Mon 13 Mar 2006
here’s a cool poem from Billy Collins:
JANUARY IN PARIS
‘A poem is never finished, only abandoned’ Paul Valery
That winter I had nothing to do
but tend the kettle in my shuttered room
on the top floor of a pensione near a cemetery,
but I would sometimes descend the stairs,
unlock my bicycle, and pedal along the cold city streets
often turning from a wide boulevard
down a narrow side street
bearing the name of an obscure patriot.
I followed a few private rules,
never crossing a bridge without stopping
mid-point to lean my bike on the railing.
and observe the flow of the river
as I tried to better understand the French.
In my pale coat and my Basque cap
I pedaled past the windows of a patisserie
or sat up tall in the seat, arms folded,
and clicked downhill filling my nose with winter air.
I would see beggars and street cleaners
in their bright uniforms, and sometimes
I would see the poems of Valery,
the ones he never finished but abandoned,
wandering the streets of the city half clothed.
Most of them needed only a final line
or two, a little verbal flourish at the end,
but whenever I approached,
they would retreat from their makeshift fires
into the shadows- thin specters of incompletion,
forsaken for so many long decades
how could they ever trust another man with a pen?
I came across the one I wanted to tell you about
sitting with a glass of rose’ at a cafe’ table-
beautiful, emaciated, unfinished,
cruelly abandoned with a flick of panache
by Monsieur Paul Valery himself,
big fish in the school of Symbolism
and for a time, president of the Committee of Arts and Letters
of the League of Nations if you please.
Never mind how I got her out of the cafe’,
past the concierge and up the flight of stairs-
remember that Paris is the capital of public kissing.
And never mind the holding and the pressing.
It is enough to know that I moved my pen
in such a way as to bring her to completion,
a simple, final stanza, which ended,
as this poem will, with the image
of a gorgeous orphan lying on a rumpled bed,
her large eyes closed,
a painting of cows in a valley over her head,
and off to the side, me in a window seat
blowing smoke from a cigarette at dawn.