Mont Saint Michel
Bare branches stretch beyond a glint of glass:
Bare capillaries, blackened, leaf-shorn. And beyond
That, the ice-cold burst of sky assaults the eye: pale
And thin as skim milk. And beyond that, the massif
Looms somewhere. Seagulls mince toward us, gasping
For the flakes of pain that powder my scarf
And coat, and glaze my hands. You catch my words
At halves. We climb up farther, unsure: two to a step,
Or one, and our hands? This room’s for restauration—simply food,
And a solemn reading, declaimed from the lectern
Carved in bare coastal wood. The noon sun casts pennies
Across the Archangel’s wings; The half-moons of stained glass
Ring us in. Their red and blue’s half-washed away, like crinkled
Laundry strung and stained. The roof is neat and lock-stepped:
New wood, I guess. The Third Republic mania for history
Stripped it all away, cleaned the worms, water-blasted,
Scraped, and set on display. Windows round and ridged
Like stroopwaffeln blur the bay: gossamer, mercurial,
The sands and water stretch out and away. It soon froze
In Normandy: We made the heat wave. I clutch
My coat past the crêperies—“They taste like plastic,”
The Americans report. Finally up there, I scramble
To squeeze between the Swedes. There’s something
Missing here: only four stone walls and salt-tinged air.
The bay looks measly; and the cirrus clouds are combed
To thread. A seagull stands, ovine on holiday largess,
Peering over the generator, the dumb-waiter,
The trucks, the parking lot scraped smooth with asphalt,
Seamless with the sands, where the couples—
Two blots of darkness, that walk side by side—
Glide on, and whisper, before the tide.
Listen: the columns of the nave are dead stone, fine-brushed to pass
As the Carrara of the Pietà. The peasants in marine blue bear
Crosses in the snow.
They are not holy, not ancient, only New French fishermen. The Protestant
Architect procrastinated his conversion; he rots in splendor in his sepulcher.
You don’t mind, dazzled by the candy-wrapper columns,
The baroque backsplash
That climbs too high for your neck--kaleidoscopic, of clashing hues,
Finally lapis trim: a heaven washed by the muggy sun of Montreal.
You buy a candle for the Cuban neighbor you think stupid, kneeling to the nasal
J’ai vraiment péché.
Ladies thumbshine loafers, tug nylons, straighten shirt-dresses.
Your father was sent to the monsignor once a week to confess,
But never sinned. You were proud he left the church
Where you could pay
Your way to Heaven to wed your lily-scented mother.
You no longer cross your knees in Methodist-Episcopalian-Anglican pews,
Depending on the beau, or cross chartreuse cardigans
Your sun-screened shoulders. Here is hell in the afternoon:
A bus up on the coast PA-blasted by a barrel-chested guide,
The dinosauric fjords, whales bloated as corpses
In the inky Saguenay sea.
You howl in English at the boat crew; they scowl, understanding nothing.
As a child I spoke of the present in the future tense.
I did not fear fire or fathers--
Only a noisy, bleach-scrubbed, windy space.
“Somos una isla entre la sed”
-”Mexico: vista aérea,” José Emiliano Pacheco
What do you see
There, there from
The bed? The fronds that beat
Against the glass and stick
And unstick like silent
Their green, rain-drenched, slick,
Cheap and resplendent.
The plaster, shrimp-pink,
The garbage truck casts the lawn
Fiery like a valentine.
The construction site
Is mountainous, a glacial white.
The used-up gray of thunder
Clouds: a natural eraser.
What do you hear
There, there from
The bed? The wish-wash of the shower,
The whistle that plays between
The bursts of steam.
The tile tip-tapped by the leak.
The sound of strangers
As they start their cars,
As the alarm trills joyfully;
With a click, it stops.