We sit, looking across at the façade.
When I’m gone, you say, remember
me here. I think about that, imagine
myself alone at this street-side café,
the massive stone of the station filling
my eyes, the marble goddesses, each
named for a northern city—Arras, Lille,
Rouen—louring down at me.
We know it well, know each corbel,
key- and corner-stone, as if by heart.
You are consumed, as always, by the
wild parade of the living, the aubergine
women, armed with batons and walkie-
talkies, stalking the parked cars,
the skate-boarding transvestites yakking
on mobiles, the louche boys patrolling
the tables, on the look-out for gormless
tourists. The ragged, the maimed,
Thinking of all that, and of the sand
swirling round our toes in the Tuileries,
of the sweet (caramel, biscuit) and
salty (stale piss) smells of summer metros,
I conclude that if I were ever to glide up,
without you, from the underworld of
northern trains into the dazzling light
of a hot, dusty Paris, order a rosé
at the Terminus Nord and look across
at the railway basilica—
the hellish white of the portal would
tear the sight from my eyes, the bald-eyed
furies balancing on their pedestals would
swoop and strike me with axe, sword
and knife, passing boys would rob me
and I would stumble away to wander
the streets of Paris as once I wandered
alone among peacocks in a paradisial
New Delhi garden, seeing nothing.
Do you really think I could look again
at these end-of-the-line pillars and porticoes,
these blind granite women, remembering you,
and not myself be turned to stone?