(Zoltan Tasi/Unsplash)


La chair est triste, hélas! Mallarmé

Dawn. Strange house, a futon.
A finger of sunlit dust
struck the book you fell asleep on
and La chair est triste, hélas!

Five words, fingered by sunlight, 
you, still half asleep,
then six more, indexed in smoking gold.
You read on: et j’ai lu tous les livres.

In random sunlight and house dust,
you took it as prophecy,
this spray of light that entered and stopped
at a line of poetry,
sent ninety-three million human miles 
in nine minutes human time,
tunneling through the vacuum
and squinting Venetian blinds, 

meeting the boiling house dust 
and coiling a golden path through
and settling—why?—on this opening line. 
It ignited something in you.

We all get a single wake-up call;
it comes and leaves no doubt.
From then on, there is no wondering
what you must be about.



There’s no name for this moon, still up,
six inches above the horizon 
looking so displaced, while the local hills
heave sunward, and the squat municipal buildings
repeat the sun in windows and white roofs
and the clouds—even the clouds!—are edged
in Vermeerish golds, a lovely wholeness shouting
it’s day, Moon, get lost. The sun owns the day.

Like a paperless immigrant, or a writer exiled
for speaking the truth, or that pale sticky 
with a cleft heart left on the Krupps that last morning,
or the v-m that followed, two words never to be taken back,
what place is there for you in this scenario,
moon? And I sympathize, I know what it is
to be thoroughly out of place, as awkward
as the “deathbed edition” of the book that dies in a drawer. Still,
you are beautiful, a swan in your deep isolation, 
drifting toward the Elsewhere that’s never there,
too proud to ask your opposites to give you a name, wondering
what am I doing here where I don’t belong?

Published in the April 2024 issue: View Contents

J. T. Barbarese’s latest book of poems is True Does Nothing. His versions of selected poems of Jacques Prévert (titled After Prévert) is just out from MadHat Press.

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