dance ceaselessly at the feast of night. And, once, I even
descended into the flow of a Baghdad boulevard where groups were
singing joyously of new work, blown by a thick breeze, moving around but
unable to elude the fabulous ghosts of the mountains where we must have
What fine arms and hour will return this region to me, whence my
slumbers and slightest movements come?





Pathetic brother! What wretched sleepless nights he caused! “I had little
passion for this undertaking. I played to his weaknesses. If we returned to
exile, to slavery, I would be to blame.” He believed, strangely, I was both
jinxed and innocent. His reasons were disturbing.
I responded by snickering at this satanic doctor, and fleeing out the
window. Beyond a countryside singing with strains of singular music, I
created ghosts of future, nocturnal luxury.
After this vaguely hygienic distraction, I would relax on my pallet. And,
nearly every night, just as I had fallen asleep, this poor brother would rise,
mouth dry, eyes bulging—just as he’d dreamed—and drag me into the next
room while screaming his idiotic sorrowful dream.
Essentially, sincerely, I had taken it upon myself to return him to his
primitive, sun-worshipping state—and we wandered, sustained by wine
from cellars and the road’s dry bread—as I impatiently sought means and





The official acropolis surpasses our most colossal conceptions of modern
barbarity. Impossible to adequately describe the flat daylight produced by
this immutably gray sky, the imperial sheen of the edifices, and the eternal
snow on the ground. With a singular taste for enormity, they reproduced all
the marvels of classical architecture. I attend painting expositions in places
twenty times larger than Hampton Court. And what paintings! A
Norwegian Nebuchadnezzar built the staircases of the government
buildings; the underlings I was able to see are already haughtier than
Brahmins, and I trembled as guards and construction foremen passed
outside the colossi. As the buildings were sited along squares, closed
courtyards and terraces within, traffic has been shut out. The parks are
displays of nature at its most primitive, artfully laid out. Some of the upper
parts of town are inexplicable: a boatless arm of the sea unrolls its blue
sleeve of delicate hail between piers loaded with giant candelabras. A short
bridge leads to a postern directly beneath the dome of Sainte-Chapelle.
This dome is an artistic steel frame roughly fifteen thousand feet wide.
From certain points on the copper footbridges, platforms, and staircases
that wind through the markets and around pillars, I thought I could judge
the depth of the city! One marvel I couldn’t reconcile: are the city’s other
regions above or beneath the level of the acropolis? Reconnaissance is
impossible for the tourist of today. The commercial quarter is a circus in a
single style: arcaded galleries. You can’t see shops, but the snow on
sidewalks is trampled; a few nabobs—as rare as pedestrians on a London
Sunday morning—make their way towards a diamond diligence. A few red
velvet divans: ice cold drinks are served, running eight hundred to eight
thousand rupees. I start to look for a theater in this circus, but I realize that
the shops fill with dark dramas all their own. There must be a police
presence. But the law must be sufficiently strange here that I abandon
imagining what local adventurers are like.
The suburb, as elegant as a beautiful Paris street, enjoys luminous light.
The local democrats number a few hundred souls. Here, again, the houses
aren’t in rows; the suburb loses itself strangely in the countryside, the
“Country” that fills the eternal West with forests and endless plantations
where savage gentlemen seek distraction beneath the light they made.


Kiki Smith | Here, 2010



Enlightened leisure, neither fever nor languor, in a meadow or a bed.
A friend neither ardent nor weak. A friend.
A love neither tormenting nor tormented. A love.
The air and the world, unsought. A life.
—Was this it?
—And the dream grows cool.



Lightning returns to the branches of the building. From opposite ends of
the room, whatever the setting, harmonic elevations merge. The wall before
the watcher is a psychological succession of parts of friezes, atmospheric
sections, and geological strata. —A dream, intense and swift, of
sentimental groups, people of every possible character amidst every
possible appearance.



At night, the lamps and rugs of the vigil make the sounds of waves along
keel and steerage.
The sea of the vigil, like Amélie’s breasts.
The tapestries hang halfway up, the doves of the vigil plunge into a
thicket of emerald lace.


·    ·    ·    ·    ·    ·    ·    ·


The back of black hearth, real suns from shorelines: Ah! magical wells;
only a glimpse of dawn, this time.





On the hillside, angels twirl their wool dresses through pastures of emerald
and steel.
Meadows of flame leap to the hillock’s crest. On the left, its humus has
been trampled by murders and battles, disastrous noises etch a map of the
terrain. Behind the crest to the right is a line leading to the Orient, to
And while the band running across the top of the image is made by the
spinning and leaping sound heard in conches and human nights…
The blossoming sweetness of stars and sky and all the rest falls in front
of the hillside before us like a basket—and turns the abyss below to
blossom and blue.





I held the summer dawn in my arms.
Nothing stirred in front of the palaces. The water was dead. Camps of
shadows rested on the road through the woods. I walked, awakening live
warm breaths as precious stones looked on and wings soundlessly rose.
The first undertaking, in a path already filled with cool pale glimmers of
light, was a flower that told me its name.
I laughed at a blonde wasserfall whose tresses streamed between firs; at the
silvered summit I recognized the goddess.
So, one by one, I lifted her veils. In a lane, whirling my arms. In a field,
shouting to a rooster. Into the city she fled, between steeples and domes,
and I gave chase, running like a beggar on marble docks.
At the crest of the road, near a stand of laurels, I enveloped her in her
gathered veils, and felt something of her boundless shape. Dawn and the
child fell to the forest floor.
It was noon when I awoke.





From a golden slope —among silk ropes, gray veils, green velvets, and
crystal discs that blacken like the bronze of the sun—I watch the foxglove
open on a carpet of silver filigree, eyes and hair.
Pieces of yellow gold scattered over agate, mahogany pillars supporting
an emerald dome, bouquets of white satin and delicate sprays of rubies
surround the water-rose.
Like some god’s enormous blue eyes staring from within a silhouette of
snow, sea and sky attract a crowd of strong young roses to the marble steps.



Kiki Smith | Moth, 1996



A breath of air opens operatic breaches in walls—rotten rooftops reel—
hearths are sundered—casements covered. —One foot braced on a
gargoyle, I cut through the vineyard in a carriage whose age is fixed by its
convex mirrors, its curved woodwork, and contoured seats. A cloistered
hearse of sleep, a cabin for my nonsense, the carriage veers onto the grass,
away from the highway: and through an imperfection, high in the window
on the right, spin pale lunar forms, leaves, breasts; —A deep green and
blue invade the scene.
Unharnessing by a gravel patch.
—Here we’ll whistle for the storm, for Sodoms—for Solymas—for wild
beasts and armies,
(—Will coachmen and animals from some dream exit the airless woods
to thrust me, up to my eyes, beneath the surface of a silken source?)
—And send us off, whipped by lapping waters and spilled drinks, to the
howls of mastiffs…
—A breath of air, and hearths are sundered.





Chariots of silver and copper—
Prows of silver and steel—
Beat foam—
Stirring stumps of bramble—
Currents from the moor,
And the vast ruts of the tidal ebb
Flow eastward, circularly,
Towards the pillars of the forest—
Towards the pilings of the pier,
Whose corner is struck
By whirlwinds of light.





The waterfall sings behind opera-buffa shacks. Girandoles prolong sunset’s
greens and reds across orchards and paths by the river Meander. Nymphs
out of Horace with First Empire coifs—Siberian dances, Chinese ladies out
of Boucher.





Might it be She could forgive my eternally dashed ambitions; in the end,
can wealth make up for ages of indigence; can a day of success absolve the
shame of my fatal incompetence?
(O palms and diamonds! —Love and strength! Greatest joys and glories!
Of every type and place—demon, god—this being’s youth: myself!)
Can accidents of scientific fantasy and organizations of social
brotherhood be cherished as the progressive restitution of our earliest
But the Vampire who keeps us in line decrees we must amuse ourselves
with what she leaves—that or start telling jokes.
So let me wallow in my wounds, in heavy air and sea; tormented by
watery silence and murderous air; tortures that jeer at me, atrociously, in
stormy silence.


Kiki Smith, Message, 2010



From indigo straights to Ossian seas, on pink and orange sands bathed by a
wine-dark sky, crystal boulevards have sprung up and intersected, settled
soon after by poor young families who buy food from street vendors.
Nothing fancy.
Helmets, wheels, barges, buttocks—all flee the asphalt desert in a ragtag
line, sheets of fog paper the sky with unbearable layers, curving,
withdrawing, falling, made of the most sinister black smoke the mourning
sea could muster.
Look up: the arched wooden bridge; Samaria’s last vegetable gardens;
masks lit by the lantern whipped by the cold night; a stupid water nymph in
an ugly dress, at the bottom of the river; luminous skulls in the rows of
peas—other phantasmagoria.
Roads lined with fences, and walls barely containing their copses, brutal
flowers called hearts and sisters , Damascus languidly damned, property
belonging to fairy-tale aristocracies straight out of the Rhineland, Japan,
Guarani, still attuned to ancient musics—inns never to open again—and
princesses, and if you aren’t too overcome, stars for you to study.
The morning when you struggled through the snow-glare with Her:
green lips, ice, black flags, blue beams of light, purple perfumes of polar
—Your strength.





Long after the seasons and days, the living and land,
A flag of flesh, bleeding over silken seas and arctic flowers (they do not
Surviving old heroic fanfares still assaulting hearts and heads, far from
earlier assassins.
A flag of flesh, bleeding over silken seas and arctic flowers (they do not exist).
Such sweetness!
Infernos hailing frosty gusts—such sweetness! Fires in a rain of diamond
wind, tossed by an earthly heart, endlessly burned to black, for us.
—O world!
(Far from the old retreats and fires we hear and smell.)
Infernos and seafoam. Music, drifting abysses, icicles clashing with
O Sweetness; O world; O music! And look: shapes; hair and eyes,
floating. And white tears, boiling. O sweetness! And a feminine voice at
volcanic depths, in arctic caves.
A flag…





In starry silence, virgin shadow, and impassive light, ornamental saps
conspired for Hélène. Summer’s ardor was entrusted to songless birds, and
the predictable languor to a priceless funeral barge adrift in coves of dead
loves and sunken scents.
—After the time when lumberwomen sang to the torrent’s rumblings
under the forest’s ruins, after beastly bells rang, in valleys, and
after cries from the steppes.
Fur and shadow shook, for Hélène’s childhood—along with the breasts
of the poor and the legends of the sky.
And her eyes and her dancing were better still than bursts of precious
light, convincing cold, and even the pleasure of the singular setting and





As a child, certain skies sharpened my sight: their varied temperaments
refined my face. Phenomena awoke. —Now, the endless rise of moments
and mathematical infinities chase me through a world where I suffer every
civil success, respected by strange children and subjected to limitless
affection. —I dream of war, of might and right, of utterly unforeseeable
It’s as simple as a musical phrase.


Kiki Smith | Lying with the Wolf, 2001



For sale: what the Jews haven’t sold, what neither nobles nor criminals
have dared, what remains unknown to both wicked love and society’s
infernal probity: what neither time nor science need notice:
Reconditioned Voices; the brotherly awakening of all choral and
orchestral energies and their instantaneous outcry; rare opportunity to
liberate our senses!
For sale: priceless Bodies—ignore race, world, sex, lineage! Riches
rising to meet every step! A flood of diamonds, undammed.
For sale: anarchy for everyone, satisfaction guaranteed to those with
irreproachable taste; gruesome death guaranteed for lovers and zealots!
For sale: living places and leaving places, sports, extravaganzas and
creature comforts, and all the noise, movement, and hope they foment!
For sale: mathematical certainties and astonishing harmonic leaps.
Unimaginable discoveries and terminologies—available now.
Wild, tireless bounds towards invisible splendor, intangible delight—
alarming secrets for every vice—and the frightening gaiety of crowds.
For sale: Bodies; voices; incalculable, inarguable riches—that will never
be sold. Vendors keep selling! Salesmen have nothing but time.






Beneath the sky’s unalterable collapse, memories and rhythms fill house,
head, and spirit, as soon as all the number crunching is set aside.
—A horse bolts across the suburban earth, through gardens and
lumberyards, stabbed by carbonic plague. Somewhere in the world, a
histrionic woman sighs after unforeseen abandonment. Desperadoes pine
for storm, injury, and debauch. Along rivers, little children choke down
Let us return to our studies, despite the clamor of all-consuming work
that collects and mounts in the masses.



Man of ordinary make, flesh
was it not once a fruit hanging in the orchard—o
days of youth! the body a treasure to squander—o
to love, a peril or power of the Psyche? Earth
had slopes fertile with princes and artists,
and your descendants and race drove you
to crimes and to mourning: the world, your fortune
and your peril. But now, this work done, you, your calculations,
—you, your impatience—are but dance and
voice, neither fixed nor forced, whether season
for a double event: invention and success
—a humanity both brotherly and singular, throughout a universe
without a face—might and right reflecting both dance
and voice, a voice we’re only beginning to hear.


At Twenty

Instructive voices exiled … Naïve body bitterly sober…—Adagio.
Ah the infinite egotism of adolescence! The studious optimism: that
summer, the world was filled with flowers! Dying airs and dying
shapes … A choir to soothe impotence and absence! A choir of glasses, of
nocturnal melodies … Now nerves begin the hunt.



Enough of this temptation of St. Anthony. The struggle against failing zeal,
tics of puerile pride, terror, and collapse.
But you’ll return to the task: every harmonic and architectural possibility
will stir within you. Unbidden, perfect creatures will present themselves for
your use. As if a dream, the curiosity of old crowds and idle luxuries will
collect around you. Your memory and your senses will be nourishment for
your creativity. What will become of the world when you leave? No matter
what happens, no trace of now will remain.





Golden dawn and shivering night find our brig along the coast of this villa
and its grounds that form a promontory as vast as Epirus and the
Peloponnesus or the great islands of Japan or Arabia! Temples illuminated
by the return of processions; sweeping views of coastal fortifications; dunes
inscribed with the hot flowers of bacchanal; Carthaginian canals and
embankments of a degenerate Venice; faint eruptions of Etnas, crevasses of
flowers and glacial waters, washhouses settled in stands of German
poplars; strange parks, hillsides hung with heads of Japanese trees, and
circular facades of Scarborough or Brooklyn, the “Royal” or the “Grand”;
their railways flank, plumb, and overhang a Hotel plucked from the history
of the biggest, most ornate buildings in Italy, America, and Asia, whose
windows and terraces are now brimming with lights, drinks, and heavy
breezes, are wide open to souls of travelers and nobles alike —who permit,
by day, the varied tarantellas of the shores—and even the ritornellos of art’s
storied valleys, to miraculously decorate the Promontory Palace facades.





To my Sister Louise Vanaen de Voringhem: her blue habit turned towards
the North Sea. —For the shipwrecked.
To my Sister Léonie Aubois d’Asby: hooooo; humming, stinking
summer grass. —For fevers inflicting mothers and children.
To Lulu—that demon—who has retained a taste for oratories from the
time of girlfriends and grammar school. For the Men! For Madame ✩✩✩
To the adolescent I was. To that holy old codger, hermitage or mission.
To the spirit of the poor. And to an exalted clergy.
Just as to any cult, in any place that memorializes a cult, amid whatever
events wherever we wander, subject to a moment’s inspiration or the most
serious vices.
Tonight, in the towering icy mirrors of Circeto, fat as fish, and
illuminated like the ten months of the red night—(the fire of her amber
heart)—my only prayer, as mute as these nocturnal regions, precedes
gallantries more violent than this polar chaos.
At any price and in any place, even on metaphysical journeys.
—But no more then.



Kiki Smith | Tree with Yellow Roses, 2006



“The flag fits the filthy land, and our argot drowns the drum.
“In cities, we nourish the most cynical prostitution. We slaughter logical
“To fragrant republics in flood! To serve the most monstrous military-
industrial exploitations.
“Goodbye here , no matter where. Goodwill recruits, understand: our
philosophy will be ferocity; ignorant of science, cads for comfort; to hell
with the sputtering world. This road is real.
“Forward, march!”





The comedy of old perpetuates itself while divvying up its idylls:
A street strewn with stages.
A long wooden pier running from one end of a rocky field to the other
where barbarian hoards roam beneath bare trees.
Through corridors of black gauze following footsteps of passersby
amidst lanterns and leaves.
Birds straight out of medieval mystery plays swoop down onto the
masonry of floating stages stirred by a canopied archipelago of spectators’
Lyrical scenes, accompanied by fife and drum, bow beneath nooks
nestled near ceilings of lounges in modern clubs and oriental halls of yore.
The extravaganza moves to the top of an amphitheater crowned by a
copse—or, instead, fidgets and warbles for the Boeotians, in the shadow of
swaying trees on the fields’ ridge.
On stage, the opéra-comique is divided at the intersection of ten
partitions built between the gallery and the footlights.





For example: an evening when a humble traveler withdraws from within
earshot of impending economic doom, a master’s hands may awaken a
pastoral harpsichord; they play cards at the bottom of a pond, a mirror that
conjures queens’ and kings’ favorites; there are saints, veils, threads of
harmony, and chromatic strains at sunset.
He shudders at the approach of hunts and hordes. Comedy drips onto the
grassy stage. Only then are the poor and weak ashamed, because of their
stupid plans!
In his captive sight—Germany builds its way to the moon; Tatar deserts
shine—old conflicts endure amidst a Celestial Empire; over stairways and
armchairs of stone—a little world, pale and flat, Africa and Occident, rises.
Then, a ballet of known nights and seas, a worthless chemistry, impossible
The same bourgeois magic wherever the mail train leaves us! The least
sophisticated physicist feels it’s no longer possible to endure this intimate
atmosphere, a fog of physical remorse whose manifestation is disease
No! The rise of heat, of sundered seas, of subterranean fires, of the
planet’s untethering and its resultant exterminations—facts from the Bible
and the Nornes, presented without the least malice, and to which serious
people will bear witness. —And yet, hardly the stuff of legend.





Reality always too troublesome for my exalted character—I nonetheless
found myself chez Madame, transformed into a big, blue-gray bird, soaring
near the ceiling’s moldings, trailing my wings through evening shadows.
At the foot of the baldachino that held her beloved jewels and bodily
charms, I became a giant bear with purple gums and thick, miserable fur,
eyes fixed on the crystal and silver on the sideboard.
Shadows swam, a torrid aquarium. In the morning—pugnacious June
dawn—I ran to the fields, an ass, braying and brandishing my grief, until
Sabines from the suburbs threw themselves upon my breast.



Kiki Smith | Light Field,  2010



Hortense’s every gesture is violated by every atrocity. Her solitude, the
mechanics of eroticism; her lassitude, the dynamics of love. Under
childhood’s watchful eye, she served, for countless years, as the fiery
hygiene of races. Her door is open to misery. There, the morality of
contemporary peoples is disembodied by her passion, or her action. —O
the bitter shudder of young loves seen by gaslight on the bloody ground:
Find Hortense!





The wagging movement along the banks of the river’s falls,
The gulf at stern,
The slope’s speed,
The current’s pull
Flows through unimaginable lights
And new elements
Travelers enveloped in a valley of waterspouts
And strom .

These are the world’s conquerors
Seeking their own elemental fortunes;
Sport and comfort travel with them;
They bring knowledge
Of race, classes, animals.
Aboard this Vessel.
Rest and restlessness
Under a flood of light
During terrible evenings of study.

Because from the banter around the instruments—blood, flowers, fire,
From the uneasy accountings aboard this fugitive craft,
We see, rolling like seawalls past a motorized hydraulic road:
Their monstrous store of studies, illuminated endlessly—
They are driven into harmonic ecstasy,
And heroics of discovery.
Beneath astonishing atmospheric accidents
A young couple remains alone on the ark
—Can ancient savageries be absolved?—
And sings, standing watch.





Because he has opened the house to foaming winter and to noisy summer,
he is affection, he is now, he who purified what we drink, what we eat, he
who is the charm of brief visits and the unearthly delight of destinations.
He is affection, he is the future, strength, and love that we, standing in
furious boredom, watch, passing through tempestuous skies, flying flags of
He is love, reinvented in perfect measure, reason both marvelous and
unforeseen, and eternity: an instrument adored for its fatality. We have all
known the terror of his sacrifice and of our own: Let us delight in our
health, in the vigor of our faculties, in selfish affection and passion for him
who loves us throughout his infinite days…
And we remember, and he embarks … And if Adoration goes away, and
nonetheless rings, his promise rings: “Enough of these superstitions, these
old bodies, these houses and days. Our time has fallen away!”
He will not depart, he will not descend from a heaven once again, he will
not manage to redeem women’s anger, and men’s laughter, and all our sin:
for it is already done, by his being, and being loved.
O his breaths, his faces, his flights; the terrible speed of formal
perfection and action.
O fertile mind, boundless universe!
His body! Long-dreamt release and shattering grace meet new violence!
The sight of him, his sight! All old genuflections and sorrows are lifted
in his wake.
His day! The abolition of all streaming, echoing sufferings through a
music more intense.
His stride! Migration is more momentous than ancient invasions.
O he, and we! Old charities pale before such benevolent pride.
O world! And the clear song of new sorrows!
He knew us all and loved us all. This winter night, from cape to cape,
from farthest pole to nearest château, from crowd to beach, from face to
face, with weary emotions and waning strength, let us hail him, and see
him, and send him forth, and down beneath the tides and up in snowy
deserts, let us seek his sight, his breath, his body, his day.







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