Letter FROM PARIS in November, 2016
FROM MARGO BERDESHEVSKY
Fear, the friend says
flat voiced as the hollows
in collected bones
fear, silent as a mouth empty
of its iron breath
that spills back
fear is not a stage of
grief she says,
(passions turned ash)
(words turned bile)
fear, no sound left
now—is its own curtain-drawn, curtain-open
stage — spot-lit to blind in the dark,
imprisoning-ly dark in daylight.
Not a stage of grief.
Not in the dark.
Not a stage of grief. Is
a stage for dying.
That known rattle. That broken legged dance.
Dear ones: a year ago, I sent you photographs of Parisian mourners after a November 13th 2015 attack on young people just living their lives— , mourners who stood in silence and collective grieving for France, for its fallen, murdered humans. Yes, people wrote to me, we join in your sorrow. It must be terrible over there. It was.
Our streets were filled with guards and policemen and soldiers, there to reassure the residents, and the tourists, that Paris was still safe for walking and for dreaming and for living. There were moments I understood the need for protection, and there were many moments I thought of the “occupation” of many years past, and wondered, who was occupier and who was occupied—now. A world of guards and guarded is not my dream. But there we were. Here we are.
Today we know there is no “over there.” There is only our world, and our sea to shining sea of anguish that a country to whom France gave a statue of liberty is in the throes of the death(s) of its democracy. But of course, the death(s) of democracy are not stopping on those shores. Already, the “rightist” forces in France are imagining that their own most racist and dangerous presidential hopeful might gain more votes—enough votes to change the land of liberté, égalité, fraternité — to another outpost or in-post of the far far right. Already, America’s Breitbart organizers are planning Paris offices. And Berlin offices, and more. Already, the awful sounds of goose steps are echoing shadows in nightmares, everywhere. And none of us knows what to do to quell the sounds or the realities. March? Protest? Organize? We will, many say. This is not going to be a repeat of any wars to end all wars. Or the next. Or the next.
Meanwhile…one good thing, even in such days as these, we dare remember other days. A month ago, our well-loved bookshop, Shakespeare and Company, had a gala party to celebrate its “History of the Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart.” And time stopped, for just a little while, as we remembered to remember books. Words. Poetry. The heart. George Whitman, famous character of a shop owner whose recalled winter birthday approaches soon, tho’ he has gone on…
Past and present, the shop and George’s daughter Sylvia and David Delannet and the book’s devoted editor, Krista Halverson collaborated to make a fine book worthy of all our many memories…
One of my own photographs which is in the book was shown that evening…recalling a production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in which a then very ingenue Sylvia Whitman was showered in rose petals by her beaming father, as she had played a delicious Puck, and he approved…
“If we shadows have offended, think but this and all is mended…”
There were, yes, fewer shadows, that year…
And yes, this year, before America went to hell in a handbag, before France’s future elections worried us all with an equivalent gloom—and before winter chilled us more than ever— in good Parisian fashion there was ample champagne.
Maybe not enough to drown our sorrows this month, this world we wake and sleep in. But last month, we celebrated and we were happier.
And Sylvia Whitman and David Delannet’s little son, George Whitman’s grandson Gabriel, watched realities he has been born to, literary and Parisian…
One other good thing…the Louis Vuitton Gallery in Frank Ghery’s starship shaped museum creation in the Bois de Boulogne opened a smashing exhibit of Russian collector, Sergei Shchukin, (who effectively brought Matisse to the world’s love.) Shchukin collected art, not only because he loved it, (it is said he didn’t understand or much like Picasso…) but because he believed it was important to gather works that would testify to the history of art. In these days, poetry, art, may be the tiny grains left, that we will hold on to. I walked through the exhibit with new tears, whispering to myself, yes, art matters, art matters, art matters… doesn’t it??
It is a cold winter already. Here. And there. And there. And there … in the many there(s)
… on so many shores.
And in the gardens of Fontainebleau, one can still, still… as I did, last winter, recall Auden’s healing incantation:
In the deserts of the heart
Let the healing fountain start,
Fountains to cleanse our hearts?
Well at least one may pray for such a fountain to exist. Even if only in the mind. Even if fear—is not, accurately, a stage of grief. Even as our collective anguish gathers, in Paris, in America, above, and below, from sea to sea, across an anxious world.
May we say to one another—may there be poetry, in wartime, as in peace, in the dark times, may there be art, and may there, yes, be some kind of singing…
With care, from Paris, and for my world,
*Interview @ Poetry International: https://pionline.wordpress.com/2014/01/21/a-poets-bakers-dozen-interview-with-margo-berdeshevsky/
Archive of Letters: https://pionline.wordpress.com/category/letters-from-paris/
Amazon Author page: http://amazon.com/author/margoberdeshevsky
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- MARGO BERDESHEVSKY