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The Shadow at Cabourg

ISSUE:  Summer 2005

Once dusk has dimmed
this could be a film studio

At the foot of a long parallelepiped
bearing the legend Grand Hotel
an assortment of scenery : children’s day-camps, beach bars
a patch of parasols
their blue-striped petals folded around their stems
the back of a row of villas

And the sea eternal bit player
who comes gray cat in search of her kittens
abandoned on the sand this afternoon

The other extras have left : the boy the grandmother
the chauffeur the baron the lift-boys the cook
The director is already searching out new locations
looking for other characters

A few streaks of light persist west of the Ouistreham coast
On the horizon line two worlds exchange
transparence and density
Will Shadow take substance ?

One can almost hear it, courteous but categorical
No need to wait for an apparition
The book is enough   In any case
the Shadow is too busy tracing the memory
of an (already full) existence lost to the sky

On the playing field around the low building
which protects the gleaming object of their dreams
the firemen hardly play

They are more inclined to enjoy the cool air
near the half-burnt half-car carcasses
(For their exercises, they say)

Inhale the breeze talking of fires
which (always violent) winds stir up
in the (always dry) Midi

the Shadow is foreign to them, a creature
not of fire but water, Venice or Elstir,
of earth and even of air

bearer of airships although an intimate enemy

In bright pink tights, in a corner of the field
little she-devils laugh into their sleeves, stick out
fleshy tongues as pointed as flames

Not part of the sightseers’ route, this garden is not visited
beyond the hippodrome and the golf course
mosaic of allotments distributed post-war
to the natives
proletarian treeless terrain in this country of orchards
with narrow sandy paths between narrow kitchen gardens

The garden has been « re-thought » according to new standards
The shacks replaced by uniform tool-sheds
The invasive flowers cut back
An old patch of hollyhocks annihilated
along with other usurping plants
gladiolas dahlias marigolds and sweet william

the Shadow would never have ventured here
but for those who pursue its traveler’s dreams
and those of its beloved Baudelaire
the flora has encouraged gold-bellied squash
elegant artichokes perched on high heels
blue-green cabbages the color of eyes and oceans

At the instant of blindness

Will you clutch at the blue grass
which tickled you with its bayonet-blades
on a day of pale sunlight when the gulls

Turned together toward the sea
seemed to group themselves even closer together
on a vaster and vaster island

With neither trees nor hedges for a screen

Or will you follow docilely
the flowing of the world into the mirror
annulled by a blacker and blacker sky

But held to the ground by human lights

The Shadow would answer that death tastes like a cake
enhanced by the tea infusing it
according to memory’s fixed rules

Despite its resemblance to an amphitheater
(the most recent dead on the highest benches)
the cemetery remains protected from the crowd
near-invisible at the end of a sunken lane

Not maritime, on every side it overlooks
an eternal wood-green sea
How breathe in death there when a breeze walks
the odors and the lights of August

Although civilian, wars’ chances mingle there
the Christian, Arab and Jewish names of 1914’s soldiers
(evacuated well to the rear, it seems)
with Commonwealth airmen’s, shot down in ’45

At the center, on a proscenium, stelae
fanning out below sculpted coats of arms
act as the chorus of a noble
but not feudal lineage. Has a visitor seen there

an avatar of some ideal aristocrat?
His shadow swallows the cemetery
swallows the body of the present visitor,
held for an instant in the instant’s absolute

Japonaiserie, Whistleriana
the acacias hold on high
the pale pink flesh of their blooms

Propitiatory offering to the storm-god

Homage to lost pine-trees, you would like
to think, you for whom forgetfulness
has not blotted out the former landscape

Saying to yourself that in these times
when the crowd has wrenched the town
from its vocation of ennobled fisherwoman

behind the fan of a beach

The Shadow itself would not lift
its eyelids, trampled to translucence
by an absence of dreams


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