Photograph, French Village
Side by side, two old men
in brown jackets, their berets
atilt, lounge in the plaza
of this hamlet, on benches
where retired friends sit out the heat
of afternoon while they discuss today’s
game of pétanque. Near us, metal clinks
as the orbs nudge each other familiarly.
I’m a visitor, twenty, in love with France.
I can’t help saying so, and the men beam,
so I ask to photograph them, and they agree
for this nice young lady, far from home.
How many travelers have such luck? When,
months later, I send a copy of the photo
to the address one of them scrawled on a map,
I receive back a postcard with embrasse, embrasse
over an unreadable signature.
And who by chance might meet a stranger
with a camera who will take your picture
with your best friend, on your favorite bench,
listening to the soft talk of metal boules
kissing each other’s silver cheeks?
No, the day offered no promises—given
the thin towels in the French hotel, the long
narrow bones of stairway winding around
the spine of an elevator that did not operate,
given the tilt of floors the color of dried blood,
the unwelcoming dimness that had shadowed
a hundred years of guests used to walking up
with string bags of vegetables, baguettes,
and bottles of wine clanging like hearts
on a wedding day—one might not hope,
on the fifth-floor landing, for a small table
topped with lace and a vase with one violet
whose petals pointed toward a door
with a number matching the key
that rattled like a shackle in the keyhole, one
might not have thought there was any promise
of apricot sun sweetening the slate rooftops
beyond open shutters, with even the flying bugs
winging in and out in a freedom that felt like love.
Jayne Marek, winner of the Bill Holm Witness poetry award, has also been nominated for Best of the Net and Pushcart Prizes. She has published six poetry collections, with her next volume, Dusk-Voiced, due in 2022. Her writings and art photos appear in Rattle, Spillway, Calyx, and elsewhere.