In this café off Rue Severin,
we will meet someday again
in this smoke-filled room of laughter,
as the cameras flash their language of truth and lies
and the secrets we keep from each other
and from ourselves.
In this café
where the woman in the portrait
moves away from us toward Algeria
in her black dress,
her lips parted slightly, mysteriously.
We gather in this café,
in from the lights of the Seine
and eat lamb and coucous with our wine,
forgetting the flea markets and mannequins,
the flower and bird markets,
the Moulin Rouge, the Oberkampt,
Le Marais, Montmartre, Montparnasse,
forgetting everything we have metered and measured,
counting out the seconds of our lives,
brief or eternal.
We have gathered in
from the Renaissance facades and interiors,
from the haunts of Hemingway, Pascal, Picasso, Monet,
the cobbled streets of the great and the humble.
We have gathered in
from the priests blessing the wafers,
the protesters with their banners and masks,
the police in uniform or not,
and the parade of white-headed veterans
marching erectly to L’Arc de Triomphe.
Here in war-wounded Paris,
the plaques, the red, white, blue carnations
next to a man’s name and a date,
mark a place of sudden death,
and beyond, at Pere Lechaise
where its canopy of chestnut trees in pink bloom
covers the chapels of bone and ash,
and the stones of remembrance
enrich the monuments to the deported.
We remember that “those who love
will be reunited,”
perhaps, here, in Paris
where lovers embrace without fear
and kiss the brow of their lover
as the Metro races through the underground caverns
toward the gardens of light and Luxembourg
where a girl leans out from her wooden horse on the carousel
to catch a ring with her stick,
and little boys push sailing boats
in the winds of the sea on the pond,
and every statue comes to life
in the blur of the sun, quickly, as the blink of a camera’s eye.
We have gathered here in this café
with the portrait of the Algerian woman,
who will never glimpse the Notre Dame, the Louvre
or the Seine.
Perhaps for her, we remember.
Perhaps, for ourselves.
“On oublie jamais,”
We do not forget.
May 18, 2001