19th Birthday in Paris

The crown of it was fire: 
a stolen wish, this city
of bridges valving the heart,
ancient and scarred, tongues
of stone, this haughty sister,
matronly and jeweled, who
straightened her skirts,
looked me down in the eye.
Girl, are you sure 
you’re ready to rise?
Question mark of candles,
waiting for breath.
This vision, a pistil
of wavery bloom, a man
before me, the first refused:
a bite off our plates,
an outdoor café, the
privilege to witness
him, fierce and poor,
thrust forth his heart,
douse his body with oil,
purse his lips and blow out
tongues of flame. Utterance
of desire and gasoline,
a presage of future, some of it
mine. In the distance,
iron stippled with light. 

Copyright © 2018 by Gabrielle Civil. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 29, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem

“What does it mean to be a worldly black woman? Drawn from my own experience studying in France years ago, ‘19th Birthday in Paris’ engages race, travel, privilege, identity, and desire. The poem features a black girl coming of age in a foreign city, marveling and wondering about her future. The last image of ‘iron stippled with light’ evokes the Eiffel Tower. It also foretells hardship, strength, and beauty: what it might mean to be a black woman in the world.”
—Gabrielle Civil