Register Tuesday | December 5 | 2023

The End of the Road

Poems of Jacques Brault, translated by Patrick McGuinness

Don’t be fooled by Jacques Brault’s open expression and white knit sweater. A Governor General’s Award Winner and long-time fixture of Radio-Canada arts broadcasts, Brault is a master of the tormented interior monologue.

“I’d forgotten what it was human speech” he says in the first of our selections taken from Poèmes Choisis 1965-1990 (Éditions de Noroît, 1996). The words feel like someone re-emerging from dark caverns of the mind into the light of day and the company of others. There is also a father-son struggle here, a kind of shame at the older Brault’s dullness and failure, pity for the old man, tempered by tortured self-recrimination at such disrespectful thoughts.

Why do we have such harsh interior voices?—or perhaps, more reasonably, why do they always seem to be the strongest material for literature? The inner world of limitless freedom and possibility carries a surprisingly heavy burden. But then, as Milton (a very practical metaphysician) believed, living is but choosing. For Brault, living is not choosing: it’s enduring at the end of the road—knowing that you will probably survive, with or without a sense of deeper purpose.

—Derek Webster


Anyway I don’t know I don’t know anymore if I should talk or shut up let the water flow over me or dive straight in give myself up to the moment as it turns the corner or inhabit myself right down to the bone right down to the cry

You do you know you there watching and listening do you know what it is I’m not saying that I’ll never say it’s there between us like a night falling and covering us in darkness

Quietly lower your voice please come closer so your breath touches my ear the sound it makes I’d forgotten what it was human speech


They call it living

don’t ask there

aren’t any roads


but the paths we made

half-asleep and

a black wind harries them upright

fixes those who still

think they’re alive


Damp as the flame humble as the candle you lit up what you couldn’t see


I’d watch you often at night useless in the midst of your brood you fidgeted

clumsily like a big dog


Me, I was ashamed when you left, lumbering, without work, sheepish with your dull smile


I knew that at midday you’d go and sit down somewhere in the dirty glum town


And alone and pitiful in full view of everyone you’d be my father


The one I come from my name and faith what I am


The one his wife doesn’t love the one who had no lucky breaks the one who doesn’t deserve to be hated


And now you you’re coming to the end and I’m ashamed at having

only pity love’s leftovers hardened like an old crust in some corner of my childhood


The sun is going to disappear and suddenly the street fills with blood. We’re swimming in blinding light. I used to like sliding towards the Côtes-des-Neiges like that. It was a time to speak sadness. In those days I wandered, so they said, after the Impossible. Objects, always the same ones, marked out my path. I’d be hard pushed to tell you which. No, it’s not a question of memory. Meaninglessness, the great crushing weight of each day, begins with the little things. A fork clinks against a plate and the black sadness spreads its wings, you can’t tell what, or why, can’t even guess at what’s beyond it. You trot through life and end up arse over elbow in a ditch, your hopes and your fears shot to pieces. You wasted it all for the horror of being there, beaming. You laugh at that odd word, it’s to die for and well christ you survive.



It would be at the end

of a bad winter

the snow’s salt turning black

a few sparrows bickering

in the ruins

of a dynamited water tower


here you are at the end of the street

shadow come to see a shadow

your last night




All from Poèmes choisis 1965-1990 (Editions du Noroît, 1996)