Campbell Corner Poetry Prize

Distinguished Entries 2002

Richard Wollman

Trespass - A Cemetery Affair - The Tent Dweller and The Angel of Earth



The women at the market in Bonnieux
are our neighbors in the orange house
with the purple shutters on Rue Elzear Pin.
It doesn't matter that they cast their lot
with the National Front or that they pack
our groceries roughly. They never planned
to be talking to us, didn't lean over the wall
bordering our yards, though they share the same
difficult slope perched high above the Luberon
to see a view that doesn't include us.
You can feel it. The landscape says to gaze
if you want but do not touch or be touched,
like these grocers who wait for you to take
your hands off the fruit in their efficient bins.
We didn't hold anything against them.
How could we, cloaked, and not by choice,
invisible trespassers speaking tongues
but who had not come to see the nakedness of the land.


On the drive near Les Baux we see Van Gogh
wasn't crazy and didn't distort the view.
The ruddy hills show the stubble of leafless sticks
poking the landscape like sick trees.
You might as well be on Mars. There's nothing
human here, which must be why he preferred
the curling tips of cypresses brushing stars
and the yellow light on the yellow flowers
drowning anything brown, or the blue light
of evening cloaking all the towns stroke,
dreams of green clouds swirling up in glassy
intensity, unaccommodating men,
and women flirting with insanity
with no way to understand it.
There are no paintings here, as if he had
no better frame for the Provencal sun
than trespassers on indifferent trains.


In Apt we look down Roman streets
for a secret address, afraid in old blind ways
that we're too late to hear Django Reinhardt.
I wonder how it will be in Provence
nowhere near The Hot Club in Paris,
the deserted streets as they must have been
during the Occupation, the jazz forbidden,
Django's crippled fingers spitting grace notes
at Hitler and his men. We're mistaken
about the time, we think, or the place,
but we pound one last heavy courtyard door
and silver-haired gentlemen let us in
to hear two guitars, a bass, the violin.
Above the crowd a boy bounces
on a mattress in a bedroom window,
his antics becoming more outrageous
as we watch him--as long as this Arab boy
plays, this evening will never be taken.


On the southern side of the cathedral
of Carpentras there is a gothic doorway,
above it a lurid globe overrun with rats
that nibble the world, a symbol
of the plague perhaps or of heretics
or sin itself, the Porte Juive, where Jews enter
to be baptized at the back end of church
ushered in by the cardinal's hand.
How many in the line erased their names
only to reinscribe them in the sky
at night in the Sefer Bahir's luminous script
while walking streets flanked by plane trees
miles from where Mont Ventoux lords it over
cathedrals rising across the Vaucluse?
How could such a world keep turning
on them, fixed there in its stony axis?
I think I must be one of them, a secret Jew
who chisels quiet names at doubt's back gate.


What is this place of encircling stone,
black walls, one-way traffic, closed gates,
the bridge half gone? What had Durrell called it--
an amputated finger pointing nowhere?
The fortress of popes, an empty palace,
voluminous rooms with nothing in them
save the mural in the pope's bedchamber,
a stag of plaster surrounded by hounds,
and staggered tiles spread across vacant floors,
cubed peacocks, splayed fleurs-du-lys, and the grey
piazza the blackened pigeons adore,
this flat expanse where anyone may walk
with the shadows and the sunless morning.
Why do I keep coming to Avignon
on the way back from Carpentras?
I wonder if I am a juif du pape,
untouchable by extraordinary decree
from ghosts within their silent walls.


The Christian women in the city of Goult
sit in the shade of old trees on old walls
happy that tourists bypass these stones
in search of the ochre cliffs in Rousillon.
They see three wandering Jews enter through the gate
of their impeccable gardens, small, orderly,
their restaurant tables at night on the street
blocked off from cars so they can cook for us
and the baby, restless in his chair.
They do not care who we are because they know
about hungry families with no place to go,
and we find it hard to leave this sanctuary
to go back to our perch across the way
where they can probably see us put out
the lamps to go to bed later this night,
the doors all open while we stare
across the valley at their lone last light
for anyone passing nearby or even far gone.

A Cemetery Affair


All I know is your name Felix Germon
and I know that you cannot speak to me.
So begins what may turn out to be sin
if all I do is to disturb once more

the gated garden of the cemetery
deeded to the Jews of Carpentras
                                        by papal decree of a fugitive court
from within the blackened walls of Avignon.

I have not seen the yellow star
in the clothing of those who wore a badge
of uncertain consequence while they lived
and went about their way before it sank

into the skin, and have not seen
your stone turned by time,
a tilted slab angled sharp against the sky,
where a sign was hung across your chest--

"From the neighbors," it read,
taken from another grave, out of context.
But when the mind takes silent hold of me,
it won't cease from hearing how quiet

it had to have been. I hear the stitching,
the work of the quiet fingering.
                    Did the Sewer lean his hand against you
to ease the strain of the meticulous task?

          I see the star in your skin, hear the creak
of upturned stone, and smell the earth's breath
as you are exhumed, quiet as moss,
while nobody heard, or so it was said,

and wonder why this night, different
from all other nights, makes us afraid,
my son asking if I will stay with him,
not to leave his room where the glowing

galaxy we pasted on the ceiling
has stars already losing their last light.
I shudder as I pass each Christmas tree
from the neighbors' windows looking at me.


Over the wall it isn't hard to get in,
like the Catholics of Carpentras did
when courting chez les Juifs,
a cemetery affair they used to call it,

and lie down in the long grass
of the burial grounds of the juifs du pape
between wild oaks and cypresses
where the dead Jews sleep in caskets

with the holes poked through
to let their bodies return to earth.
How slowly dust moves
in the quiet of the Carpentras night

oblivious to delights the cemetery
gave to those who scaled its wall,
lovers evading church and sanctity
and North Africans drinking in safety

from the mullah's fierce and prowling sight,
the thick pungency of green tobacco
wafting over undisturbed stones,
while friends pass a bottle amongst them.

before leaping the fence
back to the Arab Quarter,
to the public purity of abstemious law
which robes itself in its own white gown.


No one now boasts of having courted there
as it rains on Carpentras, its few old Jews
left to lock the gate while the summer
grows dark with tired eyes,

and my son has night fears: he sees twins
in his sleep, identical as they cleave,
while he dreams he won't be home when he wakes
even though the stars in his room look the same.
Our small garden has a patch of grass
coming in although it has not rained
in Provence these summer months
I have been watering each night.

The rabbis of Provence said that water
spreads itself from side to side like water
in a bowl laps the edges, catching light,
the essence of what cannot be grasped.

Is it enough to tend a garden here on earth?
Why go west to Carpentras if, safe here,
I may watch a storm strike Mont Ventoux,
illuminating the hills, the lightning like

the finger of an artist pointing to
every ridge, connecting paths,
dropping water everywhere but here?
Why go west to Carpentras?

My son is happy, and every night my wife
bathes her golden skin in golden light
as she opens our windows and calls me
to forget your westward beckoning.


The overgrown luxuriance
of your untended garden throws shadows
on old stones set back in dark places,
and I cannot see it as it was.

Felix Germon, I wander, too,
my ear tuned to the silent mound
where upturned earth pulls everything down;
and I see a path through wild growth,

a vine's thick-tendriled grip
as it intertwines and grows in tandem
with a tree's shape and makes it
cooperate with its own end.

But my mind resists and again shakes free
to follow where you have gone
to complete the ache you felt at the sight
of the Christian girl who would conclude

"He pleased me--what could I do?"
but keep him from the boxcars
when the trains left Vichy and Dracon
so you would live your last year in Carpentras.


I see six million stars
and only one
still made of skin
to prevent the rest
from singing
and I am cold
so thin

in a shroud
of earth and linen
What is the seal
upon thine arm?
I would make
a bracelet
of her hair

gently twine
it there
and restore
its silent meaning
to unstitch
unholy thread
from your breast


Are you cold
where you are?
Do you hear
a song?
All the cherubim
are making love
Can you restore

the stars
to their
Where were you
when the
was made?

How can one
last star
others were
and ceased
to spin?


Tonight my son's stars gleam
and I wonder what you would think of him.
What will his sleep this night bring
as I sit in silence where he dreams?

May the yellow star stitched with pain
ascend to start the song again,
so I may sing to my son, ease his sleep,
and say I'vidi in terra angelici costumi.

I have made my way
afraid of death by a kiss
for those who enter uninitiated
and lose themselves short circuited

by that ecstatic electricity
which sparks the union of the cherubim
who are at the garden gate, in his image
making love at the center of the universe.

Germon I have to take your star from you
in the name of the song allowed to sing,
for pain and song share essential joy
that brings me to you, my son to me.

Your star restores the harmony
now that you have been uncovered again.
I wish you knew how I lived
like a shade haunting Mont Ventoux.

I still call you though only your pain calls me,
these radiant beams between our eyes
aflame with sudden sapphire sight
emanating since the violation

impaled creation at the root
of the world_s foundation,
exhumed to speculate once more
on a name which cannot be known.

Felix, your own name makes fortunate pain,
which has released you and made free
one who was never known to you,
and this night has again begun to sing.

The Tent Dweller and The Angel of Earth

                                                            for Camillia Fawzi El-Solh

It is not the darkest night of the year,
not to the desert dweller outside his tent
who narrows his vision that he may discern
a lone dot as it moves across the horizon.
Is it something human, does it carry a knife
to rip the fabric of his tent at night
where he sits at council or sips tea
with his wife before returning to bed,
their two far doors separated by a warhead?

The man who tried to kill my father
not once, but on five occasions, rejoiced
at his assassination, and worse, worse,
tried to claim another's work as his own,
as if he thought he could fool me, the one
who reads the fear in his dark eyes,
the broken scripture of all he doesn't know.
He does not know that I am an angel of earth,
my heart the whitest white, universal
blank, target of all to be forgiven.

Inside his garden he shows his broad back to me,
fingers the figs that dangle from his trees.
He says they are small and they are green,
but much juicier than the large brown ones
that we have grown in Alexandria.
Finally I speak through imaginary veils
his mind drapes across me, and I swish my hips
outrageously, Arab dancer without trinkets.
I have never eaten either of them, I say,
So why not let me be the judge of it.

Then I watch his arms fly above his head
as he says, My father! My father! My father!
and turns from fig trees to see the image of him.
(There were seven bullets of hate in my dear one.)
You are him! he says, and it's true I have his chin,
and his smile I carried away with me.
Now the negotiations may begin,
for I'm the living ghost who comes to tame
the tent dweller who worries about knives
like desert snakes that slither underneath the sand.