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Wet Autumn Night
Where are the firemen rushing in the rain?
Like a washed-up poet, will their siren blaze
capsize to damp fizzle? An Arab
fruit stand is backlit like Marlene Dietrich;
mango eyes follow us, as in a Renaissance
vanity. Ancient furies lean
on doorframes, hard as prostitutes,
their scarred mouths dubbed with fire-shrieks,
for they know that life, like rain,
evaporates. Down the cobbled street
ignore the stares from under canopies
of bars: umbrella envyit too, shall pass.
Stained Glass at Père-Lachaise
Earthly glory lasts, of course.
(Maps to celebrity graves, ten francs.) What passes,
caves in on the Age of Light: huts like toll booths
that split to bare an underworld
of cola bottles, cat food,
and stained glass, smashed by
this week's heathen at last week's
Kristallnacht. What's left
is magenta, sapphire, and opal.
Brown smoke, in a panic to escape
the crematorium, slaps the cold air,
clouding the glass, and tussles with the blue
into what we breathe.
Glass stays and goes, blitzkrieged
but intact across a century. Through gaps
in glass we see reality: glass is to be preferred
Mary's come-hither look, Saint Gregory
thumbscrewing a book, a middle-class Parisian, his fat wife.
and a Saviour too soft to survive this life.
No music: the last of the house-rules
that a guest hears before cohabiting
the single-room flat on the superhighway:
no music, for one who spent months gone by
in fruitless debate on the greatness of Glenn Gould,
no requiems for those we may not love,
no music, but a hike to a suburban French
boneyard in summer, to pay our fresh respects to Satie,
A semiotic gravestone states that Monsieur Trou
or Mister Hole 80 years old, has found his hole
and lies there next to a butcher whose face on an inlaid
photo is a red capon crying as the abbatoir keens.
Here the wind is brainless and a pinkeyed bouquet
odalisques on a gravesite; soon it too will die.
Quiet. No music: no polkas, kazatskies or can-cans,
no mazurka, nocturne, or polonaise born
in the mind of Chopin, no gymnopédie, but
a new life commences, breathing, in silence and words.
Le Bar Fleuri
The only flower in sight is a hothouse orchid,
a fire extinguisher bleeding
on the wall: intaglioed
souvlakis weep by
the window, to be consumed
by the loveless and scorned.
Paris in winter:
should human affection show its face,
bottles of Pernod, Ricard, and Pastis
would stand on their heads in surprise.
The heat of naked spotlights and a waterfall's applause
do not trick three crocodile divas
into taking a bow. The hoary reptiles keep as still
as plates in an overpriced set of Buffon.
The aquarium air is damp and malodorous
as a summer lover's underarm;
Here too, the key is dominance:
two crocs colaborate to pin their lesser brother
under brackish water. Schoolkids, tasty morsels,
lean over iron bars (strictly forbidden)
and litter with money the animals' backs,
to whom it is no object, but a reflecting Fresnel
on their freeze-frame dance. To defy a future of handbags
and belts, the three green Graces open
their million-toothed jaws and roar.
Summer Queries at the Métro
Why is Claude Lévi-Strauss.
"France's most influential intellectual,"
playing a rusty musical saw
before the Métro Saint-Michel?
Who taught him how, a Trobiand Islander
or Topa Inca Yupanqui?
The octogenarian ethnologue,
his spectacles misty and earlobes hairy,
makes Ming the Merciless noises,
cries from emotional fungus eaters
for a slew of doofus kids,
Japanese Elvis-impersonators do not even pause
to video, yet Swedes and Norwegians freeze.
Are they weirded out? "Man.
you wrote Tristes Tropiques," they do not say,
but lurch along their camelbackpack way.
At the Jardin des Plantes Zoo
Really, Koko darling, I am too pooped.
You seem a bit peaky as well.
Must be some primate form of Epstein-Barr's.
Every banana looks the same to me.
Even masturbating in the cage has palled
and that sure-fire stimulator,
the sight of Bomba's rose-red buttocks
(Time was, would start me off
fascinating kiddies and nuns)
has lost its je-ne-sais-quoi.
Let's face it, we're fatigued.
No longer ambitious enough to fart
brave melodies to rival IRCAM's,
we rest inert and only inadvertently
resemble orators of the right wing.
Perhaps our perpetual nudity has come to roost,
knowing we'll never need Balenciaga or Balmain.
My heavens, Bobo, even Saint-Laurent is but a name
to one who stays all day in the hairy rude.
How long since I've sidled to an animal lover,
accepted a coy peanut and pissed in his face?
Ah Jojo, the days that are no more!
Black Senegalese pass the cage
preoccupied with tourist sales.
I stare as if I'm sent to my reward
for years of service in the colonies.
Where's my pension, my tree-house, my little wife?
Koko, sing me a song of the dark rain forest;
Music might sweeten my plantain mash
served with an unspeakable house wine
that I've lost the desire to fling at humans.
Swinging from vine to vine has grown an idle chore.
Visiting hours at long last over.
When will come the African night?
What People are Saying About This
"Not since Henry J. -M. Levet (natch?) have Europe's cultural follies been so wildly, so wistfully, so wittily intoned. Immerse these pretty crystals in the water of your brain and presto! -- or largo, perhaps -- instant Untergang!
"I have read Benjamin Ivry's volume of poetry, Paradise for the Portuguese Queen, with attentive pleasure. Deeply observant, Ivry is a lyrical intellectual. He experiences his reading and reads his experiences. At times he is reminiscent of Auden. The music of his verses is real and felt music.
I wish Paradise for the Portuguese Queen a substantial and well-deserved acclaim."