I Would like to Pay for your Chips, by Cécile Coulon (2018, Le Castor Astral)

It began at that so particular time of the night
where the end of one day bumps up against the start of another;
I went out in the rain, I was hungry.
The storm unleashed its warm hail on the flapping shutters,
no one else was walking in the streets
which were slick and seeped down to the square at the bottom
where the fountain overflowed.
Normally bony dogs would be having a bath there
but now, no barking, no whistles.
The night, the rain, the heat.
I crossed the road. A guy waved from the other side:
two fingers and a mouth ajar to ask
if I had something to smoke, I threw up an open hand
flapping, like the shutters, to show him that no,
and I went on, face buried in my oversize hoody,
hair full of the smell of a day
that wasn’t quite done.
By the sign, a young girl in a pink skirt and a guy
with a haircut that recalled the best moments
of Agnés Varda, waited their turn to order a kebab
with extra cheese.
The girl looked at the mounted flat-screen
on the wall showing clips of american pop,
the guy threw and caught a plastic bottle behind him
turning it over skilfully.
After they’d paid, the owner said
“Sorry for the wait”
I’d only just arrived, so that made me smile;
“a box of chips, with ketchup
okay
you can wait
inside.”
So I waited, standing, leant against the fridge
in front of the empty salad trays.
It was then that a man, soaked to the bone, came in.
I pushed myself aside to let him pass:
his clothes gave off a smell of cement
and cheap alcohol, his hair cropped short, grey,
held water
like the surface of a field at four in the morning.
He ordered.
At the moment I went to pay for my chips, he fixed his eyes,
eyes rounder than the beak of a Flemish rose,
the weak mouth of those tired men who drink
a bit too much and who accept it,
he looked at me for a while,
and stammered:
“I don’t know what to say to you.”
At first I thought he was winding me up, but all the same,
his eyes, his eyes!
“How’s that?”
He took a great breath, as if each word
tore from him half of a lung:
“I don’t know what to say to you, Miss”
The guy behind the counter listened with one ear
filling the industrial chip trays.
“You don’t have to say anything to me”
I responded, shaking my jumper.
“I don’t know what to say to you because I know who you are.”
The rain left lightly shining grooves, falling
from his skull to the bottom of his nose.
I didn’t know what to say either:
midnight wasn’t far off, I’d come looking for what to expect til morning,
and this guy, perfectly drunk and sound of mind, seemed
about to cave in on himself.
“I know who you are, you write books.
How do you do it?”
“Well, however I can.”
He gave himself a tap on the knees, and then
in one go,
tears, sweat
of the rain which comes from the inside
something humid and sincere came over his look,
already drowning in solitude and the bizarre night.
He turned towards the guy
who folded
the orange trays
with the precision of a dental surgeon.
“I can tell you that I didn’t get soaked tonight for nothing, no way!”
At my back, the fridge hummed.
A light smile installed itself, naturally
between my dimples.
On the counter, my chips were ready, well packed.
I took out my coin
a two euro piece and the drowned man said to me:
“I would like to pay for your chips, if you don’t mind.”
I sighed and left my coin between him and me, then I offered my hand.
He shook it.
“Thanks, mister”
and I left, my bundle of chips on my wrist.
On the way back, the characteristic smell of chip fat
invaded my nostrils, my hair, my clothes.
I will probably never see that man again, or at least, not like that.
Since yesterday, I’ve wanted to write about him, because I wonder
which of us in a few months, in a few years, will be betrayed
by the image they have constructed
of the outside world?
Will it be for others to shake hands
at that hour of the night
for a box of lukewarm chips and an iceless cola?
I would like for poetry to be as natural to those
who surround me as the emotion
that sprang forth that night, before that square
with the improbable ease of moments that might not have been,
but that happened all the same, poorly thought out
overflowing with grace, and impossible words

City Woods

The wode is a kind of dust –
it piles up around the land’s cracks
where the cleaning equipment
sighs and faints in exasperation

And up close and in it
a tangle and heap of word
with cuts and slices on the plane
where trees fall and bring light.

To walk by, paths which increase
and curve with a complex
runic twist – to read this
it would take a kind of Hecate

Bluebells raise their damp towers
where small grey flies hop to try

Calliope

Beautiful I want to receive you like the bed after becoming so tired I cannot sleep and odd things run through my feverish mind

I want to sit stunned cross legged on the covers and reach over to catalogue you mindlessly at first, but then knit all of you together with my tongue

I want to hear your voice collapse like, in the grey fog, immense waves in a storm collapse on chalk cliffs, I want to collapse

I want your eyes to become decentred from the locus of your self, allow the sun to become everything of you, scattered over you on the forest slopes in the snow

I want you to think of all of your best lovers whilst we recall them by knotting together, and it becomes hard to untangle from the past to go make coffee

I want us to forget each of us which gender we are, at the moment of climax when all there are are damp surfaces and depths and the universe achieves its end smiling, I want us to sweat

I want you to feel your dark hair rise all over your body, feel it grasp everything like snakes as I become statuesque

I want it to be like tearing the book of your life in half from that moment each time, each time you look at me and laugh or sigh and the rain pelts jealously on the window

I often think of collapsing with you on the floor as soon as we cross the threshold, with a little ceremony and incense, the censer swaying back and forth over the carpet. I often think of you

V.86

There is a gradient. The sky
moves from polluted red through pale
to black. And orange flashes as
the tractor trails wheat dust. The road

merges off the circular path,
intentions are coded in light.
Industrial farming machines
don’t fit through the old town crossing

and crunch the box off the lamppost.
In the streams of thick logistics
molecules are reshaped en masse,
and fly into the gradient –

the dark leans over the ripped grass
like a pervert, waiting to glance
the raw dirt and turn it to dust
to fall onto the road and sink

in the torrents of the moist air
gradient down to the river.
A car is shifted by the flood
and sits at the car park entrance.

Gradient of dystopia,
this passing through the osmotic
barrier of roads, where wheat dust
bounces, falls and scatters like bone

Silence of the Gospel – after Paul Éluard (1926)

We sleep alongside red angels who show us the desert without microscopics and without soft, sad awakenings. We sleep. A wing breaks us, escape, we have wheels older than flown feathers, lost, to explore the graveyards of slowness, the only luxury.

*

The bottle which surrounds the cloth of our wounds gives in to the slightest want. Let us take hearts, brains, the muscles of anger, let’s take the invisible flowers of pale little girls and tied children. Let us take the hand of memory, let us close our souvenir eyes, a theory of trees liberated by thieves hits us and divides us, all the fragments are good. Who will reassemble them: terror, suffering or disgust?

*

Sleep, my brothers. This inexplicable chapter has become incomprehensible. Giants pass by, breathing terrible moans, giant’s moans, moans like the dawn wants to push through them, the dawn which can’t complain anymore, after all this time, my brothers, after all this time.

Victory at Guernica (after Paul Éluard)

I
Quiet world of rundown homes
Of night and fields

II
Good faces ready for fire faces ready for full speed
For refusing the night, for injuries, for impacts

III
Faces ready for anything
Here comes the void to fix you
Your death’s going to be an example

IV
The death overthrown heart

V
They’ve made you pay in bread
Sky earth water sleep
And the misery
Of your life

VI
They say want good intelligence
They ration the strong judge the mad
Make charity divide one penny
They salute dead bodies
They barrage themselves with niceties

VII
They persevere they exaggerate they are not of our world

VIII
Women children have the same treasure
Of spring-green leaves and pure milk
And of legacy
In their clear eyes

IX
Women children have the same treasure
In the eyes
Some men have defended it if they could

X
Women children have the same pink roses
In the eyes
Each one lets out its blood

XI
Fear and courage to live and to die
Death so difficult and so easy

XII
Those for whom this treasure was sung
Those for whom this treasure was gashed

XIII
Those whose despair
Enrages the desolate flames of hope
Let’s crack open together the last bud of the future

XIV
Outcasts the death the soil and the disgust
Of our enemies has the dull
Colour of our night
We will defeat it.

Vague

Behind the facemask of my mind there isn’t a lot happening. The dullness of disaster has arrested complex thoughts with its neutralising swarm, experienced as a blank mass descending over everything like snow, or asbestos over an old factory. Which isnt to say I’m having a particularly bad time. After all kids would play in it like snow, and were presumably happy for those moments, even as the traces of later pain knitted themselves into the depths of the lung. Although I do have chronic pain of a kind, it’s really not anything to send letters home about – I can still enjoy the bubbling steam of the coffee machine that cost me £4 in a charity shop. These cheap, or at least notionally cheap pleasures help us in the mornings as they grow darker, colder, here in the north. For the best skill in life is to hold on whilst letting go, and knowing when. The chances of death are still certain etc. etc.

Stranded on the immensity of the ocean, I am treading water. The giant fish-object silhouette hovers in the deep, just on the edge of the dysphotic zone. My eyes are sliding off its almost-imperceptibility as the water laps around my ears, as the waves pull me up and down. My stomach is turning and turning to try find a way out, but of course there is none. Dread is with me in the cold water, amongst the water, invisible. My eyes are wide and cold and I am in constant tension waiting for the teeth to snag me from behind.

Then something changes. I relax, see the surface rise away from me in its liquid glass transformations of the grey clouds. I take a mouthful of water and taste its saltiness before I open my lungs and breathe it in. It is light and cool inside me and I now hover, buoyant as the water, breathing the ocean in the dark. And moods are like this, aren’t they? I suppose.

V.83

I am one with all the insects
that will one day eat my body –
when I have stopped, and am resting
in a sense, when resting is gone

I am one with the plants that grow
of me, in my head, in my trunk.
I will give to the cold flowers
what they once gave to me: a hope

I am one with the air I breathe
that will burn me and dissolve me
for aeons, my skeleton rests
until it too crumbles like cake

I am one with the diseases
that will grind me down, as my mind
flares and splutters like a damp flare
in the faint waves on the dark beach

I am one with the words of things
the vast and tangled forest where
nothing can change without changing
everything. My paths will go on

I am one with the small beings
that fizz in and upon my skin
with legs and arms and carapace
made of me. I will be made free

Kew

It’s as hot as the sun
can make it here
where water forgets
its natural direction
of downhill, & hovers

That is apart from the salted
water of our brows,
your smooth and pale back
your classically refined
tanned toes

seeing plants everywhere
on tables, panels, hanging gardens
tangled in our eyelids, lashes –
my mind loses place.
Arboreal beauty hangs together

with the small and hot haired
nymph of the sweat water
I see before me. You
smile again an evil smile
at my fear of heights – & I

see your eyes glitter
organically –
small sticky rust grey beads
which lodge in my mind
and seed