The Far Away HouseWe must have thought we lookedresponsible, freezingin front of the green porchof the ramshackle housewith the ominously sagging roofwe’d bought in our foolishness,my beard just beginning to whiten,your corkscrew ringlets stillgold-brown. We looked so proudand oblivious, like new settlers.We’d hired an honest carpenter.It was almost winterand the wind off the baywas severe, inhospitable,and made summer seemtheoretical. Did we look aheadthrough the frozen roomsto the kitchen we didn’t yet haveto see this photo of ourselvesstill on the refrigeratoramong unimaginable grandchildren?—it’s their house now too, the onethey call the “the far away house.”To the parents that we were,in the photo the carpenter took,stuck now to the refrigeratorby a magnet shaped like a fishand another like a daisy:hats off to your faith.That June we paintedevery surface, our clothesso spattered we threw them away,and made a place destinedfor our family forever—that is, if you think of a houseas a state of feeling, the liltof wind off the oceanthrough the gauzy curtainsbefore the grownups are awake.Alan in FranceI am not a young American chemical engineer living in Paris(though Lesson One teaches me to say that).I’m a retired American living in Aix-en-Provencewhere all the little shops play American songs.(America, my country, where they misconstrue libertyto mean extra-low taxes for hedge fund managers.)My wife makes vividly colored paintings, often of France,of old stone villages with arches, with flowers.And Camus’ molecules are in the tassels of grassI carry in my wallet—Camus who described the livesof the silent poor. How can I not love France?I like to go to concerts in old churches and cry.That’s me, with the white-gray beard, looking somewhat rabbinic.My country seems to need to punish the poor.I like to see hunger managed. Desperation managed.And the heat of the world managed, the way herethe trees are sublimely managed along the roadside.Let’s say music is as close as we get to heaven.Though I play French horn and blockflöte (neither well),I’ll never get to heaven, I fear. Only France.France whose grapes weigh more than all the guns in my country,if we count all those gnarled ancient vines still uttering leaves.France that pays young women to have babies.France that sends its dispirited unemployed to spas.When I was a child it took seven whole daysto reach here in a ship twenty blocks long.The war was just over. People were missing legs.But where else could the joys of peace be better celebrated?Sixty years later, today, on the Cours Mirabeau,they think it’s time to couper the giant plane treeslike so many asparagus in a garden.And that fellow, in the bleached, abundant, shadeless sunlight,in front of the monumental fountainsymbolizing rivers tamed, canalized, and pure—that one is me. Or rather, me in France.
Copyright © 2018 by Alan Feldman
All rights reserved.
Reproduced by Poetry Daily with permission
Alan Feldman is a poet whose many books and chapbooks include A Sail to Great Island and Immortality, winner of the Massachusetts Book Award. His work has appeared in the Atlantic Monthly, the New Yorker, Poetry, and Best American Poetry. He is professor emeritus of English at Framingham State University in Massachusetts. alanfeldmanpoetry.com (Author photo by Bill Zavatsky)
What is good fortune? The Golden Coin asks—and answers—this question in poems about youth, conflict, travel, family love, and the joys and fears of getting old. Aboard his sailboat, Feldman draws lessons from the sea about time and history. His gaze tempered not by nostalgia or longing but by satisfaction and happiness, he finds wry joy in the Havana airport’s sniffer dog napping near the impounded luggage. In acknowledging the inevitability of change, he reports from the battle zones of an essentially lucky life, with only as much sadness and terror as ordinary life inevitably requires.
“A poet whose emotional resources are immense. From book to book, Alan Feldman continues to widen and deepen his poetic reach until even the stars are drawn down to his writing table.”
“Any humanist’s hero, Alan Feldman writes poems that distill from honest observation and a generous, discerning heart. The only thing that mitigates the regret of leaving the self-deprecating confidence and expansive vision of these poems is the instructive memory of their sensibility.”
“These vivid, occasionally hilarious, exquisitely crafted poems never lapse into despair, but cradle us with their wisdom and energy. Feldman takes us into the complexities of memory, to countries beyond the United States, and, over and over, out into the sparkling sea.”