With Jack Myers in France

by Paul Christensen

You were my guest in southern France
once, with Thea fussing with car rentals
on the phone, my wife fixing
breakfast at the counter
of our medieval village house.
I told you stories about the war
and René Char, the olive mill
down the street, now a ruin,
the old farmers with their tanks
of poison heading out into the vineyards.
Good stuff, history and gossip.
But you were smiling about
a girl whose voice we heard
below the window, in the narrow street.

Out in the mountain air, car
weaving down one lane roads
to where the infantry marched
behind Hannibal’s 37 elephants,
I had Jack’s silvery attention
when I said the hills were full
of gypsies picking cherries.
Gypsies rang like triangles
from some longago kindergarten
where the teacher tapped her foot
and the kids, you among them,
struck the pure silver note
that died in the air, like a cherry
falling into a gypsy woman’s mouth.

Jack, I must tell you the history
of the world before we reach Manosque,
where your car may or may not
be waiting.  The French, you know.
But you were somewhere else,
perhaps just rising from your bed
in Lynn, a boy still, looking
for his shoes.  Outside, the snow
had fallen, soft as the satin
in a casket, with the mournful faces
gathered over it, looking down
into that indefatigable silence
each of us fought with our words.
Here’s the tomb of Camus, beside
his wife, two flat stones covered
in dark ivy.  The graveyard small,
inconsolable in the dregs of winter clouds.

Lourmarin, then Cadenet, the plane
trees further south, soon the highway
to Aix, and all the marvels of stone
in which the people live.  And die.
Adieu, mon ami, mon collègue,
poet, bel esprit, fellow traveler,
wanderer over the quiet
stony fields where one might
find a poem after a long day’s walk.
I’m here now, the cold winter
silence knotted in the brown thyme,
the river flush with rain,
tumbling white and gray
over the weed shot river bed
as it heads west to Avignon, and beyond.