by Yolande Schutter
A brushstroke is also
a child’s sketch of the sun, or a sparrow, or
a diagram of the condo on a restaurant napkin,
the grenade &
a doorway of dust leading to stairs & a darkness.
À la veille de commencer une grande aventure
a pomegranate explodes
a typical dining room filled with rugs or maybe
an army vehicle filled with helmeted men.
Annam, Tonkin, Cochin china, Cambodia, Laos—
another sunny day—
arrêt au poste où le Saharien nous donne la lettre de Cathi
(la fée). It is
as if the building housed another land—
beautiful in its own way, lonely, discarded—it is
broken open like ripe fruit:
cela n’as jamais été de la ‘torture’ &
cela vous aidera à la retrouver quand vous reviendrez.
Cliffs rise up, spires out of the sea.
“Come back with the stories,” she said, come back with the
couleurs claires et douces, but
do not hide in the future
never to uncover the past,
do not try to live the life of fiction.
Everything is that warm, dusty ochre
faded & under-exposed:
farewell beautiful projects
for now there is tomorrow, the office, &
God knows what else & I
have no Ricard, no Cognac, no whisky but
her amber & gold ring catches the sun &
here is “my daughter, grown.”
I am not, however, a poet.
I am on a train & your ocean is between
I feel like something disappeared with him &
“I had stayed behind, I wanted to see it through.”
I left the way I came.
I long for the desert,
I want glory—I don’t even know if that’s what
“I watched the flag get lowered & folded.”
I would stay forever here on this coast so blue
exploding with such greenery, such light,
I would throw myself in the water, too.
Il n’y a pas de petites choses en ce monde
attendu que Dieu se mêle de toutes,
il serait presque dommage que ce
j’ai vécu périsse a tant
jamais avec moi—
je me jetterais bien à l’eau moi aussi.
Know that at every moment Cath speaks of you:
la mer de tous côtés pendant des jours
like the air when the sea is near.
My grandfather, buttons undone, stands with a cigarette
between his lips, a beret, brow arched.
My grandfather demanded the admiration of all
with his radiant energy & his cold blood—
my grandfather leaned against a balcony
grinning, white marble pillars, palms,
Sa Đéc 7/46: saison des pluies.
My grandfather walked the empty path
below Angkor Wat, arms crossed—
my grandfather walked with his shadow while
my grandmother got up early on Sundays to pray.
My grandmother opened the door to my room, “Tiens,” she said,
offering me a faded red folder.
My mother learned Vietnamese before French,
my mother used chopsticks before cutlery—
my young grandmother, stoic, watched the
N’essayez pas de vivre un roman—là où il y a mariage
sans amour, il y aura amour sans mariage.
Ne cache pas dans l’avenir
à retrouver jamais le passé:
one black & white photo of a sunset over the sea,
one bowl tabbouleh,
one can tahini,
one carved copper tray,
one chipped fruit bowl,
one clay tagine,
one collection Mediterranean-blue glass,
one Confucius charm threaded with red,
one day before beginning
one grand adventure,
one little stuffed bear (le Bon Docteur),
one maroon desert scarf,
one pair black desert pants embroidered with white,
one pair leather slippers, toes upturned,
one tube harissa,
one wedding chest, & one
post office stop where the Saharan gave us the letter from Cathi
Quand elles me reviennent à l’esprit
c’est en ordre dispensé—
rock & sand stacked like a cairn—
this is the way.
Sandaled feet swing from the top of stacked luggage,
shipping boats are fixed in the sea like boulders or
six painted tea glasses.
Someone needs to know what it looked like,
sunlight as water, dripped down ravines
settling into pools, drenched & shining,
the air was heated by sand; it
tasted of anise blossoms &
the beach that so reminded my mother of her childhood home.
The child’s face is swollen, his hair gripped in a soldier’s fist—
the corner shelf is stacked with ceramic rabbits,
Buddhist carvings, war medals,
the difference between “child” & “insurgent,”
the difference between “tourist” & “soldier.”
The fear of crowd mentalities becomes
the heat sinking through me,
the inability to speak when my mind speaks in two languages.
The land belongs to no one & thousands go into the desert:
the local chickens into
the murky harbor water,
the prisoners of war into
(the realization of economic & social reforms),
the sea on every side for days into
the scent of orange blossom,
the tree into calligraphy,
the wet morning light into
the zebu standing in the stream—la route de Sa Đéc.
There are no small things in this world
knowing God tangles himself with all.
This will help you to find her when you return:
those same hands folding & unfolding
three silk-embroidered drawings,
three silver teapots,
two camel saddles,
two floor cushions,
two tunics folding & unfolding
two native women, babies wrapped around their bodies—
two native women, lengths of fabric wrapped around
their waists—beads, a dirt road folding & unfolding
two pieces of carved ivory (“What do we do with these?”),
two silver rings,
two silk robes,
two wooden sculptures of dark faces.
We forgot what price
we had to pay for beauty.
We wake at 7 o’clock,
we were supposed to leave today but it got pushed back—
where there is marriage without love
there will be love
You are the record-keeper
you are the writer in the family
your Cath she lives,