My Writing Space
The Last Refuge
Burial at Sea
Rondes d’Hiver: A Winter Dance
Bras de Venus, November 2007
After the cold spell the water is back on.
The wind drops and the sun regains its glory.
The town carnivals the coming of winter
by emptying its attics on to the streets.
It’s inaugurated by a vintage rally,
that includes some cars of my youth: Baby Fords,
Morris Minors and an Austin Somerset.
I, too, am a veteran, and still going,
though not as cher in essence. The bouquin stall
is stacked with everything I ought to read,
costing almost nothing. I notice browsers
in this impec display - from Anatole France
to Emile Zola - put back books upside-down,
and catch an old woman in flagrant délit.
‘Pas digne’, I tut-tut, and she understands,
dropping an Elsa Triolet and scarpering.
I plump for Jules Supervielle’s Kidnapper,
Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Mon Père, by son Jean.
Stendahl’s De l’Amour, Tortilla Flat
because it’s the next mayor’s favourite Steinbeck.
And a Patrick Modiano I’m ashamed to admit.
Dirty linen and broken bibelots. Neighbours
purchase one another’s secret revelations
for the common good. I have nothing to sell
save my poems and they’re in the wrong language.
The port tannoy is a siren for French rap,
and occasional announcements. ‘The sardinade
is cancelled as it was too rough to go out.’
Is that God that’s speaking, or Thierry Ferran?
‘There’s a boudinade instead. Vegetarian
sausages available too. Roll up.
Merci beaucoup pour votre comprehension.’
When I grow young again I’ll despise events
such as this, except for the shooting gallery
in the funfair. Though the bullets are dummies.
A feature this year is a glut of Sartre’s Huis Clos.
Almost every stall has a handful. ‘No way out.’
‘Hell is other people.’ Who’s talking? Not me.
Even the mayor’s wife is a simple human being
today, hawking her throw outs. Who will find
the hell in me? Not the Bad Woman who steals
husbands. The stall that she puts out is herself.
It is still possible to remember that once
I played the Spring Sonata one winter’s day
in Mr McNamara’s room in the Im-
perial Hotel, Cork. He stopped me after
the first movement, the allegro, saying
‘it couldn’t get any better'. I so wanted
to make the scherzo, and rondo to the end.
To Madame Grace’s Niece and Friend
There’s much kindness in a small town, an us-
ness. The ‘we and them’ of cities is less obvious.
But, when the wind is up, down goes the head
and the good samaritan may well cut you dead.
It’s natural. Human warmth loses its glow,
chilled by the mistral, scorched by the sirocco.
The tramontane is big hearted, of course.
It warms the cockles even when the snows
are on the foothills. I shelter from a gust
at midnight. A car stops. ‘You’ve missed the last bus.’
The wound-down window speaks to me. ‘Copin,
no need to fear strange women. Hop in.’
In Memory of M. David (1925 - 2007)
What does an elderly flâneur do
when he finds he can’t walk any more?
He gets himself a gentleman’s bike.
I met him on the Rue de Solaire,
trying to remount after falling off
when raising his hat to a lady
he could strangle with bicycle clips.
A woman who didn’t acknowledge him.
He stilted with his cane on saddle,
and I gave him a push, and wondered,
as he descended down past the church,
how was he ever going to stop.
The Truth in Silence
Dray does not say much. But why should he?
He’s a doer to perfection, lays tiles
in my séjour most eloquently.
Talkers here have more telling smiles
than tongues. Silence is a rare virtue.
He works in, and on it, and for me.
It could be said he doesn’t speak freely.
But when I walk on his drying glue,
this mildest of men downs tools, goes wild.
What’s being said is no mystery to me.
His clever cousins say he’s a dingue.
I prefer simple. A life that is chaque clou
chasse l’autre. One nail tracks the next. Riled
by my stepping on his work, Dray’s rage grew
out of all proportion. It couldn’t be me
merely that makes him curse the sky. A cue
to share a little word on his grandchild,
who has mal? No. A sympa silence will do.
The Uncertain Way to Lunch
The poule de luxe slinking along the Rue de Solaire, arm and arm with a man that limps. She must be the doxy Welsh tells me is being kept here to find peace (what with the sea and the mountains, and the humble people and one good restaurant), and he must be her long-suffering friend who lives in Nancy.
If they seem unsteady on their feet, it’s not that the sun is off-centre, or the weight of her feathers on those high heels. The rose de vents whirls on the lighthouse tower. All thirty-three local winds are blowing at the same time. But, be of good heart, when the tourbillon drops her poise is bound to be recovered and the man with the limp will be walking on air.