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,
anniversary of her death, is three days away. She set down
like one of her many old lady hats—lavender to match
her rayon pantsuit—
on a table, forgot it, and walked away. I pick
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,
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
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.
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
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.
On the first anniversary
of my mother’s death, I go to the fruit and vegetable market
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
at a table set for twelve, white cloth and candles under the wisteria
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,
and oregano—the herbs of Provence. Véronique, his wife, whisks up
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
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.
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
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.