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LE 14 JUILLET (poem) - Sarah Howe - United Kingdom/China - Poetry International
 
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Le 14 juillet
Blockades and green carpeted cobbles – wide
city under sedation, streets pre-lunch but
post-défilé; the wind tugged at a niggling thread.
The sun by then a withered pear, we crossed
the square of the Bastille, stamped confetti
snowglobing in our gait. It was empty then,
and strangely benign, drooped geranium pots
tied to railings. Pooches gave no special heed.
Enough string cancels the need for memory
if you loop the knots from toe to neck to wrist.
By nightfall, the magazine stands oozed buff
nudes and neon wattage. COMMENT SAVOIR
SI ON S’EST TROMPÉ? Such glossed pulp.
Across the Tuilleries’ parched and shadowed grass,
Chinese whispers was our game and cheating
compulsory. ‘Send rain and fourpence.’ ‘Would you care
to dance?’ With untold ingenuity we wasted the moon,
waiting for one true accident. Fidelity was a waltz
on the bandstand – home, we learned, to a phantom
tenor who counselled lovers in filthy acts. Nearby
a lately painted playground was overrun with ghosts –
the children who never woke. His Götterdämmerung
had brought down the rafters every night. We slunk
away like clocked-off scene painters, our palms stained
a municipal red, primary blue in the crooks of our knees.
The older boys scampered in shining culottes,
skimmed their hoops down sanded avenues. I stretched
my hand for one – eluding flesh, its spectral O
rattled on to infinity. ‘Souvenez-vous!’ they cried, and laughed.
We had to go quickly, to hide the brightness in our eyes.
Their chanting was somehow delightful, but hard
to read as a book in an unfamiliar tongue. One girl
tied a knot on her balcony: her white hand a manicule tipped
from a gilded margin, her only revolution a staid carousel.
In a high-up rosette at the East of Sainte-Chapelle,
Christopher has been meditating, meditating on light
and colour, the opened flood and the weight of lead.
‘Don’t stop,’ urged the fireworks, getting brighter.
He wondered and was, in reflection, near overcome.