Sunday, February 13, 2022

Rue Montclair

Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
        Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

                                    from “Ode on a Grecian Urn”

                                    by John Keats



Let us assume for no apparent reason

that the name of the street is Rue Montclair,

an ordinary lane miles from the electric frenzy of Paris.

And let us further assume that it is a spring day—

any day in April will do.

It is two in the afternoon.

There is time to look forward with a modicum of anticipation

as well as look back with a minimum of regret.

And there is time to sweep and polish

the gloriously mundane that hangs invisibly

from rooftops of curved tiles and gray slate.

Such is our stage, for we are going to observe

the lazy, mosquito-like activity of this offshoot.

Call us peeping toms or sociologists

or painters looking for a suitable subject

to put on canvas—it makes no difference.

A slim man with thin hair pedals a bicycle

with petunias in a basket hung on handlebars.

He works for the flower shop on the left,

the one with the weathered red awning

above a window with the unremarkable name

of Fleur Montclair, but it is all that it needs to be.

He passes a rotund balding man

carrying a brown paper sack of baguettes

from the bakery called Patisserie Celine.

A triangle of sunlight has shifted

ever-so-slightly since we’ve been watching,

perhaps by a degree of arc, no more,

so that it tilts more sharply against the masonry

of the stationer’s shop that carries exotic inks,

vellum, parchment, heavy linen paper.

It is said that even in the digital age

the French are absorbed by matters of the heart.

A handsome man buys note paper and writes,

“Dearest Anna, I love you more than a field

of white daisies and lilting daffodils. Love, Charles.”

Two lovers, arms around each other’s waists,

step absentmindedly over cobblestones

to cross our small work-in-progress.

They kiss, moist lip against moist lip,

which is exactly what two o’clock demands.

There is, of course, the mandatory café,

where someone drinks a small cup of coffee

while another anticipates evening with a glass of wine.

They stare at a point beyond our ken,

absorbed in reveries of things to come or moments lost.

It is time to leave now,

and whether we have witnessed stereotypes

or a street that somehow got caught

in a web of bygone days,

it is nevertheless serene as the sun grows brighter in its falling,

Would you not agree that it is almost too much to bear

to behold beauty that would fit

in a shadow box hung on wall in need of paint?

~William Hammett

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