The City a River

Like us, he walked every day on the boulevard, the city
a long-legged woman with cheese on her breath,
but when all hell broke loose he died, cognac
in the cupboard, shirts in the closet, postcards hanging
on the bulletin board and soap on the sink. Patriots
hung a plaque on the sidewalk outside his home: He died
for France.

We stand on the metro listening through ear buds
and nobody looks particularly happy to be living (or dying)
in France. Twenty years from now, old
and looking back at ourselves young and standing
while graffiti races past in the tunnel, what
will we see? I can’t believe my hair. Nice pants.
Our minds on the station we are going to. Our minds on the station
we got on. Our hearts set on the women
on either side of us. We hope to drink
all the wine in the city, make love to the women
and when we die get a plaque that misstates our intentions.

(A god with broken feet, trying to recall
forgotten language, old faces, lost
stone, he died for chocolate and baguettes, this sky,
that river, for villages and fields he never saw,
mountains and shores he only at his best imagined.)

Put everybody they say died for France in one room
and you have a crowded room with people who don’t
say much. Some were talented at things we care
about, and most less so. All of them lived
in some gone place—the city a river—
the plaque like ocher hand prints left by Indian
boys on a cliff wall. I back row, fight
the current, pause, and float on.