IT WAS A TIME I SLEPT IN MANY ROOMS, called myself
by many names. I wandered through the quarters of
the city like alluvium wanders the river banks. I
knew every kind of joy, ascents of every hue. Mine
was the twilight and the morning. Mine was a world
of rooftops and love songs.
four nights we drank and feasted at the banquets in
the holy square of Saint-Germain-des-Prés.
Many friends of old assembled—tried companions,
those long-traveled, with stories yet untold. There,
we gathered beneath the broad moon that hung like a
pendant on a string. We danced beneath festivity lanterns,
dropping blushing light on the lawns and stones. On
prosperous tables, gentle bread was laid. Brimming
were the bowls. Much wine was drunk—good wine,
well-seasoned, long ago pulled from ancient grapes.
Golden-lipped girls with sleek hair, voluptuous breasts,
and eyes slender as pearls strolled in and out in their
clouds of perfume; summer sacks dangled on fresh arms
burnished by the copper sun after days spent in private
ways on provincial strips of shore. We toasted the
city and the passage of time, and we laughed with gladness
in our hearts, always merry in our ways, until nights
overturned to dawns.
It was then on the evening of the fifth night that
I resigned myself to stay in the rooms I kept overlooking
the square and not to go out, as I desired to finish
up some of the projects I had weighing on my mind.
These were heroic times and I had much work to undertake.
From a solitary evening walk along the river, I came
alone up the rue Bonaparte. Entering the room to which
I held key, I approached the summer basin freshly spilling
of water; and from it, I splashed my face to tame the
heat. The mail had been slipped beneath the front door
and I took the envelopes to the table to examine them.
One was from Nadja, with rose-colored paper and a hand-painted
pomegranate. Her letter was brief but excited. She
was high in spirits. Everything was settled. She would
be coming in the fall to study at the Beaux Arts.
Sweet Nadja,” I smiled and flung the window open
with thoughts of that eastern beauty on her far-flung
shore, her sun-cooked archipelago. Was there anything
like Nadja? …with her magnificent sloping waist
and long saltwater back. Hopeful Nadja, with those
subtle, upturned breasts and that firm tummy… No!,
this was no time to dust my thoughts with the powdery
prints women’s footsteps leave behind. There
was much work to be done! “All of this and a
summer’s eve,” I muttered as I paced the
floor, “The temperature throbs and, one by one,
evening birds peck at the humid hours leaving spicy
dusk with sweet tempered beaks.” It was
clear thoughts were coming fine. I knew great
be done this night.
the letters in a forgotten cabinet, I took to the desk
to where I lay pen to sacred
one line, then a second, humming my hero’s
the tremendous heat! Any stopping this swelter? “Watery pitcher,
water clean…” I drank cool water and approached the window to feel
the draft. My feet stamped noisily on the wooden floor as I crossed the room.
Bright is the Parisian sky—and crisp! Down in the square below, I observed
the nightly banter beginning to form. “Holy banquets!” I shouted
with displeasure in my heart, “Sacred, profane feasts! . .
. Shut up!”
in the square of Saint Germain, I could see the growing
assembly of the evening’s fresh young girls, ces parisiennes parfumées,
donning newly-cinched cotton tops. Streamers ran softly over ancient
stones. The colorful
paper lanterns, infused with light in the dusk, stretched across
the lawns and were bowing and bobbing with the currents of summer
I left the
window open and returned to the desk to continue my work.
hour over-passed the next. A little work was set to
stone, chiseled and arranged. Dark grew the sky and
the strumming of newborn
the square up into the airy room. Then there were songs, now
there was laughter. Now a girl was shouting to her
friends. Did they
want to drink
did! Happy, one could tell, were those tender vocal cords, never
once torn by rugged years. Sweet like a klaxon’s song in
private bows. Sweet was her chime. Would I have to shut the window?
evening wind? Cannot the nightly air belong to me as well? I,
after all, have a battle-worn hero who needs a lofty breeze in
to sail home.
In defeat, I abandoned the chair and returned to the window…
the banquet was in full bloom. Sweet smiles, I saw,
laughter from sweet eager girls, dressed in tissues
light, their frosted
bound breasts and fragrant hips, holy tender wrists and palms,
arms that raised to sing their psalms . . . “Let us end these happy feasts!” I implored
madly, “Just one night! . . . For one night, I wish for peace! Silence
all! . . . Do you not realize I am planning a hero’s homecoming up here?” Alas,
the revelers heard me not. I brushed my brow of sweat, and
upset sighs I put forth as I closed the window and walked over
the still air—now that the window was shut—the heat, the muted
sounds of the reveling outside, my hero’s tale was waning. I couldn’t
get the poor wanderer home.
at the window. I sought the latch to open it anew and
let in a draft. A clear view I had of all the happy
where I stood,
saw the crystal champagne flutes emptying themselves
delighted mouths. One could count the specks of glitter
on the smooth
shoulders of the
ladies. Officers in uniforms, white-jacketed servants
carried corpulent bottles
beneath their arms. “Cursed night!” I cried,
while the moon was swelling majestically to add to my
“And if I should die this very eve? If I should perish on some accidental
drug, hazardly taken before your rosy dawn? You, gay-tongued
ladies and men—speak
up! Would you be happy sacrificing your hero’s
tale for the dregs of this night’s wine?”
words availed me aught. The revelers were not listening.
Ceasing to speak, I kept my eyes fastened to the
noisy square, all the
of how to return to my work. Now the band had stopped
to allow one fiddle player the party’s attention. This fiddler was a gangly type, with long bandy
legs, and a smoking. Everyone seemed to take a great interest in what he was
about to play—the women especially. All gathered
His fiddle began slow. Eyes darted around his uneasy
movements with the first caresses of the bow. Then,
as he sped up,
his arms began
the wings of a gnat. It wasn’t such a feat!
I knew the very concerto, a most predictable piece!
equine mallet got
the proper attention
and the fragrant ladies, all dewy-eyed, perched around
him with mouths gaping in emotion.
It was during this show, I saw among the maids below, one young girl who struck
my curiosity. She was in the group, among the others, though somehow apart
from everyone. A young girl, shorter and more fair than her fellow ladies.
Her shoulders sat upright like fruit on a tree, and her breasts swooped down
like two birdlings learning flight. Those shoulders were bare and smooth and
bronzed like amber resin forever preserving youth. Around her small neck of
rosy skin she wore a pretty band of peach silk. And from that silk, hung a
golden locket or bell, which appeared to ring each time her soft neck pulsed.
And every descent that violin took, from major key to minor, her chest heaved
and her neck it trembled and that golden bell it rang.
to think I own the night!” I sighed in defeat,
shutting the window anew, wiping the summer dew from
my humid crown. I realized now that
staying in this coop would truly avail me naught.
It was time to find my own
girl… I had clever Adélaïde
I could visit. That fair doe with her collarbone
of pearl. A famous dancer at the Palais Garnier.
body smooth as fresh split ivory—and long
too. She would be waiting for me now, this very
night, this very hour, in her sweltering loft
overlooking the grandeur of the lawns of Luxembourg.
her well: her low cut dancer’s
top, thin and pressed with summer wetness against
beautiful alabaster breasts.