Home > New Classics > Wounded Man at War in the Metro Père-Lachaise

Wounded Man at War in the Metro Père-Lachaise

June 8, 2010

by Martha Deed

“Too sad to sing” the older Auden wrote to whom
as un mutilé de guerre took my seat on the Metro Père-Lachaise
and glared at me, jealous of my youth and two fine legs. “Why
are you here?” he demanded to know. “He’s buried in Kirchstetten,
Lower Austria, I believe. That last poetry reading killed him on the spot,
and no funeral procession through those streets could bring him back
to life: A poet’s worst nightmare to be killed by one of his own poems,
I believe, and as for me — just look at this scarred face, this empty sleeve —
uglier than anyone inside those gates if you chose to dig one up.
‘La cité des morts’ some call it — a name that could apply to all of Paris
if you ask me — since the great De Gaulle resigned in ’69 — some say
because of mai soixante-huit. He’s not here, you know, but keeps his peace
in Colombey-les-deux-Eglises.” The wounded man gazed down,
then up again with moistened eyes: “They didn’t like him much, you know,”
he whispered in the humming train: “your FDR and the cigar – Churchill…
They even tried to throw him out.” He raised his voice in raspy rage.
“Can you imagine? Our Gallic Rooster, our premier resister?
denied his place by johnny-come-latelies who never fought
a war? We stood them down: the meddlers. You won’t find them
buried here — your Gertrude Stein, the garden poet, they let her in.
Pennsylvanian born; Parisienne by choice, she knew of war first-hand,
rejected the repetition of it, lacked the foreign leaders’ chutzpah,
and knew the strength of modesty: ‘I have lived half my life in Paris,
not the half that made me but the half in which I made what I made’
she said.” He shifted in his seat as the train entered Republique,
then quickly gained the open doors. “You resemble her,” he said.
“But thinner.”

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Martha Deed (website, blog) is a retired psychologist who makes trouble with poetry inspired by crises and other mishaps around her house on the Erie Canal in North Tonawanda, NY. Recent publications include her chapbooks, The Lost Shoe (publisher’s page, video trailer), 65 x 65 and #9, and an e-book, Intersections, a 20-day journey of the unexpected. Recent poetry publications include: Iowa Review on the Web (with Millie Niss), Unlikelystories.org, Poemeleon, New Verse News, Dudley Review, Helix, The Buffalo News and many others.

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  1. June 8, 2010 at 10:24 pm

    Wow. Wow. What a terrific poem!

  2. June 14, 2010 at 12:11 pm

    Nice piece of history about this famous cemetery. Love how you integrated the Stein quote.

  3. June 19, 2010 at 7:49 pm

    Thank you both for such encouraging words. I really appreciate them.

  4. JJS
    June 24, 2010 at 3:03 pm

    I love the terrible voice of this poem – ‘terrible’ in the Classical sense: inspiring awe, terror, courage, conviction by fully inhabiting a tragic perspective. Such a smart and fierce poem, thanks for sending it, Martha.

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