From This Broken Symmetry
Rue de Catalan
“Dear Monsieur, if one must be exiled one should have a view—
back home in Paris the Gardens like Earth’s greenest impress
where I’d walk my children below windows of spacious flats
like our own; and here, this beach nearby the city’s old port,
the Mediterranean an opulent turquoise robe unfolding itself
as ships appear to sidle off the horizon’s vagrant tipping point.
Marseilles, this aged sea-metropolis buttressed by battlements
of saints, a lesser Notre Dame raised, a catafalque on its hill,
they’ll come for us Jews here, too, with the operation of tigers.
André, the most reticent soldier of our fake France, ducked
firing squads. He came by boat, us shouting “Oscar is with us”
(our code name for police), now safely left. But Simone, Simone. . . .
As a child, once, given a gold ring, she said “I dislike luxury,”
never liked to be kissed or played with dolls, refused to eat,
even then for the hungry. Should I’ve been shocked years later
that she would bring Trotsky to our rooms for a tête-à-tête?
Then the factory work, her barely bearing up, the going-off
to fight in Spain—we begged her to return after her wounding,
now lie about the cost for her to stay with us, safe for now,
despite the Statutory Regulations, and she to the Ministry,
“I do not know the definition of ‘Jew.’” My lovely daughter,
threadbare, who regards herself one of Krishna’s milkmaids,
and fathoms no kin to Palestine but hears Jesus whispering!
Dear Monsieur, if you have a daughter, pray she is not a saint.”
“‘A brother is like a tooth,’ Simone would say, a good thing,
provided one is not too often forced to know that it exists.
Though in those early photographs we seem inseparable—
like the one in Penthièvre after the War, I must be twelve.
She, just nine. That picket fence behind like a trench marker.
It is hard to say which of us looks more awkward, her head
tilted in that bob-cut she kept ever after, me with my book,
arms stiff at my sides, both in shorts. Or the one at Mayenne
where father was stationed, on the sunlit path, our shadows
stretching out in front of us like our futures, the sun’s angle
higher behind her, so her shadow runs longer up to the edge.
She’s leaning on me, away from me in the first. In the third,
she is two, I am five. She is wearing a dress, I, a sailor’s suit.
We hold hands, the way we’d knock on villas in Jullouville
pretending to starve: ‘Our parents will let us die of hunger!’
‘Poor children’ the people said, and gave us candy and cake.
Was it in Mayenne, that it began, our divagation? No, later—
mother’s friend who nodded to me: ‘One is genius itself,’
then to Simone: ‘the other beauty.’ Migraines started after.
I taught her Greek for the fable she wrote, The Fire Imps—
her first, flames transfiguring to dancers dying away, then
flaring into life again. Our trolless, I’d dub her later, our imp,
my sister who’d tell us last we saw her: ‘Had I several lives,
I’d have devoted one of them to you, but I have only one life.’”