All of Paris is quiet, while the oxygen machine
struggles to fill your lungs.
The gargoyles’ cheeks flush
from the strain of breathing for you.
The clouds are still—they won’t
steal one minute from this morning.
Around the Périphérique, cars
switch off their engines. Plumes of vapour
rise from the streets where you lived—
Rue de la Huchette, Quai Saint Michel.
Sparrows have nested in your doorframe,
it’s so long since it was opened
and I have come to give you a bed-bath,
to shut the flowers in your skin.
The Jardin des Plantes locks its enclosures
as I dry the garden of your chest.
The winged ghouls of Notre Dame crouch
on your shoulders as you sleep;
they have guarded the scar between your ribs
the last years of your confinement.
Their stone eyes stare at me
as I shake your arm. And when
car horns and sirens fail to wake you
and the doctor comes to switch off your oxygen,
I see you stretched on your narrow bed
like an etiolated city, O my father, all your gates closed.
Pascale Petit’s latest collection is What the Water Gave Me: Poems After Frida Kahlo (Black Lawrence Press, 2011). The U.K. edition was shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize, Wales Book of the Year, and was a book of the year in The Observer. She has published five collections, two of which, The Huntress and The Zoo Father, were also shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize and were books of the year in the Times Literary Supplement and The Independent.
Homepage photograph via Flickr by Lens Adventurer