The tour guide declares his love for Simone Veil
but I’m still thinking of Gertrude Stein, though,
with its outdoor café and carousels
of postcards, Shakespeare & Co. is less bookstore
than tourist-trap. Our guide leads us into a nearby church
that looks, I confess, like every other church I’ve seen in Europe:
stained glass narratives of men quarreling with saints,
white stone sculptures of shrouded women,
their hands cupped as if waiting to catch a dropped egg.
What would Gertrude do, as good a question as any.
I imagine her lying supine in one of the pews,
smoking a French cigarette from a blue tinfoil pack,
a glass dish of uncracked Brazil nuts beside her.
Finally this poet has made it to Paris but I’m as far
from prayer as ever, though there is a moment of—
relief? refuge?—dipping into Saint-Étienne-du-Mont
on a July day in Paris, kneeling at the tomb of Pascal just
to catch my breath. A woman pulls a scarf around
her shoulders, steps into and out of shadow. I pay
a euro to light a candle. Prayer is the recognition
that you are alone, I once read on the bumper
of a pickup truck. Red paint rusted and chipped.
Angels perch atop the pipe organ, arms reaching
down—toward me? The others in line behind me?
When I bow my head I hear stones clattering—no—
the click of a camera shutter, or a dozen eyes fluttering shut.
I’ve already forgotten which
is the candle I lit.