The Forgotten Madmen of Ménilmontant

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

From What About This: Collected Poems of Frank Stanford. Copyright © 2015 by Ginny Crough and C. D. Wright, Estate of Frank Stanford. Reprinted with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of Copper Canyon Press.