Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2014  Vol. 13  No. 1
an online journal of literature and the arts
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The Death of Roland Barthes

Imagine the tableau:
Barthes, scarved and jacketed, listing
on a Paris side street after a long lunch with the Mitterrands,
absorbed by a wad of something
sucked from between his molars; here, the driver of the laundry truck
bored, dulled, sliding
into his seat to start the truck again.

It is cold: patches of ice
on the narrow street, the truck’s exhaust a white plume
billowing between the buildings.

He doesn’t see it, doesn’t hear its clatter (here

is that neutral, composite, oblique space
where our subject slips away, the negative
where all identity is lost
) as it rounds the corner

onto the bricked street where he now stands remembering
the oaky tones of the wine served at lunch.
The driver must be looking somewhere

else as Barthes crosses the curb, first one foot, then
the other (the voice loses its origin, the author
enters into his own death
) and the truck, as we say,
runs him down.

Compulsory death, death of the minor character,
death which we always saw coming: Barthes,
expiring at the curb like a pigeon. His white breath
mingles with the fumes of the truck’s exhaust, each a word
imitating the other.  end  

The italicized portions of this poem are taken from Barthes’ essay “The Death of the Author,” as translated by Stephen Heath.

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