Pride of Place
Madame Kristal’s Boulangerie
At the crack of dawn the implacable bell of Our Lady of Good News stirs the town. Cyclones of starlings fill the sky. The sun is a loaf that warms the day to come.
Kristal, of the enamel smile and yellow hair, and faraway blue eyes and a complexion untouched by the sun, caresses the air with her politesse.
The baby sleeps in a bread basket. As warm and safe as an oven glove. Her father’s baking is in the air. Butterfly cakes tell you it’s Sunday.
Old men’s jowls wobble a smile as they smell rhubarb pie nicely burnt. They’re boys again, carrying the white bread home to their mother. But nothing’s cut and dried.
It’s the Feast of the Assumption. The grapes have been picked and the flies are all dead, and the starlings have taken off. When the bell tolls I stay in bed.
Bread elsewhere isn’t worth a crumb, it’s said, and Kristal needs new blood to bring a blush to her cheek. The ink of the note on the door has begun to run.
Dédé Marteau, Garagiste
Ok, Dédé I take back calling you the rude mechanic.
Your life is no mid-summer night’s dream. You’ve had a hard time
making ends meet since cars changed into clothes horses for plastic parts.
I mean, no pare-chocs? It’s a bumper time for your old rival
Cici who got the Peugeot franchise and now owns a yacht.
These Italians have family. You’re of the widows and orphans
of Spain, crossing the border in black-snow-and-white-sky photos,amongst children who lost an arm or a leg to a mine,
subsisting on hand outs. Your hands would have been an asset,
being so big. Now a wrench in them looks like a lost needle.
The old cars you can handle. After much trial and error,
they’re back on the road. You lunge under the rusty belly
of my obsolete Polo, and never fail to emerge
from the mud and grease, all bloodshot eyes and shock-horror hair,
to back-hand me bashfully and say, ‘It should be all right
for a few months’. You are the neo neolithic type
whose resemblance to Fred Flintstone makes me think of staunch soulswho do not know how to give up. And it is not fear
of the wife, who is the money, but a wish to secure
at the end of the arc-en-ciel a dot for Isabelle.
You beat out dents, Dédé, and weld the panels into place,
more or less. It’s a sounder job than the soft-crab fairings
of Cici. ‘Till the next time’, says the wife. She takes cash,
and a bonne bouche for the petite Belle, who doesn’t talk much,
like her papa, though their eyes moon over one another.
But there won’t be piggybacks for Isabelle anymore.
For the past four months the garage has been occupied by cats,
and you, who only want to fix bangers, have been laid up
with a crippling back. And I, your most faithful customer,
have despaired, and am buying a new collapsible car.
For Sebastian, No Longer in Town
I am writing this by hand. To be delivered by snail mail
by Madame the post woman who, thought she seems out of step
with the world that brings good news, always has a smile for me
(‘There’s nothing for you today’).
Off duty, she looks younger.
It must be the uniform with the black and white peaked cap.
And being without those glasses that read names slightly squint.
I saw her in the hermitage of Notre Dame de Consolation
at a family party in the arbour for picnics.
And she was holding the hand of a petit, her grandchild,
frightened by all the people.
I thought of you Sebastian,
and how your job disappeared. And you disappeared with it.
It must have been the small child. Though built like a rugbyman,
you’d have been just as gentle. It is said you sold your house.
And took your wife and firstborn on the road. That’s all I know.
You used to appeared on my door step. Awkward despite your welcome.
My world was falling apart. You never sat down but bent
yourself to the task at hand till I heard your ‘ça marche’.
I thanked you with Spanish wine.
I’m sure that this will find you
poste restante. Madame knows you. You lived here before I came.It was your first job and seemed for life. But they let you go.
Who’ll fix my computer now?