The Forgotten Madmen of Ménilmontant

- 1948-1978

after Jacques Prévert

Do not look sadly at days gone by
days below days like a river running under the stars
Do not listen to the blues
or speak often with priests
Do not think the rich women enrolled in the college of nightfall
will always smell the same way

Everytime the tree works the leaves dream

Everytime I carve the dead wing my name
in the dark lamp of the outhouse
I said everytime I cut my name
in the old wood rotten as a tugboat
I know I am always with you

Everytime the schoolboy’s bad moon
dowses blood from the virgin’s stone thighs
I know I am handsome and young and drunk
eternal as a weed

It will not smell the same
Everytime I open a bottle of wine
and see a snake doctor under my bed
I know there is something coming and eternal
like taking off a white coat over the body of the dead

Poets have done this before
Poets have made love and gathered at the cheap joints
they’ve cut their fingers toasting one another’s death

Poets have made love
and remained thick
they’ve gotten cold feet at the crucial moments
when left alone with the students with sad eyes

Do not die in the wintertime
for there is no okra or sailboats

It will not smell the same
that twig of blood or the chiffonier

Do not listen to hunting dogs in autumn
or tie yellow flies for the small lips of desperate friends

Poets have done this before
and they’ve wandered off alone and unheard of
to bury the caul of their own stillborn

Like a voice the odor has changed

Dust under the hooves of a horse
running side by side with the fog
a book in the hands of a fool

Cheese and fish and spinsters
are the body of the poet
for the poet does not eat black bread
he gives it to the poor

Everytime a mare throws a foal in an exile’s country
I know I am with you
a gun in the hand of a fool

The poet forgets in remembrance of you
he is the lunatic’s left hand man
on Sundays the acolyte of the moon
he is night following other nights
the eyes of the blind
the stranger your wife leaves with
when you’re still talking with your youth
stowed away on the ship of death
and it will not smell the same

Everytime I see a young man
tuck his knife back in his vest
I want to say forget it and drink

Freedom, Revolt, and Love

They caught them.
They were sitting at a table in the kitchen.
It was early.
They had on bathrobes.
They were drinking coffee and smiling.
She had one of his cigarillos in her fingers.
She had her legs tucked up under her in the chair.
They saw them through the window.
She thought of them stepping out of a bath
And him wrapping cloth around her.
He thought of her walking up in a small white building,
He thought of stones settling into the ground.
Then they were gone.
Then they came in through the back.
Her cat ran out.
The house was near the road.
She didn't like the cat going out.
They stayed at the table.
The others were out of breath.
The man and the woman reached across the table.
They were afraid, they smiled.
The other poured themselves the last of the coffee.
Burning their tongues.
The man and the woman looked at them.
They didn't say anything.
The man and the woman moved closer to each other,
The round table between them.
The stove was still on and burned the empty pot.
She started to get up.
One of them shot her.
She leaned over the table like a schoolgirl doing her lessons.
She thought about being beside him, being asleep.
They took her long gray socks
Put them over the barrel of a rifle
And shot him.
He went back in his chair, holding himself.
She told him hers didn't hurt much,
Like in the fall when everything you touch
Makes a spark.
He thought about her getting up in the dark
Wrapping a quilt around herself.
And standing in the doorway.
She asked the men if they shot them again
Not to hurt their faces.
One of them lit him one of his cigarettes.
He thought what it would be like
Being children together.
He was dead before he finished it.
She asked them could she take it out of his mouth.
So it wouldn't burn his lips.
She reached over and touched his hair.
She thought about him walking through the dark singing.
She died on the table like that,
Smoke coming out of his mouth.

Cotton You Lose in the Field

Some bad whiskey
I drink by myself
just like you
when this wind
blows as it does
in the delta
where a lost hearing aid
can be taken
for a grub worm
when the black constellations
make you swim backwards
in circles of blood
stableboys ruin their hands
for a while
and a man none of us
can do without
breaks his neck
jumping over some hill
chasing the fox
of a half-pint
and a fine-blooded horse
is put out of its misery
even the young sisters
of the boys we run with
we would give our fingers
to touch them again
but this war
seeps back into us
little insecticide
and the white cricket of those days
drags itself off the hook
there are no more fish
there is no more bait
the rivers are formed by the tears of sports fans
we try to pour a trail of salt
as if making a long fuse
with a gunpowder keg
we try to swim away from the gym
like slugs with gills
the girls from the other school
step off the bus
the clouds are weighed in at the gin
there is a pattern to all this
like a weave of a skirt
we all go crazy from looking

Homage to Jacques Prévert

after Nicanor Parra

The truth is we both attended
The same boys’ school.
Reformatory, whatever you want to call it.
You were a big dick—I know you don’t remember me,
Always stealing coins
From the collection for a Sunday matinee.

You used to confess you fucked the young maid
So much, she really had to lay you,
So you wouldn’t lie to the priest anymore.
Then you spent your nights playing with your meat,
Weeping, drinking mass wine,
Listening to the queer monk’s records of the blues.

You ate chicken legs in the alley
With orphans and criminals.
You, dressed fit to kill, your cape,
Your beret, your shorts, all one dark color.
And the ragged copy of Villon in your hip pocket
Like a handkerchief to cough in.

You weren’t like the other boys,
You were like me, but I was too young and ugly for you.
You could play the cello well,
But no one ever heard you,
Not even the whores in the dives
You stole off to on free weekends.

Oh, I can read to numbskulls in the Southwest,
Make a few bucks at a cockfight with a bald-headed poet,
Watch some hillbilly cornhole a mule,
Then go back to Chile, with plenty, on a boat running guns,
But you, you can dream forever,
And still not remember who I was.