the slate roofs of buildings ooze leaden wet
that changes to vapor haunting the riverbanks
a streamer of mist hangs near Île Saint-Louis
the liquid ribbon of the Seine lies hushed
he thinks: suicides – choose some other night
for your solitary launch into grim eternity
in his mind’s bell tower alone
with his own monstrousness he finds himself
the eyes and the ears the nose of Paris
City of Light envy of stars near Nôtre Dame
he climbs the steps from the river a car’s horn barks
from a nearby cobblestone street he’s wandered
he’s wandered long he’ll wander far
a vagrant among old Paris streetlamps
along the Boulevard de Sebastopol…
Lorca is chanted slowly in the ateliers
of Spanish whores the line keeps sounding in his head
while spiders deftly rig their magic nets
on chimneys in sight of the Gare de l’Est
the Tenth Arrondissement not much farther
to go he stops briefly on a footbridge
over the Canal Saint-Martin
obsidian streaked with thin flashes
from antique kiosks’ grayish amber
exuding notices ads inarticulate
tired of walking feeling almost coffined
he crosses over passes some wary cats
who seem crestfallen habitués
of shuttered bistros and brasseries and then
from a dark alley come the yowls
and whines of feline coition
now into narrower streets he turns
while the clocks and concierges
mark the hour and his passing he sees her standing
where she said she would all those hours ago
running to meet him she drops her clutch he
retrieves it hands it to her she kisses his cheeks
in greeting he presses his lips to hers red as claret
they two pass on fast in dialogue Corinne takes his arm
the sharp bouquet of decanted wines tatters of fog
skeletal gaiety of spent soirées she takes his hand
from a neighborhood church some streets away
midnight’s bells sing sweetly to the waters
to the window glass the trees the lights now
they are at her door a maisonette a fluttering of keys
buzzing the scent of honey in the hive
she’s older than he by a dozen years widowed
by the Algerian war seven years before
a waitress in ‘a fine establishment’ (the ad)
where two days ago they met – his first day in Paris
they ascend the stairs past prints by Degas
in the dim light one dancer’s face
strikes his eye it looks uncannily like Corinne’s
but in a very pleasing way upstairs
she takes his jacket and his cap undresses him
to his undergarments she strips to bra panties
takes his hand leads him to the salle de bain
she runs the bath both strangely diffident they turn
away as the other strips nude she motions him in
after he sits she climbs into the tub briskly
crouching behind him she washes his back then sits
in the fork of his legs as he washes hers pushing
her hair aside he kisses the nape of her neck
he reaches round front palms squeezes her small firm breasts
she reaches her hand back catches le soldat d’amour
prêt à faire son devoir dur she says this
in a lighthearted tone tinged with sadness
her fingers play some moments there
she turns so they can kiss they do as she toys on
his hand moves to touch her sex “Plus tard” she whispers
they both stand then rinse off the soap bearing away the day
they touch each other’s bodies dry each other off –
first he rubs her rosy then kisses her lips
her ears her neck her breasts then more slowly
she begins to dry him one warm hand on him there
the other moves the towel over his skin
later wrapped in fresh towels they go down to the salon
they dance cheek to cheek to music from the phonograph
on and on they dance talking all the while her voice
in whispers his louder the music stops
she loosens their towels then hands back his they trail them
as hand in hand they climb the stairs quickly then in bed
wrap themselves in naked warmth their breathing
fast then faster kisses breathing intermingled
dawn first light peeks through her bedroom window
together they enter the salle de bain
for the morning ritual once more they make love
there between the tub and sink afterward
they lie still and silent on the cool tiles
he helps her to her feet kisses her eyes she leads
he follows down to the cozy kitchen
they’re still undressed she makes café au lait
sips a bit of hers goes up puts on a peignoir
returning with his clothes she drops them on a chair
sits in his lap her left arm upon his shoulders
she leans across the table for her cup
between sips they talk and kiss kiss and talk again
their coffee finished they stand she hands him his clothes
piece by piece: underpants t-shirt uniform-shirt
pants tie his jacket cap he dresses watching her
watching him she smiles the while she buckles his belt
she stands back comes to attention salutes he blushes
they move to kiss again hold each other long tight
they move apart he: Ma chérie. Ces dernières heures
étaient belles et douces comme toi… Oui. C’est vrai…
Ce coir? Bien sûr! Oh! J’oublie ceci – pour toi.
He puts his hand in his pocket, takes out the little case.
She shakes her head no, pushes his hand down
as if afraid the case will explode. He
opens the case so she can see the gift.
Mais oui, prends-le! Un souvenir
à l’avance de nous avoir été ensemble.
The bracelet’s charms so far: a rose, an Eiffel Tower.
She takes the bracelet from its case and sets
the thin black velvet box on the kitchen table.
He stands mum as she hands the bracelet back
to have him fasten it around her wrist. He does.
She takes his face between her hands, kisses him long.
He touches her breasts beneath her peignoir,
brushes his thumbs over the nipples. “Pas de ça!” she says.
“Nous avons baisé de trop. Il me faut travailler ce matin.
Et toi – tu as dit que tu veux
visiter des musées…” She presses herself against him,
hugs him longer than she kissed him, lets go of him.
She leads him by the hand to the front door.
From a bowl in a niche she takes a handful of coins,
puts them in his hand. “Des francs pour le Métro.
Aujourd’hui, pas de marcher de trop. Compris?
Ce soir j’aurai besoin de toi plein de l’ énergie.
Et peut-etre il y aura une surprise
pour toi, mon chéri, si je peux l’arranger.”
What is she planning? He can’t imagine.
Saluting her, he says Je comprends, ma générale!
She laughs – at him, at herself, a laugh from the heart.
He unlocks the door, opens it part way.
Bonne nuit, Corinne. Ah, non, non! A cause de
ta beauté, de ta douceur, tout d’autre
se mélange pour moi. She smiles. Ah oui: bon jour –
Bon jour, ma belle! Bon jour, Paris!
* * *
© Gregory V Driscoll 2014