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.

Basilica 

 

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 son of Montreal.

You buy a candle for the Cubana 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

            Jauntily across

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.

Southeast 24th

 

“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

                        Salamanders.

Their green, rain-drenched, slick,

                        Cheap and resplendent.

 

The plaster, shrimp-pick,

                        Cracking, cleaving.

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 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.

 

-Ann Manov