How Many Lives Have We Lived in Paris?

- 1957-

We’ve lived the life of an unbridled boy 
Mastering the higgledy-piggledy metro, 

Tapping the fast-moving window,
Loving the a cappella names 

Of the heralded stations:
Saint-Paul, Bastille, Gare de Lyon—


The life of a downtrodden clochard,  
Sly, indigent alley crone, 

Still wrestling to recover 
A long-deterred tune:  

Chevalier, dauphin, Parisian charmer,
Don’t you know I’m blue without your wink?


The life of a pendant, park-facing willow, 
Oh sweet, avuncular life—


Incarnation of a curling swan—


The life of an insouciant schoolgirl 
Boulevard-prancing then skipping

In the candle-pale voile of her lark-
Light Corpus Christi dress—


Life of a heartfelt nun whispering novenas
And bidding God’s blessèd day adieu—


The taciturn, time-and-again life 
Of a ringlet-haired racehorse

On a raucous kids’ carousel:
Its red-gold, undignified Sundays—  


Fat life of a tantalized basilica tomcat
Chasing a fly-by-night sparrow in the pews—


The jubilant life of a sweetheart, answering 
Yes, oh yes, I will,

Mon amour, trésor,
You can toss your hat now into the air—

Return to Florence

How do I convey the shoring gold
at the core of the Florentine bells’
commingled chimes?

Vast as a suddenly revealed
field of wheat,
that up-and-away gold
is equivalent to the match-burst
morning I returned,
intent as doubting Thomas,
to my old classroom terrace,
open to the showy, blue yes
of the bustling Arno,
to my timeless, sun-laved
Basilica of Santo Spirito,
and discovered
ebullient citizens reciting,
at a hundred different posts,
the same unbetraying passage
of Dante’s Paradise.

The World That the Shooter Left Us

                                                       (Stand Your Ground)
In this one, ladies and gentlemen,
Beware, be clear: the brown man,
The able lawyer, the paterfamilias,
Never makes it out of the poem alive:
The rash, all-too-daily report,
The out of the blue bullet
Blithely shatters our treasured
Legal eagle’s bones and flesh—
In the brusque spectacle of point-blank force,
On a crimsoned street,
Where a revered immigrant plummets
Over a contested parking spot,
And the far-seeing sages insist,
Amid strident maenads
Of at-the-ready patrol car sirens,
Clockwork salvos,
The charismatic Latino lawyer’s soul
Is banished, elsewhere, without a shred
Of eloquence in the matter—
And the brute, churning
Surfaces of the world,
They bear our beloved citizen away—
Which means, austere saints
And all-seeing masters,
If I grasp your bracing challenge:
At our lives’ most brackish hour,
Our highest mission isn’t just to bawl,
But to turn the soul-shaking planet
Of the desecrated parking lot
(The anti-miracle),
The blunt, irascible white man’s
Unnecessary weapon,
And the ruse of self-defense
Into justice-cries and ballots?
Into newfound pledges and particles of light?

in memory of J. Garza, 1949-2017


You’ve just died in my arms,
But suddenly it seems we’re eternal

Cali boys, Afro-haired cohorts in crime,
Racing through intricate lattices

Of quince and lemon tree shadows,
Corridors of Queen Anne’s lace—

On the skip-church Sunday you dubbed me
“Sir Serious” instead of Cyrus—

Then, swift as a deer’s leap, we’re devotees
Of goatees and showy Guatemalan shirts,

Intoxicated lovers for a month
On the northwest coast of Spain—

Praising the irrepressible sounds
Of a crusty Galician bagpiper

On La Coruña’s gripping finisterre,
Then gossiping and climbing

(Like the giddy Argonauts we were)
The lofty, ancient Roman lighthouse,

All the way—Keep on truckin’, we sang—
To the top of the Tower of Hercules—  

Related Poems


You recount the history of the French garden.

From above, I see tight rows of trees beside threadbare grass.

When the language teacher talks about le capitalisme:

the gesture of three fingers rubbing imaginary fabric.

I’m a tourist, vulnerable and stupid,

my legs showing, shoes practical, face red.

Together, we try to reconstruct an anecdote

whose contents have scattered. A motorcycle passes, a French police siren

you say sounds innocuous then we both laugh sourly.

I hadn’t seen a woman slap a child in some time.

A truck reversing, and the alarm that continues for hours one morning.

Porn on a handheld device, its tinny echo in a room

with bare floors and very little furniture.

Across the courtyard, this t-shirt on a hanger out the window

turns in the light breeze as if trying to look behind itself.

I’m consumed with not knowing where to buy paper, safety pins, stamps.

The windowframes of that building are red, emerging from grey gables.

Enormous bumblebee at the threshold investigates the doorway, doesn’t enter.

The flies do; they’re promiscuous; they leave.

I don’t know the word for because.

So each act is disconnected from another.

I can almost imagine there are no consequences,

the days just pass, one sunny, one cloudy, someone unseen shouts, sirens

every few hours, clouds move in a solemn procession across

a wide sky staggered with chimneys,

people wait to cross the street, a large tree tosses its wig a little.

Other small trees in the courtyard flicker.

They are responsive.

The sun heats the pavement; le pavé répond.

You send me a short erotic video, you’re naked, propositioning me.

Do you act more like the coin or the water?

Across the narrow street this bird

sipping from roof puddles

seems more dove than pigeon.

Pacing, grandmotherly, she keeps stopping to look at me.

Do you just know how to love another person

like someone knew to paint those windowframes red?

Most of the architecture looks floral, like a boring math problem.

The crosses that reach and reach.

Why does the scrape of the furniture when I rearrange it

sound like crass American English to me?

I slept late, now I’m watching the clouds, like clouds

in an eighteenth-century painting. Overly articulate.

Except these clouds are not trying to symbolize anything.

Where’s my dove.

I always want to go look at people.

A booth selling copies of copies of Louis Vuitton.

The small shadow the roof makes on another roof right next to it.

When my friend came to Paris she wanted to break everything.

Impeccable shoes on the impeccable feet.

Clothes so new they’re creamy, and to seem to never have to compromise.

I feel tattered when I’m actually not;

I’m an American, I eat.

A huge decorative basket of citrus stationed beside me in the upscale bistro.

The woman from a building opposite comes down, indignant:

Who threw a pomelo into my window?

You read to me about the history of the barricade.

I picture the drab suburbs.

The shoulders and elbows of people in the museum evoke more reaction

in me than most of the paintings.

A young lithe person with live eyes tends bar, gender trouble tattooed up their arm.

I count twenty-nine sleeping bags lined up beneath the overhang

and each one inhabited.

I read to you about the history of enclosure.

Two people talking on a balcony, their black hair blowing.

One leaning over into the courtyard.

Behind the cathedral, vulgar black felt stapled in the raised flowerbeds

to mask their frames.

The river stinks, allures, as a specific person can.

A repository, a consequence, a long sentence, an ongoing story.

The generous current cut through by a party boat shouting

wooo! wooo! wooooooo! wooo!

emitting an obscene light

waving at whatever will wave back

Nohemi — a Song for Paris

Mimi — can I call you that

this is a song for you —


with candles we stand & we kneel

this is how it is now we

well all of us we

send you these flowers across time

this time here which we

                        cannot explain


all love goes to you

& your friends the other night

so many with you gone we

stand we play Lennon’s piano

Imagine — we say

a world without violence —

we want to imagine that in your name

Nohemi Gonzalez from El Monte

from Whittier California from

Cal State Long Beach —


            we run out of words


the words

so many words your mamá

Beatríz your cousin Jacqueline

we know them now — for you


we write them a poem too

I do not know how we will do that

we are doing that — that is all

like the designs you made — for a high-spirited world

you said you were high-spirited & self-driven — yes

like the dreams you had

& the words First Generation

the ones you used to

describe               your life


we continue with you — somehow

it is not important to know how

it is important to continue that is all

I must — say it again


we are all writing a poem

for you for your cousin Jacqueline

for your mamá Beatríz — she loved you

their love will make it alright

all of our love will make it alright        yes


                        here is your song Mimi — 


We light Nohemi a candle

the candle waves across the stars

close they are so close because

Nohemi & Paris are in our hearts



            Nohemi &

                        Paris — are in                


   our hearts


At last you're tired of this elderly world

Shepherdess O Eiffel Tower this morning the bridges are bleating

You're fed up living with antiquity

Even the automobiles are antiques
Religion alone remains entirely new religion
Remains as simple as an airport hangar

In all Europe only you O Christianism are not old
The most modern European Pope Pius X it's you
The windows watch and shame has sealed
The confessionals against you this morning
Flyers catalogs hoardings sing aloud
Here's poetry this morning and for prose you're reading the tabloids
Disposable paperbacks filled with crimes and police
Biographies of great men a thousand various titles

I saw a pretty street this morning I forgot the name
New and cleanly it was the sun's clarion
Executives laborers exquisite stenographers
Criss-cross Monday through Saturday four times daily
Three times every morning sirens groan
At the lunch hour a rabid bell barks
The lettering on the walls and billboards
the doorplates and posters twitters parakeet-style
I love the swank of that street
Situated in Paris between the rue Aumont-Thieville and the avenue des Ternes

Here's the young street and you're still a baby
Dressed by your mother in blue and white only
You're very pious and with your oldest friend Rene Dalize
Nothing is more fun than Masses and Litanies

It's nine o'clock the gaslight is low you leave your bed
You pray all night in the school chapel
Meanwhile an eternal adorable amethyst depth
Christ's flamboyant halo spins forever
Behold the beautiful lily of worship
Behold the red-haired torch inextinguishable
Behold the pale son and scarlet of the dolorous Mother
Behold the tree forever tufted with prayer
Behold the double gallows honor and eternity
Behold the six-pointed star
Behold the God who dies on Friday and rises on Sunday
Behold the Christ who flies higher than aviators
He holds the world's record for altitude

Christ pupil of the eye
Twentieth pupil of the centuries knows its stuff
And bird-changed this century like Jesus climbs the sky
Devils in the abyss look up to watch
They say this century mimics Simon Magus in Judea
It takes a thief to catch a thief they cry
Angels flutter around the pretty trapeze act
Icarus Enoch Elijah Apollonius of Tyana
Hover as close to the airplane as they can
Sometimes they give way to other men hauling the Eucharist
Priests eternally climbing the elevating Host
The plane descends at last its wings unfolded
bursts into a million swallows
Full speed come the crows the owls and falcons
From Africa ibis storks flamingoes
The Roc-bird famous with writers and poets
Glides Adam's skull the original head in its talons
The horizon screams an eagle pouncing
And from America there comes a hummingbird
From China sinuous peehees
Who have only one wing and who fly in couples
And here's a dove immaculate spirit
Escorted by lyre-bird and shimmery peacock

Phoenix the pyre the self-resurrected
Obscures everything ardently briefly with ash
The sirens abandon their perilous channels
Each one singing more beautifully arrives
Everyone eagle Phoenix Chinese peehees
Eager to befriend a machine that flies

You are walking in Paris alone inside a crowd
Herds of buses bellow and come too close
Love-anguish clutches your throat
You must never again be loved
In the Dark Ages you would have entered a monastery
You are ashamed to overhear yourself praying
You laugh at yourself and the laughter crackles like hellfire
The sparks gild the ground and background of your life
Your life is a painting in a dark museum
And sometimes you examine it closely

You are walking in Paris the women are bloodsoaked
It was and I have no wish to remember it was the end of beauty

In Chartres from her entourage of flames Our Lady beamed at me
The blood of your Sacred Heart drenched me in Montmartre
I'm sick of hearing blissful promises
The love I feel is a venereal disease
And the image possessing you in your pain your insomnia
Vanishes and it is always near you

And now you are on the Riviera
Under lemon trees that never stop blooming
You are boating with friends
One is from Nice one is from Menton two from La Turbie
We are staring terrified at giant squid
At fish the symbols of Jesus swimming through seaweed

You are in the garden at an inn outside of Prague
You are completely happy a rose is on the table
And instead of getting on with your short-story
You watch the rosebug sleeping in the rose's heart

Appalled you see yourself reproduced in the agates of Saint Vitus
You were sad near to death to see yourself there
You looked as bewildered as Lazarus
In the Jewish ghetto the clock runs backwards
And you go backwards also through a slow life
Climbing the Hradchen listening at nightfall
To Bohemian songs in the singing taverns

You in Marseilles among the watermelons

You in Coblenz at the Hotel Gigantic

You in Rome beneath a Japanese tree

You in Amsterdam with a girl you find pretty who is ugly
She's engaged to marry a student from Leyden
Where you can rent rooms in Latin Cubicula locanda
I remember spending three days there and three in Gouda

You are in Paris hauled before the magistrate
You are under arrest you are a criminal now

You went on sorrowful and giddy travels
Ignorant still of dishonesty and old age
Love afflicted you at twenty and again at thirty
I've lived like a fool and I've wasted my time
You dare not look at your hands I want to weep all the time
On you on the one I love on everything that frightened you

And now you are crying at the sight of refugees
Who believe in God who pray whose women nurse babies
The hall of the train station is filled with the refugee-smell
Like the Magi refugees believe in their star
They expect to find silver mines in the Argentine
And to return like kings to their abandoned countries
One family carries a red eiderdown you carry your heart
Eiderdown and dreams are equally fantastic

Some of the refugees stay on in Paris settling
Into slums on the rue des Rosiers or the rue des Ecouffes
I have seen them often at dusk they breathe at their doorways
They budge from home as reluctantly as chessmen
They are chiefly Jewish the women wear wigs
And haunt backrooms of little shops in little chairs

You're standing at the metal counter of some dive
Drinking wretched coffee where the wretched live

You are in a cavernous restaurant at night

These women are not evil they are used-up regretful
Each has tormented someone even the ugliest

She is the daughter of a police sergeant from Jersey

Her hands I'd never noticed are hard and cracked

My pity aches along the seams of her belly

I humble my mouth to her grotesque laughter

You're alone when morning comes
The milkmen jingle bottles in the street

Night beautiful courtesan the night withdraws
Fraudulent Ferdine or careful Leah

And you drink an alcohol as caustic as your life
Your life you drink as alcohol

You walk to Auteuil you want to go on foot to sleep
At home among your South Sea and Guinean fetishes
Christs of another shape another faith
Subordinate Christs of uncertain hopes

Goodbye Goodbye

Sun cut throated