cigarettes & two words –
                                             le bel! Le bel!

shouted over the water, momentary
madness our bondage
freed in chains, exultation free in
passionate strings;
freedom from me &
freedom from him? / her? I couldn’t tell;

easy smiles & then, like a tolling bell, all
the birds calling out –
                                             le bel! le bel!

the distant cars & even the
river rising up –
                                             le bel! le bel!

joggers pass, handsome & beautiful;
lovers long comfortable in their sweat
each footstep –
                                             le bel! le bel!

               off codeine by then, I worked
intensely; days done in an hour-days – free
I work in Rouen for no one but me
& my work attracts you; we fumbled awhile –

only the odd word breaking
our learned incomprehension;
our cultural divide –
the odd word;
                                                 understanding only
the lights in each other’s eyes & the easy way we
drink our wine.

               I had a phrasebook somewhere
there was no formulae for us; we shared what we had
               Fleurs de Mal
                                         & could only communicate
through our sins;
                              over the water I did what I could
& read the swan in my father’s tongue; scouse, brutal,
uncontrolled inflections;
                                             you drank as lightning glittered –
a hundred & sixty-two years;
                                                      & I handed you the original so
I could finish the bottle & realised
               I have never seen poetry like this
                                                            like looking in a mirror
                              to see the same gut-punch
                                          the same heartbreaks
                                          the same cacophonous roar.

we understood then, broke the borders & smuggled
a 1958 – £4.95 from stall 243 –
                                                        a copy of my dreams &
shared in majestic poesie of sin &
your endless expressions.

you taught me, in hours, that I’d been wrong all along &
there are no rules,
                 no hopes,
                 no great successes or failures &
               that poetry isn’t an art at all –
               poetry is what you make of the life you’re living.

I hadn’t been ready for how deeply another world would affect me; I’d expected the panic of not being able to communicate – I’d been ready for the red-faced dread of trying to order a bottle of wine and how my lips and broken teeth would butcher the most elegant language. I hadn’t quite tempered my body or my mind to feel the simple joy of being far away, for the pleasures of cafes and hotels whose names were not words, but perfect scenes for drama, romance and simple, overwhelming love.

I know other countries are no different than mine; not really. I know they are populated by the same people, that the rain falls (when it falls) just as cruelly and the wind can take on its own savage teeth. Still; I learned that I was not one of the unaffected, and even my repression was nothing when confronted with life – not necessarily beauty, but burning life in all its forms.

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