Here, the Heavy Glitter of Now

“There is another world but it is in this one,” said Paul Eluard. 

This one, here, celui-ci in the heavy glittering mid-August summer.  Sometimes the tree has one cicada that shatters the insistent sun.  Sometimes the chêne has one cicada that cries its passion, shrieks its desire over the noonday field, the shadowless yellow grass.  Sometimes a tree full of cicadas will work a trance like gentle dancers. 

We are not on our way to over there.  We share a house with others in our origin story.  We shift around, one thing displacing the next in the everchanging present.  The cat takes shallow breaths as it sleeps by the red bicycle in the shade.  

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Driven — Life of the Plane Trees

In March 2020, obsessed with the platanes, or plane trees that lend magic to the roads in southern France, I organized a series of poems and pictures about their disappeance.  Covid derailed the presentation of the piece— the series languished.

Two and a half years later, I have returned to the same place in Camélas, southwest France, return to the trees, to the scene of poetic, arbored and aesthetic drama — how are things now?  There are still graceful roads with remaining trees, sometimes 200 years old, but they stand like the Citroën or Deux Chevaux, a Charles Trenet song alongside gleaming strips of bold blacktop drawn straight on the land. “Old” roads are now designated for bikes or tractors.  The modern highway obsession exposes all kinds of things — for moderns, it’s not the journey, it’s the destination. With speed and air conditioning, who gives a damn about quaint shade. Just when Americans are desperate to relearn the language of ecological coexistence, those who speak it are abandoning it.  

But the trees?  I’m here on a day when the air is already hot; in the care of the platanes, I am cool, in their corridor of peace.  As much as I came to check on them, they check on me.  The massacre that I witnessed and photographed is over; trunks and limbs that resembled bones and body parts of animals have long ago been carted away.  The trees that remain are tagged with little metal plates, 612, number of the highway — G16+ 550.  Individual and prisoner, naming’s double entendre.  

Their trunks split into a trio of uplifted arms.  Their leaves are still bright green oxygenated veins that hold life, hold secrets not tightly, given to those who ask.  They are full of knowledge about the long game, la durée — about light moves, about the shared dance.  In metamorphoses we survive, we move on.  They offer a vision of ourselves walking eight steps ahead, our next move, next creative breath.  There for the taking.

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Noon Justice

Sunday on the cusp of August in the countryside should be long, should feel endless.  At midi, noon in France, a stillness sets in that is both awesome, in the classical sense of the sun’s strict justice, and dauntingly hot.  You will be trying to name that song the cicadas keep spinning — drone, chant — and might fall into an inspired trance.  There are flies on your ankles and the slow swirling scent of the time or its demise, of memories you’ve had or never had, of something tantalizing—

Just over there, beyond the dry field or on Monday, is spanking new blacktop that replaces graceful tree-lined roads once for horses, tractors and speeding Sunday-lunch drunkards.  There is an epidemic of pregnant roundabouts that keeps giving birth to more and more roundabouts.  The voices of trees that we come to hear every year are frailer and frailer.  They check on us too – as nature looks in on us wayward, unplanted humans. 

Eyeballing shrubs in a new peach orchards I count neary 500, maybe 1000, planted with geometric precision, rays of sun splaying from all perspectives, an earthy Versailles.  Everywhere, but especially in France, in a sleight of hand, nature always a part of culture. We salute the wary rapport with a nod towards timelessness, with or without us. 

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La Rafle in Paris, 1942: Say their names


Say her name. Dites son nom. Say the names of Jewish children — more than 4,000— who were taken 80 years ago this weekend from Paris apartments in the 9th, 10th, 11th, 20th arrondissements. They were separated from their mothers, their fathers who were also corralled in the Velodrome d’Hiver near the Eiffel Tower, en route to concentration camps.  There are placards on the streets of neighborhoods — trendy rue de la Roquette, for example — with pictures of the kids in their bows and best dresses, their faces of trust.  In a recent documentary, one of the few women who survived said, we had faith; this was the land of Voltaire and Diderot. 

With foreboding in the air, breakdown of norms and language, with the rattle of war, it’s essential that the French et al pay attention to this anniversary of so-called “La Rafle du Vel d’Hiv.”  Podcasts, documentaries, museum exhibitions are revisiting the targeted and choreographed swooping of French gendarmes to arrest, in two days in 1942, 13,152 Jews.  The roundup started with immigrants from Eastern Europe, but grew to include French Jews. Collaborist Vichy government was making “good” on promises to Gestapo, which had occupied the zone since 1940.   

An exhibition of Cabu, the beloved cartoonist who was killed in terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo, is especially powerful.  A student of both Rembrandt and Goya, he imagined scenes that had been meticulously researched and documented for the groundbreaking 1967 book “La Grand rafle du Vel d’Hiv” by Claude Levy and Paul Tillard.  Cabu’s original ink drawings are forcefully imagined, a child being a child against a well-uniformed mob, not a single German ever involved.  

The shock and denial of French involvement has worn off; the difficulty is in keeping shock alive.  Paris is beautiful now, but beauty isn’t a place of escapism from reality.  It’s a real garden if and because it voices the reality of suffering. 

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Paris’ Staff of Life

If this is Western civilization in decline, I’ll take it. On the one hand, France is in free fall; on the other, the effort of every moment to hold it together, to prop it up with baguettes as support!

Thus the proliferation of the baguette better and better, crustier, denser, with more breath holes like clarinets. The French are leaning on their strength, doing what they have always done in spades, only better.

Boulangeries make me dream; as with with poetry, I’ve never been a fan of rewards and prizes. I see awards and diplomas for third best baguette in Paris and wonder. Poetry and bread are the soul of culture, point zero, infinite nourishment. Breath holes. The two pillars of life, they outshine and outlast any medal.

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A Trump Zealot Finds Phenomenology

Those endless questions pull the bobby pin out of reality; 
the willies,  blues, bad infinity

even the “shining truth” of politics —
nothing but a question

all stars in our flag become fifty questions
all past and futures held down by a moment.

Even Burnitdown— a dyed-in-the-wool Trumpie — 
has learned to reorient by following sensation.  
Her moment of doubt as recounted to WaPo:

I know I have this screw in my hand —
it’s poking my finger and hurts.
I am really here –
I’m pinching the skin on my forearm.
I know that’s a tree — 
it’s shading my yard.
Or at least it’s called a tree 
because that’s what I was told…

If vertigo is the only shared notion
this mourning/morning in America —
I’ll take it. 

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Civil Burn

Things incandesce.  Glow with heat, 
break into flame

as a water glass sitting on the edge
of a sunny table will alight 

and you’ll find this small burning thing 

wanting — as prayer, as silence of the answer.  

So the doubleness of things, of words.
What does civil mean now

its cudgled emptiness
breakdown in definition 

enough to incandesce
in brother war

civil disobedience
loses its pact of politeness.

If it’s civil to leave newborns in a drop box

why not drop at her house – 
one, ten, a hundred?

Let the possessed with bionic eyes
remain apart, on a sun-struck table

to burn themselves out.

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In Defense of Ardor

These are dark times,
Open the window, the sun shines today for 15 hours 10 minutes.  

And windy, 
a piece of lettuce is blowing off my lunchplate.

we say to the sneeze heard through the open window.

On my summer reading list is “In Defense of Ardor”
and intention to pronounce Zagajewski

Ardor — heat of passion or desire —
in its air of noblity, 

I hear nostalgia, and an extended hand
to the future 

— to carry a torch for someone, for some thing, 

enduring strange beauty in words 
the scratch of magic, otherness, faith

to carry a torch for carrying forth

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Lessons from My Backyard Enemies

In spite of myself, my resentment that they are rats with tails, that they lounge in my chaises longues and massage themselves in the rims of my flowered pots, I have been admiring squirrels.

Such looseness; such fearless sense of play.  One — followed by her playmate — in motion leaps to her sure death from the roof but catches a frail branch, hangs belly-up as the branch dip low with weight until she rights herself, scrapes the bark with her nails — and darts.

Lilies of the valley have dropped their sweet white flowers, confetti is scattered around the hawthorn tree, the Dionysian rally of spring is exhausting —

but there are the squirrels, defying reason.

Once they’re hanging from a thread, how do they will themselves back? 
Do these masters of risk appraise a car tire and decide— uh uh,  not this one, over and over? 

And don’t these tricksters know these are dark times?  That destructive forces are overwhelming us?

And yet they play, play, play.  Before our tired eyes, they play, as if their very survival depended on it. If I banished them from the garden, who would remind us to play?

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The Morning Gamble

Light on the ledge of my lids
or is it the sill’s seepage?
From the trees, cacophony

the birds, no doubt
though I doubt —
a circus, pieces of a gambling

game being turned – 
clacking and sparring,
castanets, bingo.

The Creator as croupier? 
Each element in joy, in play,
the world depends on it.

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