Spring wafts up the smell of bus exhaust, of bread and fried potatoes, tips green on the branches, repeats old news: arrogance, ignorance, war. A cinder-block wall shared by two houses is new rubble. On one side was a kitchen sink and a cupboard, on the other was a bed, a bookshelf, three framed photographs. Glass is shattered across the photographs; two half-circles of hardened pocket bread sit on the cupboard. There provisionally was shelter, a plastic truck under the branches of a fig tree. A knife flashed in the kitchen, merely dicing garlic. Engines of war move inexorably toward certain houses while citizens sit safe in other houses reading the newspaper, whose photographs make sanitized excuses for the war. There are innumerable kinds of bread brought up from bakeries, baked in the kitchen: the date, the latitude, tell which one was dropped by a child beneath the bloodied branches. The uncontrolled and multifurcate branches of possibility infiltrate houses' walls, windowframes, ceilings. Where there was a tower, a town: ash and burnt wires, a graph on a distant computer screen. Elsewhere, a kitchen table's setting gapes, where children bred to branch into new lives were culled for war. Who wore this starched smocked cotton dress? Who wore this jersey blazoned for the local branch of the district soccer team? Who left this black bread and this flat gold bread in their abandoned houses? Whose father begged for mercy in the kitchen? Whose memory will frame the photograph and use the memory for what it was never meant for by this girl, that old man, who was caught on a ball field, near a window: war, exhorted through the grief a photograph revives. (Or was the team a covert branch of a banned group; were maps drawn in the kitchen, a bomb thrust in a hollowed loaf of bread?) What did the old men pray for in their houses of prayer, the teachers teach in schoolhouses between blackouts and blasts, when each word was flensed by new censure, books exchanged for bread, both hostage to the happenstance of war? Sometimes the only schoolroom is a kitchen. Outside the window, black strokes on a graph of broken glass, birds line up on bare branches. "This letter curves, this one spreads its branches like friends holding hands outside their houses." Was the lesson stopped by gunfire? Was there panic, silence? Does a torn photograph still gather children in the teacher's kitchen? Are they there meticulously learning war- time lessons with the signs for house, book, bread?
For K. J., Leaving and Coming Back
August First: it was a year ago
we drove down from St.-Guilhem-le-Désert
to open the house in St. Guiraud
rented unseen. I'd stay; you'd go; that's where
our paths diverged. I'd settle down to work,
you'd start the next month of your Wanderjahr.
I turned the iron key in the rusted lock
(it came, like a detective-story clue,
in a manila envelope, postmarked
elsewhere, unmarked otherwise) while you
stood behind me in the midday heat.
Somnolent shudders marked our progress. Two
horses grazed on a roof across the street.
You didn't believe me until you turned around.
They were both old, one mottled gray, one white.
Past the kitchen's russet dark, we found
bookshelves on both sides of the fireplace:
Verlaine, L'Étranger, Notes from the Underground.
Through an archway, a fresh-plastered staircase
led steeply upward. In a white room stood
a white-clad brass bed. Sunlight in your face
came from the tree-filled window. "You did good."
We laid crisp sheets we would inaugurate
that night, rescued from the grenier a wood-
en table we put under the window. Date
our homes from that one, to which you returned
the last week of August, on a late
bus, in shorts, like a crew-cut, sunburned
bidasse. Sunburned, in shorts, a new haircut,
with Auden and a racing pulse I'd earned
by "not being sentimental about
you," I sprinted to "La Populaire."
You walked into my arms when you got out.
At a two minute bus stop, who would care?
"La Populaire" puffed onward to Millau
while we hiked up to the hiatus where
we'd left ourselves when you left St. Guiraud
after an unambiguous decade
of friendship, and some months of something new.
A long week before either of us said
a compromising word acknowledging
what happened every night in the brass bed
and every bird-heralded blue morning
was something we could claim and keep and use;
was, like the house, a place where we could bring
our road-worn, weary selves.
Now, we've a pause
in a year we wouldn't have wagered on.
Dusk climbs the tiled roof opposite; the blue's
still sun-soaked; it's a week now since you've gone
to be a daughter in the capital.
(I came north with you as far as Beaune.)
I cook things you don't like. Sometimes I fall
asleep, book open, one A.M., sometimes
I long for you all night in Provencal
or langue d'oc, or wish I could, when I'm
too much awake. My early walk, my late
walk mark the day's measures like rhyme.
(There's nothing I hate---perhaps I hate
the adipose deposits on my thighs
---as much as having to stay put and wait!)
Although a day alone cuts tight or lies
too limp sometimes, I know what I didn't know
a year ago, that makes it the right size:
owned certainty; perpetual surprise.