Published on Academy of American Poets (https://poets.org)


In Paris

Today as we walk in Paris I promise to focus
More on the sights before us than on the woman
We noticed yesterday in the photograph at the print shop,
The slender brunette who looked like you
As she posed with a violin case by a horse-drawn omnibus
Near the Luxembourg Gardens. Today I won't linger long
On the obvious point that her name is as lost to history
As the name of the graveyard where her bones
Have been crumbling to dust for over a century.
The streets we're to wander will shine more brightly
Now that it's clear the day of her death
Is of little importance compared to the moment
Caught in the photograph as she makes her way
Through afternoon light like this toward the Seine. 
The cold rain that fell this morning has given way to sunshine.
The gleaming puddles reflect our mood
Just as they reflected hers as she stepped around them
Smiling to herself, happy that her audition
An hour before went well. After practicing scales
For years in a village whose name isn't recorded,
She can study in Paris with one of the masters.
No way of telling now how close her life
Came to the life she hoped for as she rambled,
On the day of the photograph, along the quay.
But why do I need to know when she herself,
If offered a chance to peruse the book of the future,
Might shake her head no and turn away?
She wants to focus on her afternoon, now almost gone,
As we want to focus on ours as we stand
Here on the bridge she stood on to watch
The steamers push up against the current or ease down.
This flickering light on the water as boats pass by
Is the flow that many painters have tried to capture
Without holding too still. By the time these boats arrive
Far off in the provinces and give up their cargoes,
Who knows where the flow may have carried us?
But to think now of our leaving is to wrong the moment.
We have to be wholly here as she was
If we want the city that welcomed her
To welcome us as students trained in her school
To enjoy the music as much as she did
When she didn't grieve that she couldn't stay

Credit


From New and Selected Poems 1974-2004 by Carl Dennis, published by Penguin. Copyright © 2004 by Carl Dennis. Reprinted by permission of Penguin. All rights reserved.

Author


Carl Dennis

Carl Dennis was born on September 17, 1939, in St. Louis, Missouri, and attended both Oberlin College and the University of Chicago before completing his bachelor’s degree at the University of Minnesota. He earned his PhD from the University of California, Berkeley.

Dennis has published twelve books of poetry, including Night School (Penguin, 2018), Another Reason (Penguin, 2014); Callings (Penguin, 2010); Practical Gods (Penguin, 2001), for which he won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry; and Meetings with Time (Penguin, 1992), among others. Dennis has also published a book of criticism, Poetry as Persuasion (University of Georgia Press, 2001).

Known for its casual, plainspoken narrative style that makes its home in the everyday life of the American middle class, Dennis’s poetry is a quiet, almost intimate, meditation on the world around him. In a review of Dennis’s poems in The Washington Post, poet Robert Pinsky wrote, “The musing mind or voice reaches its object not with a turbulent roar of rhetoric, but with the penetration of fine oil. The poems of Carl Dennis proceed to startling, sometimes even upsetting conclusions by that musing process of mind, alert and patient.”

Dennis has received several honors and distinctions, including fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. He was the recipient of the 1989 Oscar Blumenthal Prize, the 1995 Bess Hokin Prize, the 1997 J. Howard and Barbara M. J. Wood Prize, and the 2000 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize.

Dennis taught at the University of Buffalo from 1966 to 2001, after which time he served as the school’s artist in residence. He also taught in the MFA program in creative writing at Warren Wilson College.

He lives in Buffalo, New York.

Date Published: 2004-01-01

Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/paris