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Two poems from America that island off the coast of France

Le Petit Hameau de La Reine

At Versailles, in this
toy hamlet,
Marie Antoinette,
Queen of France--
daughter of a queen,
granddaughter of a queen
mother of daughters
who would die princesses--
played at being
milkmaid.

In the same petit hameau
my daughter Magdalena,
plays at being Queen--
her mother a professor
who wants to be a poet,
her grandmother a teacher
who wanted to be a doctor,
her great-grandmother a wife
who wanted to be loved--
Why do humans
have such unhappy
aspirations?

Around us, sheep decorate
the long meadows
of the hamlet--sheep
whose mothers were sheep,
whose grandmothers were sheep--
back into the wooly
mists of time. Sheep
who wish for nothing else,
ewes and lambs
who, unhurried,
crop the grass.




The City Where--I’m Told--My Mother Was Young

Long ago

the lens of a camera
uprooted
this city

from Sacre Coeur to the far suburbs,
pressed it between the heavy vellum of memory,
so to reach it is to cross a bridge
much longer, much steeper than the Pont Neuf.

In this paper Paris, my mother is a young girl
waiting for her lover by a stinking canal.
Or so I’ve been told by people who might
--or might not--lie to my face.

I pour over Atget’s photographs,
each street, each boulevard, each arrondisement
falling under his care,
falling into his camera and out of this world.

But photographs are illusions, devoid
of both pot au feu and the garbage
the cook leaves---though Atget photographed
laundries as well as bordellos.

I imagine my mother leaving me a message
by way of Atget. I close my eyes
and think I hear laughter
and telephones ringing--but I’m wrong.

I walk over the bridge Atget made
with his stiff little pictures
and find myself in the Gare du Nord,
all steam, white and gray.

And my mother, ma mere--
is standing on the platform waiting.
She has always been waiting.
Unless--instead--she never did arrive.

Long ago
this city
uprooted

Triste, I imagine her saying, so goddamn sad.