Donald Platt

Noon

                                        To sit under the wisteria
arbor that makes a thirty-foot tunnel of green shade along
                                        the western side

of this rambling, nineteenth-century house near Aubagne, east of Marseille,
                                        is all I want
to do today. The cross-hatched thatch of vines, leaves, and long, dangling,

                                        velvet seed pods
splatters light and shade on the beige plastered wall and the gray wooden shutters
                                        that are closed now

on account of the great heat, la chaleur du Midi. I want nothing more
                                        than to live
in a country called “Noon,” le Midi, where hard-edged light

                                        makes it noon all day long.
Here, ninety degrees in the shade, zero humidity, I can hardly remember
                                        our Indiana winter,

which lasted six raw months, or my mother’s dying. August 11th,
                                        the first
anniversary of her death, is three days away. She set down

                                        her life
like one of her many old lady hats—lavender to match
                                        her rayon pantsuit—

on a table, forgot it, and walked away. I pick
                                        it up,
whimsical hat of straw with a lavender ribbon around the crown,

                                        and turn it
between my hands. She will not come back for it. Though I will never
                                        see her again,

she is everywhere. She is the yellow jackets that cruise, buzz,
                                        and dive-bomb
the corner of the pool by the cement stairs that lead underwater.

                                        I walk through them
unharmed to swim every morning in the cool water green
                                        with fine particles

of algae. She is the silver green leaves of the twisted
                                        olive trees
that writhe up out of the parched ground. She is the rooster

                                        that crows all night
in expectation of dawn. No, she is fieldstones in unmortared
                                        retaining walls that keep

the terraces from eroding and also the peals of bells loosed
                                        from the squat church tower
like a flock of dark pigeons on the hour. She is the smell of thyme

                                        I crush between
my fingers, the crusted bread I dip into thick olive oil
                                        on a white saucer,

the first pressing. No, she is every one and none of these.
                                        I watch
the faintest of breezes wake the shadows of leaves thrown

                                        on the beige plaster
so that the whole wall of light and shade trembles. Their pattern
                                        is haphazard

rain streaking a window. A small, gray-green lizard with a black striped tail
                                        climbs the wall
slowly, then scurries away like lightning, brief blessing.

divider
 

Offering

                                        On the first anniversary
of my mother’s death, I go to the fruit and vegetable market
                                        at Roquevaire

and buy in another language three kinds of onions—white, red,
                                        and douce, meaning sweet—
zucchinis, green beans, two red peppers, a head of garlic

                                        in its papery skin,
heirloom tomatoes, lemons, eggplants, apricots, and white-fleshed
                                        peaches. I pay

for them in another currency. We will eat them
                                        for dinner
at a table set for twelve, white cloth and candles under the wisteria

                                        arbor. Frédéric,
our daughter Eleanor’s father-in-law, poaches a three-foot
                                        salmon in a special

long pan filled with a court bouillon of water, white wine, peppercorns,
                                        rosemary, thyme,
and oregano—the herbs of Provence. Véronique, his wife, whisks up

                                        hollandaise sauce
for the fish, teaching me to add cold, not melted, butter gradually
                                        to the egg yolks

and lemon juice over the double boiler. I make a quick
                                        ratatouille.
Eva, Eleanor’s belle soeur, her sister-in-law, seasons with saffron

                                        the rice from Camargue.
We don’t eat until 9:30 p.m. Djibril, Eleanor’s husband,
                                        cuts the salmon

from its backbone and serves it on flowered porcelain plates.
                                        Véro, Frédéric’s
first wife, passes me the hollandaise, and I dribble it

                                        over my fish.
The salmon is moist and flakes from my fork. The sauce, lightest
                                        of yellows, has only

a hint of lemon and does not overpower the fish’s
                                        sweetness.
We are without words. Neither French nor English can describe

                                        what’s in our mouths,
this unutterable happiness. We look at each other and smile.
                                        We nod and pass

the vin rosé. I wish my dead mother were seated at the head
                                        of our table. I would
grind coarse black pepper over her purple- and green-leafed salad

                                        shining with olive oil
pressed from the fruit of trees that grow less than one hundred meters
                                        from where we sit.

It is as if the sunlight of Provence has been distilled
                                        into a clear bottle,
so viscous the day’s last gold light pours slowly. On an Egyptian

                                        funeral stele, a son
clad only in a white loincloth swings a bucket of live coals, over which
                                        he has sprinkled

chips of sandalwood. Acrid incense billows over the table
                                        laden with bread,
pomegranates, oranges, lemons, apricots, a roasted calf’s head,

                                        and honey cakes.
Across the table from the son are seated his parents.
                                        They can no longer

eat together, but the son has set out these offerings
                                        so that the dead may taste
again the earth’s plenitude. Above the three of them float

                                        clouds of incense and columns
of hieroglyphs—an ankh, an open eye, two birds. Above our table
                                        the wisteria’s seed pods dangle.

 


Donald Platt’s fifth book of poems, Tornadoesque, was published by CavanKerry Press in 2016. His sixth book, Man Praying, will appear in 2017 from Parlor Press / Free Verse Editions. His poems have recently appeared or are forthcoming in Poetry, Yale Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, Antioch Review, BLOOM, Colorado Review, Crazyhorse, Sou’wester, 32 Poems, Notre Dame Review, Volt, Rattle, Prairie Schooner, New Ohio Review, Western Humanities Review, Shenandoah, Southwest Review, and The Best American Poetry 2015. He teaches in Purdue University’s MFA program.