Purple FF

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Purple

I close my eyes and return to Paris, Easter holidays, 1961. Algérie-française, Algérie-algérienne, the car horns tweet in the street as we drive the boulevards of a city divided. This is all new to me, a seventeen year old student in Paris to learn about French culture. My friends in the car have heard the tooting before and join in the fun.  Algérie-française the driver toots.

Turning a corner, flattened and blackened, still flaming against a fire-burned tree, the metal skeleton of a Deux Chevaux, a ‘tin of sardines’, bears witness to the car bomb that has laid its occupants low.

* * *

Hitching the highway, from Paris to Chartres, thumb stuck out to catch the wind, a purple Citroen stopped and offered me a lift. I trusted the car: a Citroen, like Simonet’s famous detective Maigret used to drive.

When the car stopped and the door opened, I got in and saw that the driver wore black leather gloves. His hand movements on the steering wheel were stiff and clumsy and he made exaggerated gestures when he changed gear.

“No hands,” he explained. “Lost them in Algeria. Listen: I used to be the driver for a top General. I drove him out of an ambush once. I lost my hands later, when the car exploded, caught in a crossfire. They teach you things in the Army. I can still drive.”

He accelerated and threw the car at four times the speed limit through the S bend that snaked through a small group of houses. I bounced from side to side, held back by no seat belt.

“You see,” he said. “They train you to do this before they let you drive. Ambush. The sniper at the corner. The Molotov Cocktail. You must always be prepared.”

I closed my eyes and returned to Paris.

Collateral damage: the young girl with her photo in the Figaro next day, scarred for life; her mother, legs blown off, lying in the gutter in a pool of purple blood.

Maman, maman,” the young girl cried. But her mother was never going to reply.

The Pom-pom-pompiers arrived in their fire trucks, sirens screaming. The ambulances screeched to a halt. The young girl cried. The mother bled out her life-blood in silence. Her blood turned purple and black as it flowed through the gutter.

Parisians emerged from dark doorways and stood there, bearing silent witness. Evening draped itself over the Paris skyline. The sky darkened and became one with the purple of the car bomb’s angry flame. Purple bruises marked my arm where I had gripped myself with my own fingers. An indigo angel squatted above the faubourg street, with shadowed wings, brooding.

* * *

I opened my eyes.

We left the village in our wake, travelling five times faster than the speed limit.

“They trained me for this,” the driver said. “I am prepared for anything.”

He stopped the car by the cathedral in Chartres. I thanked him and got out. He offered me his hand and I shook it. Inside the glove, the hand was hard and metallic. Alcohol sweated out through the purple veins that stained his nose and flowed in abundance over his sun-tanned face.

Hastings

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Hastings

A cloud on the horizon
no bigger than a small boy’s hand
turns into a sail and then
a sailing fleet,
an armada of hostility
sailing towards our shores.

Shield upon shield the shield wall
binds itself together,
becomes impregnable

Loud the clamor,
the raising of voices,
the heavens split asunder
by a sharp hail of arrows,
closer the enemy now,
and arrows become spears
their sharp heads
tumbling from the turbulent sky.

Fate hangs now on a single arrow
protruding from the royal eye.

Faith falters.
The shield wall, firm at first,
breaks now and the house carls,
one by one,
fall like corn
beneath sharpened blades,
to wither and die as all men die.

Help!

 

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Help!

The world turns full circle
and my mother is on the phone.
It’s four AM. “Help me!” she cries,
from the far side of the Atlantic.

Her ship is sinking fast and she’s
nine sheets to the wind.
“I’ll stick my head in the oven,”
she says, “and turn on the gas.”

What can I say? What can I do?
She makes so many threats.
She’s crying “Wolf!” and her words
now bounce off this duck’s back.

Yet still I wake at night to hear
her whispered words, and they still
chill with their razor’s edge of
“Help me! Help! Please help!”’

Lost

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Lost

My body’s house has many rooms and
you, my love, are present in them all.
I see you here and there, glimpse your
shadow in a mirror, and feel your breath
brush on my cheek when I open a door.

Where have you gone? I walk from room
to room, but when I seek, I no longer find,
and when I knock, nothing opens. Afraid,
sometimes, to enter a room, I know you are
in there. I hear your footsteps on the stair.
Sometimes your voice breaks the silence.

It whispers my name in the same old way
I remember … how can it be true, my love,
that you have gone, that you have left me
here alone? I count the hours, the days,
and snatch at sudden straws of hope,
embracing dust motes to find no solace
in the sunbeams, salacious as they are,
that drag me from my occasional dreams.

Rain

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Rain

Rain walks thick lines
down the window pane.
They wander into the garden
and slip out again,
sliding down to the river.

The waters below the dam
churn like white shirts
tumbled up and down
in nature’s laundromat.

The radio calls for rain,
more rain, four inches,
they say,
in the next two days.

The moose have already
migrated to higher,
drier ground.

They stand on the highway,
head to head with cars,
stubborn and steaming
in the never-ending rain.

MiA

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MiA

The things you didn’t see:
the cat, this morning, ginger,
coiled like a spring and ready
to pounce on an unsuspecting junco;
five crows perched on the same
side of the tree, and the tree leaning
over on account of their weight;
the smile on my granddaughter
when we Skyped.

The things you didn’t hear:
the squawk of the bird
as the cat misjudged her jump;
those same five crows cawing,
cracking the day open like
an egg boiled for breakfast;
the joy in my granddaughter’s voice
when she spoke to me: “Hi Moo.”

And you didn’t hear the robin’s shriek
as the hawk’s claws pierced,
nor the tears in my voice
as I called out your name.