François Villon Begins His Journey

David Lehman

[in memory of Paul Violi]

In this my thirtieth year,
Drunk and no stranger to disgrace,
I grin like a fool from ear to ear
Despite the trickle of tears on my face,
Clown that I am, condemned
By Thibauld d’Assole’s command,
Threatened and even damned
By the faker with the crozier in his hand.The bishop, a typical horse’s ass,
Wanted me to sup on his shit.
To hell with that. I’d sooner smoke grass
And worship at the sacred fountain of wit.
As a lad I was fed a crust of hard bread
And a jug of water on a five-mile hike.
Each night exhausted I went to bed
And dreamed of her whose fragrance I like.To those who have caused me grief
That spilled into my poems, I say
I bloomed like an almond tree in leaf.
For years I wrote poems every day
And laughed at those who believe
That “love thine enemies” makes sense.
May the poets, who know better, relieve
You of such illusions and discontents.I pray for you, I pray for all
Who deserve God’s mercy.
But I who fell with Adam’s fall
Speak one word only: merci.
I thank all who made me suffer,
Gave me pain, inflamed my heart,
Aroused my manhood like a lover
And taught me that romance is an art.Some of my enemies may
Dismiss me as a loudmouth
But they will rue the day
That my north conquered their south
And the deed defeated the word.
Still, I will say a line in praise of one
Who let me bear a sword
In defense of God’s sole son.I have no real property to leave,
But sick though I may look, and wan,
I still have got my brains. I believe
The Lord has given me all I could want.
I freely admit I owe it all to Him.
And now I shall say what I meant
To say from the start. Like a hymn
I shall compose my last will and testament.Written in the sixty-third year
Of our century, this statement stands
As my hand and seal as I clear
The air of untruth and clap my hands
To applaud the prince who freed me
From prison and gave me back my life.
To him and his wife, and to those who read me,
I bequeath the peace that shall outlast strife.I confess my many sins of lust,
Of wrath, of greed, of pride.
But God who made Man out of dust
Has taken my side.
Though dead I may be when this you read,
Know that I live on by grace
Of the Lord who aided me in my need
And let me gaze on Madonna’s face.And knowing that I shall meet my fate
Soon enough down this well-trod road,
May I stop one last time, one night late,
At a café where I shall declaim my ode
To the joy of the multitude, to cheers
From strangers in this ancient continent,
My thirst quaffed with a tankard of beer,
Beyond reform, your humble penitent.

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David Lehman’s recent books include Poems in the Manner Of… and Sinatra’s Century.

The Common

Issue 16

Amherst, Massachusetts

Amherst College

Editor in Chief
Jennifer Acker

Poetry Editor
John Hennessy

Managing Editor
Emily Everett

Finding the extraordinary in the common has long been the mission of literature. Inspired by this mission and the role of the town common, a public gathering place for the display and exchange of ideas, The Common seeks to recapture an old idea. The Common publishes fiction, essays, poetry, documentary vignettes, and images that embody particular times and places both real and imagined; from deserts to teeming ports; from Winnipeg to Beijing; from Earth to the Moon: literature and art powerful enough to reach from there to here. In short, we seek a modern sense of place.

In our hectic and sometimes alienating world, themes of place provoke us to reflect on our situations and both comfort and fascinate us. Sense of place is not provincial nor old fashioned. It is a characteristic of great literature from all ages around the world. It is, simply, the feeling of being transported, of “being there.” The Common fosters regional creative spirit while stitching together a national and international community through publishing literature and art from around the world, bringing readers into a common space.

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