Tarte aux Pommes
(Place de la Cathedrale, Metz, France)
Precisely that direct angle of show and
glow knowledge inserts by yore intelligence
reinstitution of a mage crocus yellow within
unseen green it readies for spring
that deadly ferries dumb its passage
beneath the master snow.
There is a stretch and yawn
in tea rooms, where the heavy outer
await informed upon mahogany polished
stands, whose crooks and scrolls bend
in ways the ocean kicks a wave
and they, starred and stayed earth anemone,
sift the rolling surge of garb.
yawh!Yawh!YAWH! The crowd voice
roars beyond the room, the outre mer
of politique the method-lived ignore.
Redbilled caps, cardinals in the snow,
and white obliterated banner by angry flurries
furls: One knows while looking at
The indifference here a solitude of energy
held against the weight of time
for passage into numerals
the intelligence of signs.
A patience for space occurs
between the wings of doves
that nestle down the night.
The scarred and broken walls
buttressed by angled wings of force
wedge against the grey matriculated
light that sweeps the waiting stones,
the mortar scattered piles.
I have taken the part of objects,
animals, and things, have played
their role in life, felt the weight of
apple break away its stem,
and sweated its sections
breathing separate upon the plate.
Such assertions, fire seeds, circled
in core for a future of memory,
cat's paw withdrawing from the snow,
dog's paunch hefted down upon
his squatting haunch, bird's thermal fluff
of speckled feathers composed in scores
upon winter branches of the dormant trees,
present no inner life but life
interior pulsions in the subject finds.
In cold season, in weather, the stones conspire
against themselves, constrict from worldly
weight they wear. They lay away a
minimum of the history they share.
The cups are there and the plates
cluck to lay inevident critical
use for the evoluted form from
stone and speckled grain they become.
By this they seize acoustic
background noise that as
blue in universe of blue
the cosmos spurns.
The oval there
I am bone.
Other layers in demarcated rings
brown for the culture of taking
pleasure and time featured by
rings within, interior of selves
that days empty to lips of thought
prefecture of eyes.
Her instep turns
so traced into the stone
that fingers plead
with sight of touch
to achieve the
To sleep in stone among their skins
to step into their bones as repose
of arrows resides in mastered flint
and flick of light that nights within.
To figure hard in their memory.
Stroked, like a rigid circle striking,
beaten, and after fallible inquisition,
marbelled by a swirled stone.
Nature melts according to her whim.
What whim? Investiture
and a towered settlement after
flowing: her gesture. Thrown into
fusion, erosion an innerness
mended to a liquid restorative
unguent and procreative palisade:
These all pierce by unison.
Une longue ligne blanche d'écume
Elle s'éloigne contre moi
Comme le feu
À la lumière
A long white line of surf
She lengthens against me
To the light
And yet the tea is here
the light upon the plate
and table and the tarte aux pommes
so rare the matrons in German know
whereof they speak the gossip
and intense novelty of the week
While I confound their sight
delight their mind
with obscurity and the crowd
outdoors, laborers marching in the snow,
the mass politique
lengthens against me
like the cathedral light
beyond the room.
© 1979-1980 Frank Cebulski
Note on the poem: This poem was written in March 1979 at Metz, France, when I was Fulbright Lecturer at the University of Metz, where I taught English and American literature, particularly poetry, to upper division French students preparing to pass the CAPES, the equivalent of an American teaching certificate, to become teachers of English in France. Some of my former students are now full professors at universities in the United States and others are excellent teachers of English in France. I love this poem because it calls up pleasant memories of my life in Metz, it is a tantalizing mix of aesthetics and politics, and my favorite dessert is, of course, tarte aux pommes. I wrote this poem in a little teashop near the Cathedral, where I would often go for tea and tarte aux pommes. The matrons of French descent would sit together in a group speaking French and watching across the room another group of matrons of German descent speaking German. I usually sat at a table between the two groups of elderly ladies and they would frequently talk about me and what I was doing there.
The impetus for the poem came when I was having my tea and tarte one snowy day in March and I heard muffled shouting from a crowd of workers "en chomage" (on strike) marching by in front of the teashop, carrying banners blowing in the snow. As I looked up from my notebook, I saw the man in front leading the protesters was wearing an anachronous red-billed baseball cap. This image started the poem. I worked on the poem in several "sittings," one in the spring when I was having a beer outside in the plaza. That's where the "AM OS" comes into the poem. "AMOS" is the name of a famous local beer of Metz, "La biere de Metz," which was printed in an oval on the coaster under my glass of beer. Who would know this? But as I was writing and thinking about history and the body politic, and my place in history at that very instant, one of Yeats's most persistent themes, and imagining myself as a stone among stones supporting the Cathedral, suddenly right in front of me, as I lift my glass to take a sip, is the Latin word "OS" (bone) and the evident "I am bone." I believe strongly in letting the immediate come into my poems as magic, and there it is, the magic right before you.
I also like the attitude of the Eliotic "poseur" in this poem, as it reminds me of what Wallace Stevens' wife Elsie once said when asked if she liked her husband's poems. She said, "Well, I like them when he isn't posing. But then, he is almost always posing, isn't he?" This statement is more remarkable if you know that Elsie posed for, and was the model for the head on the Mercury dime. You have to get over your attitude towards the persona in this poem. It's not my fault if you don't like him. Make an effort. Part of the psychological dynamic of this poem. Who really likes Prufrock? He doesn't even like himself. That is the point. That does not mean, however, that you should not learn to like my persona. After all, he is likable.
Look. I also wrote a pretty little imagist poem in French, right in the middle of the poem. And, of course, I have deliberately made an idiomatic error with "contre moi," but not without consulting first my French-speaking friends. I did this so as to retain the double entendre that "against" in English contains, whereby you can lean against someone for support, but stand against them in opposition. This is the double meaning I intend in the little poem and its translation. Sometimes it is better to make a linguistic or semantic oddity in order to create an unusual poem rather than keep the correct idiom and make an ordinary poem. Fluent French speakers reading this the first time always assume that I have made a mistake in their language. This is the cross-cultural risk you have to take. These things do not require defense or explanation, and I've said too much about this poem already.