In 1983 Jacques Roubaud’s wife Alix Cleo died at the age of 31 of a pulmonary embolism. The grief-stricken author responded with one brief poem (“Nothing”), then fell silent for thirty months.
In subsequent years, Roubaud—poet, novelist, mathematician—composed a series of prose poems, a collection that is a profound mediation on the experience of death, the devastation it brings to the lover who goes on living, and the love that remains. Despite the universality of this experience, no other writer has so devoted himself to exploring and recording the many-edged forms of grief, mourning, bewilderment, emptiness, and loneliness that attend death. No other writer has provided a kind of solace while facing with honesty and hardness the intricate ways in which the living are affected by such a loss.
Some Thing Black is an ongoing monologue from Roubaud to his wife, as death assaults the mind’s failure to comprehend absence. Roubaud both refuses to and cannot surrender his wife to the past (“I always wake up in your voice, your hand, your smell”). The death, having occurred in an instant of time, goes on in him (“But inside me your death proceeds slowly, incomprehensibly”). While acknowledging “death calls for a poetry of meditation,” Roubaud is enraged at the limitations of language and words to affect the biological reality. Rather, all that language can do is clarify the exactness of his grief and to recall precisely the image of her life and death. But such recollection—the sight of her dead body, her photographs, her things, the rooms they lived in—becomes a “memory infinitely torturous.” And his most anguished recollection is of their making love (“These memories are the darkest of all”), and a sense of guilt for somehow not having prevented her death (“I did not save you from that difficult night”).
This is a brave and honest book that does not disguise that pain of loss. Its nobility, grace, and humanity rest in its refusal to falsify death’s harsh presence (“This dirty rotten life to be mixed up with death”) and in its acceptance of the mind’s limitations (“I do not understand”). This moving, compassionate, uncompromising book is one of the most significant works of our time. Included in this edition is a portfolio of photographs made by Roubaud’s wife in 1980 entitled “If Some Thing Black.”