Élégie pour un voyageur
~for Alec Hodgins
If I could choose one person who loved life,
who taught me to live, it would be you.
I can’t dégager le sens de quelquechose
I can’t work it out. I wish I could have
Je voudrais pouvoir vous ai dit
I looked out at all the adults around me
lost in the mirages of who they thought they were
and then I heard you say,
ne prendre rien allant de soi
Take nothing for granted
and I looked up.
At sixteen, my eyes still 20/20
saw beyond the present–
a glass ball future where handrails
were meant for sliding down, not holding.
I flirted with the idea that I could grow up to be
somewhere else, someone else, someone like you.
I probably flirted with you. Everything once
clumsy and too intense about me made sense
in Francais 400. You gave us words to make flashcards,
tenses to run, accents to place, and you gave us poems.
I learned se démarquer de– to stand out,
to stop pretending to blend.
I imbibed my best art form, la pédagogie.
But I didn’t know that yet. I was going to be a poet,
an artist, a vagabond, to blow the suburbs
like a line of coke or a torch. I thought, I too
will sell arms in Africa, pierce the skin of my lover’s
hand in the fury of his wrongdoing. I will
drink absinthe and wake up on trains
in the caesura of a poem I’ve yet to write. I will
keep company with oarsmen in Taipei and whores
in Haiti, I will climb the Eifel Tower, any fucking
tower you offer me. Goddamnitt. I will
love the world by walking it entire, I will
be loved in fire and beauty. You
loved us in fire and beauty. Because once
you slow the words
long enough to translate,
you can see the heart of anyone
perfect and raw. Je vous ai entendu
M. Alec et je t’aime.
Vous nous avez appris comment vivre
You taught us how to live.
But fuck Baudelaire, fuck
the Champs Elysees, fuck the train tracks
where they found you. That is not how to die.
Before Dead Poets, before Freedom Writers, before,
in my wildest dreams, me – one man taught us to dream
to be present exactly where we were, and life was
nothing but an unstamped passport.
I never wanted to teach. What could
I possibly know that mattered? What could
I give that wasn’t free for the taking?
But in a room full of young people
curious and passionate, I felt I could maybe
be like you. We live through poets in
pages of their books. And then we put them
away. The art of teaching
lasts longer, and digs deeper. Its how the poems
live after the poets die. We recited those poems
over and over. In that small plastic chair
with a left hand armrest desk, I felt,
for the first time, free. I will keep you
beyond the pages of any poem.
Là, tout n’est qu’ordre et beauté,
Luxe, calme et volupté.