I was watching people crossing the Place Bellecour, the statue of Louis XIV loomed over the space, history weighs heavily. We haven’t enough nature.
‘There’s lime blossom in the air, Papa. Can you smell it?’
‘Tell your poet friends about it, not me, that’ll interest them.’
‘I don’t have friends, Papa, no poets nor anyone else.’
‘There you go again: moan, moan, moan.’
And my father dug his heels into the flanks of his all-terrain purebreed, the price of which exceeds middle-class comprehension, and in less than thirty seconds he had vanished at a gallop. The time it took me to roll a one-Rizla joint. I’ve been cutting down, recently. I’ve found a way of drawing out the effects without putting more in, you have to focus on letting your focus go and imagine your ideas in a field of beetroot. Crows were marching to nobody’s orders, clouds were racing their threadbare shadows over the woods and plains, still-uncharted topographies were fading away under satellite eyes, and the dense air muffled the thousands of voices borne noiselessly along the infinite extensions of WiFi, opinions and the mob, the mob and the crowd, the crowd and the masses, the masses and the classes, what’s the use thinking about it if your father’s hightailing out, as in the times of the three estates, bareback-riding the old banger in your lumpish brain? The category of socio-professional feels unreal, resistance is an electrical idea, the vocabulary is going blind, the subject is under surveillance, there’s nothing doing with the verb, the possessive is in the hands of those who can afford it, oh I’d love to eat something that would bung my flow, bananas or spuds or a plateful of pasta and drink milk through a straw or give a cow a big hug, a little one on my level with dewy eyes, the whole scene in a camembert-box meadow, I’ll stroll on circular and pasteurised paths beside a limpid river and drooping willows, the very last place to go wondering if there’s poetry around or not at the moment.
‘Come on, I was teasing.’
‘I realised, Papa.’
Bikes, old people, kids, technology, springtime – none of this can generate even the feeling of a future.
‘Actually whether you’re talking about poetry or something else, I have to say that it doesn’t matter at all.’
‘Of course not, Papa.’
‘Since you don’t matter at all.’
‘Your life doesn’t matter, the Universe doesn’t matter, the purveyors of legitimate violence are what matter above all and the consequences of these irresponsible characters’ importance are so considerable that all you can say to it is really nothing at all.’
‘Thanks, Papa, I already know all that, you’ve told me a hundred times and every time it makes me want to do myself in.’
My father highlighted my state of depression, he theorised about the banality of the malaise spreading first among those who have all they need to be happy while others have nothing and are happy anyway, but as psychological questions have never been his forte, he went to order sushi and drink saké and sing ‘Let It Be’ in a karaoke club with great-value sweet and giggly girls or I don’t know who else accustomed to being paid for their excellent company, no matter, when he got back he was in better spirits.
‘Now I’m all ears.’
I didn’t know what to say. Honestly I had nothing to say, I must have been looking for a reason to fret, as I always do, or to brood, as I ought to admit, because everything’s okay out there in the shops, people are looking normal, there is this fashion for wearing combat prints and the army working hard at marching ever so softly when they’re only kids of twenty but, for all that, it still doesn’t feel much like the DRC or Syria or Pakistan or South Sudan, while still not quite being Switzerland either.
‘Are we at war, Papa?’
‘What makes you think that?’
‘I don’t know, all these soldiers outside the shops.’
‘Then it must be war.’
‘But people are shopping in the sales.’
‘So we can’t be at war.’
‘The police are checking handbags and ID cards.’
‘That means it’s war.’
‘But there are no tanks or any shelling on our good city of Lyon.’
‘It’s not war, then.’
‘There are troops on the ground.’
‘Then it is war.’
‘But there’s no fighting.’
‘That’s because we’re not at war.’
‘People are afraid, Papa.’
‘Because we’re at war.’
‘I wonder if the flameproof feline regulation camo-wear in the city centre of our good city of Lyon is not a strategic mistake. If the idea is to melt into the urban scene, anyway, that’s bombed.’
‘That’s because we’re not at war.’
‘I guess the army has to be visible for the sake of security?’
‘Because we’re at war.’
‘Hence the combat camouflage on the catwalk for next season’s fashions?’
‘Because nonetheless we’re not at war.’
‘But there are posters everywhere about the army’s recruitment drive, and the army’s here for war, right?’
‘You should buy yourself a chicken sandwich. And pick up a strawberry smoothie for me.’
People were handing out flyers on the rue Victor- Hugo, it’s a shopping street, never without a few prophets to announce the good news of rock-bottom prices and miracle products, it’s an earthly mission that brings almost no reward, the key is to believe in it, these prophets wear the smiles of the market economy otherwise they’ll be sacked; this is the slavery of voluntary labour, or so it seems, that’s why I always say hello nicely, no thanks without malice and goodbye without complaint. That said, I noticed, my father too, that the smile of a girl approaching me was much too radiant for the face of employment. There was no clear sign but something considered in her way of collaring passers-by suggested the energy of hidden depths.
‘They’re fascists,’ my father said.
‘You’re fascists!’ I said pace my father to the girl.
‘No we’re not fascists,’ the girl replied unfazed, as if expecting this remark, which would be quite insulting for anyone not a fascist; she didn’t seem to find it very terrible and indeed it wasn’t exactly a hanging crime. It was simple and very sensible, popular and basic, what she was giving the innocent locals to read: this is our home, that’s all.
‘She’s a cultural spokesperson for the local fascist hierarchy; they’re the worst, you have to give them hell.’ My father turned again and shouted: ‘Fascists!’
‘Fascists!’ I echoed, more softly, once they were too far to hear.
As I had nothing more urgent to think about, I wondered what they meant by our home. Perhaps our home was this crossroads where we were, between the pharmacy, the Crédit Agricole bank, the Arab corner shop and the clothes shop, or perhaps it was the whole pedestrianised street.
This is an excerpt from Noémi Lefebvre’s Poetics of Work, published in English by Les Fugitives in the UK (London, 2021), and Transit Books in the US.