Père Lachaise


            les chansons montent des murs détruits
                                 (Louis Aragon)   

            merely to look at the world will be always lovely
                                 (Oscar Wilde)

Our last day in Paris was grey and cold.
We went to see the city of the dead,
wearing our nice shoes to quest through the rows

of dollhouse crypts & mossy sepulchers.
We took long eager strides down the footpaths, 
covering ground as if searching for some

achievement to cite when recalling this
cemetery visit in the future,
as if there were a navel-stone sitting

beneath a cedar, awaiting espial,
which if we were to touch it would teach us
something about the loveliness of death. 

Around us in every sleeping acre
of the threshold capital a thousand
spiders spun web in the mouths of empty
spiral shells, waiting for the rain to stop.

ii

The statues leaning contrapasso, hips
akimbo, dependent on their plinths. Their
mouths closed in performance of dignity,

the top ridge of each upper lip fluted
like the blade edge of an iris petal
not because an open mouth is a mark

of unbecoming loss of control where
composure would be preferred, but because
a closed mouth is easier to render out

of cutting stone. So we mimic shortcuts
the sculptor took when we ourselves show grief,
keep our limbs still and hands folded in place,

keep teeth and tongue shut within their chamber.
Stone does not shudder, nor should we. Stone veils
signify how much easier it is
to shape smooth fabric than a crumpled face.

iii

The linden trees beside the path were slick
with chartreuse mildew and specks of black rot. 
Out of the gloom of the day they glared like

ochre smears improvised upon cave wall. 
The leathern clunk of your heels striking home
on the mat of leaves padding the cobbles

was human rhythm in the disordered
drowsy stereophony of raindrops
pattering off linden and oak and yew

to slap against the gravestones and groomed soil
and mushroomy sod. A smell everywhere
of wet earth and decomposing mollusks,

as of bodies shriveling to a crust
clinging to the inner silver spirals
of their exponential homes, as the walls
of their shells turn translucent with decay. 

iv

The tomb of Oscar Wilde, dappled with
the faded lip prints of petitioners,
is now surrounded by a plastic wall

placed by bloodless descendants, a cordon
sanitaire against the predations of
persons befuddled with ideas of love.

Rent fence at the grave of Jim Morrison,
guitar picks and dead carnations, votive
candles stuck in niches, chalk mark scrawlings, 

a diya crafted from a soda can, 
sliced open, filled up with rain, the wick doused
in ashy water. The earth all around

trammeled into yellow mud. Not far off
poor Abelard and Héloïse reposed
chastely fornent on their slab, stone faces
staring up, their bodies unconnected.

v

So I think: burn me when I am finished.
The ashes mix into a mortar used
to place my stone in the familiar wall

that circles the orchard our clan should own.
Or split a lump of schist and carve my name
into the mica of the revealed rock. 

Place it in the woods where we played as kids,
where children later might discover and
wonder about it. Let them take out their

pocketknives and dig out the garnets that
glower like live coals among the sticklike
letters of the epitaph. Let fungus

creep out of the earth and cover the stone
like a shroud. Let me be forgotten then.
I wish there were a single place where my
forbears all were buried. But there is not.

vi

We held hands as we toured. Crows and ravens
watched us from perches on the tomb roofs, and
rock doves, and lovebirds and choughs. A blind owl

startled us with its open span—but no,
it was sculpture. Calme, love. The grave of
Sadegh Hedayat was not loudly marked,

making him a secret I enjoyed more
for not having to share it, making me
a pilgrim and not a gawper. A phrase

in Latin carved into the stones: all is
vanity, grafittoed everywhere like
the motto of the ruling party of

the rain-enameled callipolis, of
the tomb ghetto. Before the gate I pocket
a brown sprig of dead yew, preferring it
as a keepsake over anything live.

- Zachary Bos