My world at large has fallen through the floor
From where it shines up from the leaves,
But, in passing, souvenirs still soar
Flesh-like out of trampled sheaves:
The former season whirling off the trees,
Chasing saner, deeper fields than earth’s,
Hints of summer spilling off the breeze,
Leaflets of our dislocated births,
Human flashes breaking through the gravel,
Even though despair should hold them back,
Understories noted for their travel
From soil to whatever destiny they lack.
Les Jardins du Luxembourg
October 29th, 2005, 3 PM
Charles de Gaulle
October 30th, 2005
Rancho Santa Fe
October 31st, November 1st, and November 6th, 2005
My father-in-law had just had a heart attack, and I was despairing for him. More trivially, in the 40 minutes it took me to write the first draft of this at a café in the Luxembourg Gardens, the sole waiter managed to foil all my devices for ordering, including eye contact and conversational lunges. A nearby table glared at me with unmitigated hatred, mitigating, however, my sadness otherwise at leaving the Parisian fall, storm-lit stone, and stark, ascetic treescapes for the unchanging palms of California.
So I was filled with grief for the world, and for another summer lost. I wanted somehow to merge vast emotions with petty observations and toyed with including the waiter.
Dying autumn leaves, les feuilles mortes, seem to be an invention of French cabaret. A feuille is also a portfolio, a notebook, a leaflet, a leaf out of a pad—thus even a poem. French turns language duplicitous; it makes words betray their meanings to make up for its citizens’ inability to absorb foreign expressions. So French words are forced to do, as Humpty Dumpty says, double duty. Ironically, this makes French full of latent puns that escape the notice of the speakers.
In this devious frame of mind, no doubt under the spell of the reluctant waiter, I was speculating that leaving Paris could also be leafing, the process of leaves falling from trees, and also the process of leaves budding from nodes. So one process is contained linguistically and even physically in its opposite. Dead leaves provide soil nutrients for new leaves later on.
So the poem is wistfully about reincarnation, modern man’s ability to transmigrate between time zones, seasons, countries, and thus lives and dimensions, and an invocation of indescribable logical equations, of magical word combinations, which might grant second chances to the dying. The last line I think is especially evocative of how we rise to occasions and overcome expectations, as had my father-in-law.
And so language creates a suspension of logic in which miracles can thrive, the dying can spring back to health, the weak strengthen—where the unexpected, the illogical happens, that time warp where goodness briefly vanquishes the cynical exigencies of plot.
This is then plot’s lurking understory, an understory being also the forest undergrowth that shelters bigger trees in their childhood, which shelters the miracles nascent in metaphor.
It has been my goal recently to eliminate the clumsy “like” and “as” from my images, and integrate parallel linguistic lives more seamlessly into the visual universe. So this is a physical description of the intellectual phrase ex post facto (which I reluctantly cut out of the poem), the facts that happen after the supposed facts, the overtones that tones produce, and a prayer for salvation beyond our deservings—my windy attempt to stave off decay and destiny, to see beyond the orange oak leaves helicoptering down around me to the long-term uses of flashy but misleading downfalls.
Les Jardins du Luxembourg
October 29th, 2005