Serge Pey: Three poems from 'Why I Crush Tomatoes'

Translated from French by Yasser Elhariry

[My first memory of Serge Pey was in Paris, sometime in the early 1980s, when he woke us up in the apartment off Saint Germain that my wife & I were then borrowing.  Our son had arrived a few hours before, traveling with a couple of friends across Europe and walking halfway across Paris on the morning of a Metro strike.  The three of them were sacked out on the floor, across the room from us, but didn’t hear Serge’s heavy knocking on the door.  We did and when we opened up for him he moved in quickly, holding with both hands a large, hollow, brightly painted rain stick, filled with beans or pebbles, which when upended made a gentle swooshing sound like rain or falling water.  He told us he had come to serenade us – Aztec style – & walked out to the center of the rather large room, where the ritual began.  Those were still the years when nothing could surprise us, so we sat up on our bed & listened, somewhere between sleep & waking.  His performance, which we recognized as “his performance,” went on for 10 or 15 minutes, during which time one or other of the young men on our floor would open up his eyes from time to time & then fall back to sleep.  At one point too the live-in maid walked past him on her way into the kitchen but seemed to take no notice, & Serge, when his ritual work was over, embraced us both & left as peacefully & caringly as he had entered.

            I have seen & heard him many times since then & have come to recognize him as one of our most inventive and energized performers of a new & constantly evolving poetry.  In addition to his performances (often still with sticks and rain sticks) he is the author of nearly sixty volumes of written poetry & was the editor for many years of Émeute and Tribu as two principal magazines of the European & world avant-garde.  The title poem of his new work Why I Crush Tomatoes, translated into English by Yasser Elhariry, is a masterpiece of poetry & poetics, but its 758 numbered sections are too long to publish here.  The following three shorter poems will hopefully be enough to give a hint or taste of his ongoing sense & sensibility. (J.R.)]



When I speak

of your poems

to an imbecile

it’s as

if I were pissing

against the wind

wanting the


to change direction


Imbeciles are

truly numerous

on earth

Surely more


than the poems

that you write


An imbecile doesn’t

wear a watch

but chooses

the hour

we speak of you


An imbecile

may divide your hope

by zero


An imbecile may


onions cry

when he speaks

of his suicide

while affirming

that we’re assassinating him


An imbecile

feigns ignoring

the truth by rigging

a photograph of



For an imbecile

a thousand examples

are pointless

and a single lie

proves all


An imbecile may say

that a monster

recruits thousands

of angels

for his army


An imbecile may


that this text

is no poem


When the toast

of a poet falls

the imbecile believes

the jam

changes sides

some where

in an other poem

or world


When the world falls

the imbecile knows



We Have A Flag

We Have a Flag                                                   
We have a flag                                                    
that we see and a flag                                                    
that we do not see                                                    
We have flag                                                    
with no flag                                                    
of all flags                                                    
We have a flag                                                    
like a kerchief                                                     
to vomit our blood and our skin                                                     
We have a flag that couches                                                     
a skeleton                                                     
dismantled of its own bones                                                     
We have a flag that undresses                                                     
all flags                                                     
Our flag is a sandal                                                     
Our flag is a piece of foot                                                     
We have a flag
A piece of serge
We have a flag
We have a hand
We have a skin
We have a flag made
with an eye and a bird
We have a flag with no flag
We have a flag
that does not love flags
We have a flag on fire that
burns all flags
We have a piece of wood
We have a piece of skin
We have a flag with no flag
amidst a million flags
We have a flag with no flag
among a single flag
We have no flag
We have a flag with no flag
in our own flag


Time for Assassins

When a poem

cannot even

save death

it’s time for assassins


Death is dead

We no longer find it

in the tombs


of the bistros



dedicate themselves to


it by dying twice

and confuse

this effort with



The café is dead

The table is dead

The bread is dead

The telefilm of the dead

applauds other


who run behind



We know it

the dead vote

for the dead


When death has had enough

of death

we must console it

by giving it sugar


like to a dog


We bark

By living

we only find

the dead who

no longer attend

us & that’s what we call



The tombs are


constructed by babies

in cement


Our only way of being

is killing

It’s time for


The unique virtue of


is that he knows that a


doesn’t stand up straight

when empty