“No to Vietnam! No to tradition!”
In 1968, students barricade Place Maubert
tearing up the cobblestones
stoning police that march
shoulder to shoulder toward them.
The students may forget the year 1588,
the first revolt and barricades of Paris
but not the journalist.
Now, the locals drink at the cafe
in once the filthiest street in Paris,
when the putrid waste of the Sorbonne
flowed down the lanes
where 800 years ago the masters of divinity
lectured their students
who sat on bales of hay even in the rain
so hungry were they for news of God.
A fountain shines now under the sycamores
and the aged and women with babies
sit on the benches where 600 years ago
Francois I, the King, burned alive the Lutherans
ignoring their screams
and generation after generation watched
the executions in this “cesspool of Maubert.”
Now, the sounds of a rugby match
echo in the plaza from the bar
the Frenchmen make their only goal,
and all stand and sing the Marseilles badly.
Even the one scribbling on a paper
joins in shouting out the chorus
“To arms, citizens!
Form up your battalions
Let us march, Let us march
That their impure blood
Should water our fields.”
Now the water trickles from the stone mouths of lions
on the crown of the hill
water runs down toward the Seine
through the gutters along each street
past the fromagerie, the patisserie,
the charcuterie, the bottles of wine stacked in pyramids,
and in one window of the cafe,
a woman bends over a notebook
her hair in disarray as she writes of Place Maubert
as if the world could not see her steady hand
planning the next revolution.