French Writer Michel Butor (Photo via

“Every word written is a victory against death,” says French writer Michel Butor (Photo via



La Banlieue de l’Aube à l’Aurore (The Suburbs from Dawn to Daybreak)

by Michel Butor with Translation by Jeffrey Gross

For Jean-François Lyotard to whom I owe the conservation of these texts



Bernard Dufour's engraving from the original 1968 edition

Bernard Dufour’s engraving from the original 1968 edition

The sea is a fruit without stones
The swallows graze on the raw sky
Far off the automobiles sing
The rain takes a stroll in silk stockings

The camels in the sky
Capsize with melancholy
And long drops of rusty water
Slide slowly down the backs
Of little girls

The pines move away
Like a sad vanquished fleet
And yet they were so much lovelier than we

Your eyes are heavy like coals
And broad perfect
Like cut flints
But the fruit of the trees
Is more beautiful still
And we will never be
Like the fruit of the trees

If I cannot make you more beautiful still
Than all the fruit of the trees
What good would I be to you and you
Are you not impotence itself
If you cannot make me a tree
On which you
Yourself fructify

The flowers have spread into the underworld
A very windy day
And there is nothing left here but dead leaves
The boats themselves will disappear

As far as I may go
I won’t succeed in wearing out
My earth sandals
Huge sunflowers will ravish me
But you still more foreign to me
Than I am
What familiarity could you establish
Between things and my gestures
In the world that you bring me
Desolation has eyes as big
As in the Greek myths
The sky is as white and implacable
As on the two mountains Terror and Erebus

Who are as little as everyone
You hide the world from me

There are crows here
Beautiful crows which I prefer to you
And fires and hares
The shadows
Around the marshes
Tame me and condemn me

Do you see the day
Is always formed of fishes
Rubbing their scales against each other
Must we be miserable
In the laundry-rooms
Dry our itchings

I fear the wolf
Who insinuates himself into the laundry rooms
During half-opening hours1
He has teeth in tatters
But the more effective for that believe me

I am a wolf who haunts
The places of purification and crime

I am a wolf


The barred street
Barely a little cry to say farewell
That old reality goes home to bed
It turns out the light

The displays in the butcher shops
Are decorated with little birds of pine-cones
With multi-colored ribbons
And with goose-liver pâtés
Representing St. Theresa of the Child Jesus
Napoleon and Gutenberg
Holding in his hand a little inkwell of lard

Pretty voyage in perspective
As far as I may go

The barley-sugars are decidedly less good
Agate marbles are getting hard to find
The Eiffel Tower leans its head
With a smile nineteen hundred
Leg-of-lamb holder salad basket nervous breakdown
We’re just in time

Still no signal
Wait a moment
Don’t get impatient

Automobile horns
Improvise with ease
Wear in their button-holes
Light-bulbs of many colors
Which make them look at least twenty years younger

On the trucks tanks
There are orchestras
Of every race
High-school windows
Are covered with hyacinths
On the hospital roofs
They’ve installed immense screens
And everyone can see movies
That are so luminous
The day itself succeeds only for a few moments
In outshining them

It is these moments
That indicate
The beginning of the festivals

All the children join in them
And for three whole days they have
Out-and-out supremacy
Over their parents who are forced to obey them
In everything punctually
Before getting permission
To go back to work


As soon as she had realized that she was ugly
She became intolerably beautiful

They try to smother her
They drop carpets on her in the dark
They beat them
They hurt her
They tear her stockings
They stain her dresses
They glue her sheets
They throw flaming bolsters
Right in her face

She flees along a rocky course
That climbs in switchbacks
Along ramparts of basalt and scree

She crosses mirrors
And her clothes are planted with
Flashing fragments

She is drenched with a rain of oil
She penetrates a tunnel of dust
Crosses enormous seashells
And sources of mineral water
Falls to the bottom of a well
And one can see long legs on the horizon
Which confuse the route for the sea

The echo of her voice disturbs the beasts
She tears a hole in the roof of a bank
Shatters the glass cases
And scatters the papers
In a whirlwind of rustlings

And then she disappears into the shadows
Like a cloud of flashing hair
She is distant in a desert of points
And of distant flashes
Calm and moving

It’s like a cymbal that complains
With contempt and dissatisfaction

And yet her face still appears
At the windows of the town of puddles and ladders
And the Eiffel Tower of this town
Has become transparent almost invisible
And we hear the wind singing in its ribs
So fragile that only a child could climb them
To see the world


In the gardens
In the schools
Full of noise and heavy bags
And ancient
Where the sun
Only penetrates once a year
With hilarity
Schools blue as whitewash
Or old figs dry and acidic
A little water
Some chestnut buds

Like liners
On which no one will ever go
Despite wanting
And saving
With towers that smoke
Pineapples and winter gardens

And like missals torn
With rage and resentment and disarray
One Easter
Like scruffy surplices stained with