Litkicks Message Board Archive

AN ENGLISHWOMAN IN PARIS

Posted to Poetry




The French wine that you just ordered
brought to my mind the image of a big bottle
(a green bottle, I seem to recall)
of Chateau de Breuilly that I glugged down
over the course of two hours at La Belle Histoire,
an outdoor café in the Marais in Paris—

It was a beautiful night:
the sky was as dark as Rembrandt’s oils,
but exploding with spiraling Van Gogh stars far distant
(I had just that day burned my eyes out on beauty over eight hours in the Louvre)—
I was soon joined by a liquid-friendly Englishwoman—
Friendly, oh indeed, to say the very least:
if she hadn’t had to catch a train back to London via the Chunnel
we would almost certainly have wound up
in the little squeaky bed in my slim-Jim narrow room
up on the seventh floor of L’Hotel Pratic
(a broken-down hotel just across the plaza from the café),
testing the resilience of the springs in the mattress—

Her name was Kate,
which I knew without her telling me
because she was a newsreader for the BBC World News
and I had seen her many times—
She was a barbellate brunette with lovely pale skin
and eyes like finest Pennsylvania anthracite—
I watched her on PBS whenever I had access to a television
(not having one of my own)
and now I saw her in the flesh—

The wine hummed in my veins and sang in my head—

I held Kate on my lap,
where she squeezed herself against me and pressed her face to mine,
cheek against cheek, and whispered to me,
“I like you, there’s something that I like about the way you Yanks talk.”—
She had that upper-class English accent
that to American ears conveys a tincture of superior erudition—
I confessed that I had watched her many times on PBS
and always thought she was lovely—
“If only I didn’t have to go back to London tonight,” she said—
Under the table she slipped off her black panties and pressed them into my hand,
a tangible souvenir of the evening in lieu of a carnal memory—
We talked drunkenly,
spilling wine on a rickety table with uneven legs,
and shared a Toblerone candy bar,
breaking off for each other triangular pieces
of chunky sweet Swiss milk chocolate with honey and almond nougat—

The concierge of the hotel,
being French and romantic and full of Weltschmerz
(and really a very good friend to me in the brief time that I had known him:
letting me butcher his language,
speaking French slowly to me so that I could translate,
understanding that even if I spoke French poorly at least I tried)
thought nothing of my taking a woman up to my room—
I led Kate up seven shoulder-width flights of stairs—
We squeezed past a spring-sprung mattress left out on the third-floor landing,
up to my little coffin of a room—
There was space enough for a single bed and a midget’s wardrobe—
The only window opened up right at the foot of the bed,
but it was costing me only one hundred francs,
which was about twenty dollars then,
and you’d pay more to stay at a Motel 6 in Clovis, New Mexico,
which I have done—
And, cherry on top, the location of my decrepit little Parisian hotel was ideal,
within walking distance of art galleries and sidewalk cafés and gorgeous restaurants—

Kate and I lay across the little bed looking at each other
and talking seriously, if besottedly, about Picasso’s paintings and sketches—
Half-undressed we flipped through a book called Picasso for Beginners
that I had picked up at the Picasso Museum earlier that day—
There was a lot of kissing,
all of it suitably French,
and cupping and feeling,
and after a while she had to straighten her clothes and herself
and leave for that London-bound train—
I walked her back downstairs—
A knowing smile from the concierge made me grin like the Cheshire cat:
“La vie, c’est impossible mais pour les femmes,” he winked—
And soon, after a brief chaste kiss, she was gone—

Kate was lovely and the night was lovely,
but Kate was lovelier than the night
and when she departed I was
(now turn the “V” in “lovely” upside-down
and you will find that you’ve spelled “lonely”)
a lonely archipelago—
I tried to read a French translation of Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast
that I had also picked up at the Picasso Museum,
but I didn’t get too far with it—
To me that tough terse prose rendered en francais just scrapes along seismically,
losing some essential hemistich, giving it a hyphenated heart—

So I was somewhat slightly drunk and abandoned and lonely
in the black velvet lining that makes the City of Light shine so brightly—
I felt that I had to try to absorb everything around me,
bury it in my body tissue—
I had to shut my eyes to keep them from getting rheumy,
and then I laughed at myself for being overcome by feeling—
In my late-night vision everything was serene and calm:
Monet’s water lilies—
I went back to my shoebox room,
trudging up those seven flights of stairs,
and slept without disturbance
and dreamed wide-open dreams of wide-open women.