James A. Hawley
from Vezelay
 
                A brebis tondue Dieu mesure le vent.
 
 
 
Ash trees were just leafing out
Along the Rue de Rivoli
The one window in our
 
Room on the third floor
Overlooking the boulevard
Opening out on them.
 
I thought I saw you
That Palm Sunday
In front of the église
 
Across the street
Handing out sprigs
Of boxwood to the devout.
 
A highway runs by the roadhouse
At the bottom of the hill
& it was there we learned you’d
 
Just passed through not
Long ago, had in fact
Taken a room in that very
 
Establishment & stayed the night
Howling at a moonless sky
A vocalization tempered
 
By vin au cassis & Leffe, hills
Thrilling to the hint of schwa
Praying in your own way
 
For the Intercession of Mary.
We’d heard the rumors
Imagined them as if  

They were true: three Incan
Mummies found on the slopes
Of a dormant volcano
 
Whispering of capac cocha
Human offerings—
Your familiarity with pangwe
 
A Bantu language spoken
By the Fang of the Ogawe basin
Known for their sculpted
 
& painted religious masks;
Your knowledge of the Arabic
Qasida: the erotic prelude;
 
An account of a desert journey
& the panegyric proper.
After having fed on her kill
 
A goshawk shows her satisfaction
‘With feaking, jetting, rowsing
& such like joyous shews & signes
 
Of inward pleasure & contentment.’  
I thought it “defective” when you
Wrote “defunctive.” You also wrote:
 
“The locals seem to speak
A dialect of Ro, a language
That rejects all existing words
 
& roots & is based on an analysis
& classification of ideas, analogous
To Aristotle (though unspeakably more complex)
 
For which there is no dictionary
& is, in fact, simply an
Idea for a language.”
 
 
                         ***
 
 
Immutable mutterings of row-de-dows & barristers
Greet the mourners who’ve wandered in, looking
For a chance to forget the past or practice
 
A new-found language with native speakers.
The latter resound in the depth & quality
Of their abundance & the uncanny
 
Ability to haunt the wanderings
Of even the staunchest ghosts --
Mutterings & incantations
 
Discernable between steins & pints
Of session beer & other strangely-
Colored liquids. The wainscoting
 
Seems to be made of teak or bone;
The floor, alternating hexagonal tesserae
Of black & white. Amorphous wall hangings
 
Done up in russets, ochers, burgundy &
Maraschinoes, realms of non-spectral color
Distinguished by complimentary wavelengths:
 
Luminance & purity
Exonerated by splashes of something
Greyish yellow, greener & duller than chamois
 
Slightly greener & less strong
Than old ivory & greener & duller
Than flax, the name of which we were
 
To learn later. The drapes could be made
Of pages from a book; the ceiling
Stibnite; the doors, a hoax.
 
We’ll pilgrim after you on the relic-trail before time
Wears thin or the scent grows cold.
For now, cool intoxicants seep down our
 
Weepy throats & we don’t know if we should be
Affrayed or interrogated by the crowd of foreign-
Speaking people at the end of the bar
 
Their indecipherable clamor enough
To un-nerve the nerveless
Or wake the dead
 
From whom we’ve much to learn
Which is why we track you as you lead
Us about the French countryside:
 
Riverways & canals, deforested
Hillsides, browning vineyards, country
Lanes lined with plane trees, the rich
 
& storied history of quarries & stoneyards;
The dead sunk in the muck at Verdun
Rolling for miles in clean rows at Normandy
 
The face of God gloaming in every
Country church & cathedral, every
Cemetery, war monument & parish graveyard.