Geometry in the Dust, an excerpt
An excerpt from Pierre Senges’ Geometry in the Dust, translated by Jacob Siefring. Art by Sarabeth Dunton.To everything its place (that’s a local proverb): the beggars, who look as though they might be praying to God, have their stations, which they never quit, except most rarely (during hailstorms, at night, on the day of the dead). To improve the lot of your fellow citizens, you will know how to bring down the Peruvian flutists from the mountains when the season comes, how to get them to stroll around your city in hats to the sounds of light music — and similarly, in the street leading up to the palace or to your wife’s private quarters (a street with the name of King Shahryar), you will pay someone to play either the lute or the Spanish guitar (or Moorish guitar, I mean), tuned to fourths: the chords struck by each wrist-stroke will probably sound sour, and the artist will do his best to sing over that disharmony (an instrument like that is forgiving of a certain sloppiness). At the end of the street that we named Averroes, where it dead-ends at Lepanto Square, you will install another artist from an older tradition, whose job it will be to produce chromatic decorations from an accordion suspended from his shoulders by means of two straps. In the same square, a little farther on, a couple of youths dressed in rags will have the duty of demonstrating with touching sincerity that it is in fact not really possible to perform a serenade with only rattles and a pair of darbukas. You will hire a few violinists who will circulate on foot, from table to table; you will select these musicians very carefully: their virtuosity on a single string or all four at the same time should suggest off-handedness, indifference even; if what they play is suggestive of scales, the effect will be spoiled. On other corners (I’m thinking primarily of our Amenophis Boulevard, so hieratic by virtue of its palm trees’ verticality) you will have a capella singers stand: quartets of men without jackets who will keep quiet most of the time, in accordance with the modern conception of art — but who will, from time to time, sound the sixth note of their scale by whistling into half-empty bottles, and every now and again sing old porter’s tunes, just for their own amusement.
The role of animals in the city is, believe me, just as delicate a question: it takes diplomacy to understand and manage it, you can’t just open the gates of the royal menagerie and let the wildcats out willy-nilly, let out the jackdaws and sparrowhawks, the apes, the parrots, the carps and the camels, the salukis and the thoroughbreds which will constitute your patrimony. Distinction and a sense of harmony are in every circumstance vital to the accomplishment of our urban project: the royal architecture is a task that calls for a procurer’s tact, since it designates you as master of romances and meetings, it makes you responsible for all the rendezvous and unforeseen confrontations; it requires a matchmaker’s instinct, the gardener’s patience and, especially when it comes to the hen-houses, a decorator’s impeccable taste. Cats will have their perches on rooftops, which are gentle or severe zinc slopes: this metal is as suitable to their claws as it is to their paw-pads, and the color of a cat at the close of day has no better background than that particular rainy grayness, so reminiscent of mica. If not on the rooftops, the cats will find their place atop trash cans, so long as they are not those old broken-down beggar’s bags or stuffed sheep’s stomachs such as sometimes serve as trash cans: a matter of furnishing your city with bins that are as solid as Doric columns, and likewise fluted. Dogs will assume their positions between the cars and the closest wall, on the sidewalks and on the park lawns; between the dog’s neck and his master’s hand you will stretch a cord over which the passing pedestrians will have to nimbly hop. The dogs will leave a little stain behind on each of their walks, on the stone, and you will see to it that there are as many marks as there are dogs, as many different colors as there are marks. Certain nooks of certain neighborhoods will be set aside specially for droves of pigeons, these too in an assortment of grey-black hues proper to our city, beige on occasion, or pale bluish, like the exhaust of taxicabs; just imagine delegating to a royal groom (or a master of fowls: decide on a title worthy of that office) the responsibility of feeding the whole population of them with tiny seeds to be strewn about on the ground by the handful. He’ll carry out his duty, seemingly at peace but scowling, because that’s a way of asserting his rank; he’ll be middle-aged, and to match his qualities of inertia and disdain, he will wear a most modest uniform; or equally, instead of a master, it can be a mistress, so long as her hair be wrapped in a bun. Don’t count on going on any hunting expeditions though: the common pigeon doesn’t cling to the armband, it likes to glide along and do all sorts of stunts (if it had a little more pride or self-respect, the pigeon would hunt its prey by itself and not be satisfied with breadcrumbs: but that’s just the way things are). Then to spice things up for your people, those incorrigible auditors of fables, you’ll make a residence in the conduits of our central sewer (under Avicebron Avenue) for an alligator of the White Nile — and if we don’t succeed in capturing an alligator, we can instead just spread the rumor that one lives down there, in this or that drainpipe.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR AND TRANSLATOR
Pierre Senges is the author of fourteen books and over sixty plays for radio. He is recognized in France for his style’s unique blend of irony, erudition, and humor. His latest book, Achab (séquelles), won the Prix Wepler in 2015. He is also the recipient of prizes for his early novels Veuves au maquillage (2000) and Ruines-de-Rome (2002), as well as for his radio work. Several chapters from his book Geometry in the Dust appear in Jacob Siefring’s English translation in the latest issue of Sonofabook Magazine, published by CB Editions.
Jacob Siefring‘s translations of Pierre Senges’s writing have appeared in Gorse Journal, Numéro Cinq Magazine, Hyperion, The White Review, The Collagist, The Brooklyn Rail, and elsewhere. His translation of Senges’ La réfutation majeure (2004) is forthcoming from Contra Mundum Press. He blogs at bibliomanic.com.
ABOUT THE ARTIST
Sarabeth Dunton received her BFA in painting at the University of Michigan in 2006. Her current practice emphasizes drawing as a mode of experience. She finds inspiration in both traditional modes of landscape painting and more contemporary dialogues of abstraction, and uses intuitive processes and a personalized specific style of markmaking to created her works. For her, the act of drawing is a physical chronicle of an intimate relationship with the space in which she works. The work is the physical apprehension of an action, a memory, and an archetypal understanding of how we view and realize landscape. After many years traveling, wandering, and transplanting herself, Sarabeth moved from New Orleans in search of a more diverse and vibrant art scene, landing in Kansas City.
Sarabeth’s work has been shown in New Orleans, Kansas City, Chicago, Ann Arbor, Michigan, and internationally in Paros, Greece. She is a co-founder of RAD school, had writing published by a 8 1/2 X 11 press, and has been granted residency fellowships based in Joshua Tree, Ohio, and rural Missouri. Find her on Instagram.
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Friday, February 26th, 2016.