After the terrible events in Paris last week, I found myself looking for poems about the city, but none of the ones I came across really conveyed everything I wanted them to, which makes sense—how could they when I wanted to much?
In the end, I thought I’d recommend this poem about the Eiffel Tower. Christopher Buckley’s “On the Eiffel Tower” isn’t about crisis, or free speech, or facing the worst among us with all that we can muster of our best. What it is about is the way human minds can fill the sky with something beautiful, a monument of iron lace that’s stood for more than a hundred years of war and peace.
Vive la liberté.
Correction (August 23, 2020): The original version of this post mistakenly conflated Christopher Buckley, poet, with Christopher Buckley, satirist. I regret the error, and thank the reader who brought it to my attention.
Tomorrow, someone I love would have turned 31.
I bought my first Carol Ann Duffy book when he was twenty-three and I was twenty-one and we were friends. He was out in California, studying poetry, and I was visiting Paris, and bought a beautiful paperback version of Ms. Duffy’s Selected Poems at Shakespeare and Co., perhaps the most storied independent bookstore ever, a feast for the imagination of literary types (I also bought Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr. Fox, if you were wondering). I bought her Selected Poems because I already loved (and sill do) the sexy, glowing “Warming Her Pearls,” but I didn’t know then that the book will always fall open on another page.
“I want you and you are not here.” That’s the first, plaintive sentence of Carol Ann Duffy’s wonderful poem “Miles Away,” which is about conjuring up the presence of the absent beloved in thought and language. It’s such a perfect rendering of what I felt so keenly for so many months, and still sometimes, that I can only point toward the poem itself:
I have got your mouth wrong,
but still it smiles. I hold you closer, miles away,
inventing love, until the calls of nightjars
interrupt and turn what was to come, was certain,
This one’s for you, EVC.