Last fall, my wife, Rosemary, and I visited France for ten days, starting in Paris and then traveling north on the Seine River through Normandy. I had not been to Paris, so all the sights and sounds and aromas filled me to the brim. The day before we boarded the ship, I poured my fresh impressions into a notebook, which I later used to make this poem. The form flowed from distinct moments that had piled up in my notes. Why did I use "glass" in the title? I like the sound of the two words together and the simplicity. Also, one of the most striking sensory impressions I had was the magnificent stained glass in churches around the city. Glass allows us to see through if it's clear, so the poem is a way of looking at what I'd taken in. I'm happy with the title because it's unexpected, I think. I reach for that to make a composition a bit special.
Near Sainte-Chapelle, a seated old woman with short black hair shows us two fluffy rabbits, white-and-brown, on leashes at her spot of sidewalk mid-bridge where she has a pile of greens, two cups of pellets, and water in a shiny silver bowl.
On a black iron church fence on Blvd. St.-Germain a poet-painter offers a line of monotypes, colored abstractions, stylized landmarks accented with words by Apollinaire, Neruda, Rimbaud, Rilke, lyric slivers of emotion and insight, his pop-up gallery in the boundless market.
Making our way down the guidebook trail past the Voltaire statue, house of George Sand, and then the toy store linked to Le Petit Prince and Babar the Elephant, the hand-written notice: “Fermé Lundi,” dark interior, select playthings on the inside window ledge, plastic city figures, fire fighters and soccer stars.
Palais de Justice surrounding virtuoso stained glass, and the Gendarmerie forces all about the wide courthouse steps close to St. Louis chapel with its high windows as bright as diced fruit at mid-morning.
See-through boats as long as trains filled with white cloth-covered tables for four going north on the Seine, greenish brown, sliding past the bookstalls where casual tenders hawk vintage film magazines, fugitive pop culture posters, tiers of paperbacks in French and Euro languages, the stalls like big lidded tea tins mounted on cement walls above the river, the shelves, racks, and spinners dense with Marlon Brando, Picasso, Led Zeppelin, Camus, Baudelaire, and Monet prints, portraits of Princess Di, limited-edition Simone de Beauvoirs, cat postcards, Napoleon pennants, stained cookbooks.
Icy green-glass bottles of Coca-Cola delivered two and four at a time by waiters to smoking models, lunch loafers, and graybeards in jeans and leather waist-jackets, sitting side-by-side, drinking wine and touching shoulders like men in Omaha, Nebraska, would never do, all the citizens tucked into their Café Palette tables filled with plates of sumptuous roasted whole legs of chicken on rice beds, the couscous special, yolked ham-and-cheese croque-madames, baby spinach with a mustard-honey dollop, and sparkling water, not still, this fizzy afternoon on the Left Bank.
Nine hundred years, Notre Dame de Paris, in a land where eight of ten churches are tributes to Mary Mother of Catholic-God’s Son. The hard gargoyle, hands a-ears, won’t hear St. Denis’s severed head scream to warn about the devil’s movement on Mary’s shoulder. A fair sample of the world lined up outside, Swedish and Chinese guests doing the selfie thing at Point Zero, brass disk from which radiate concentric cultural waves.
La Tour Eiffel, tan as a desert rat and peeling on the sun side from a bad and outsourced paint job, the surface muted in daylight, matching neighborhood architecture, sand, earth, stone, olive, gray, a blend of neutrals almost like a trick in the City of Light, as subtle as the Sahel peddlers with dozens of small twinkling towers spread on sheets which get hauled up by four corners and slung over shoulders in two seconds when the police pull up, the vendors all of sudden just St. Nicks in Nikes, “Nothing to see here, move along, nobody selling, displays only, no problem, everybody wants a tower, everyone needs a light.”
Figs and mushrooms and strawberries displayed like museum pieces that can be touched. Brilliant oranges from South Africa piled up for squeezing, orange oil perfuming the intersection. Baguette sandwiches in hashtag stacks. The cheeses sit by their names, waiting to be called on and not saying a word to the salami.
Hemingway’s favorite writing place in Saint-Germain-des-Prés. There. No, over there. No, no, it’s across the street for sure. He drank there all the time.