Somewhere outside Paris with its
bistro taxes, yowling alley cats, and
bony beggars, these slab benches
and battered wooden tables await
the weekend drunkards seeking cheap
white wine, innocent birds, and
oblivion à la fraternité. No
wonder le garçon’s shoulders slump
sur la droite as he anticipates
waiting on/wrestling with the bands
of holiday bathers trained in from
Gare de la Bastille, his afternoon
yellowing into the monotonous
stuccos and moldering foundations
of Nogent-sur-Marne or Le Plessis-
Robinson or Nogent-sur-Seine.
‘New gents,’ too, to this banlieue,
the soused and fledgling laborers
will soon descend on his tiny town
to guzzle a sour nectar, though no
flower’s in sight—nor prudish mother,
other than the scarce locals pitched
forward over open bottles, hanging
on each other’s every worried word.
He sneers from under his leafy post
that after seven slow years sanctioning
city boys seducing coyly stubborn
country girls, he knows this half-full
dance hall en plein air will once again
fill then thrill to the bal-musette,
the stench of lithe, sensuous bodies
peppering the evening breeze. Listen
as he laments the loss of his own
young life when he assumed a future
featuring far more than indulging
working-class brats till the day he died.
Now, even the cracked glass crowning
the café’s lamp post seems to signify
his doors have shut—not a one ajar--
and this subsistence beside a scenic
river will never proffer further options,
none, anyway, that could set him free.
D. R. James has taught writing, literature, and peace-making for 33 years at a small college and lives and writes in the woods east of Saugatuck, Michigan. Poems and prose appear in various journals and anthologies, and his most recent of seven collections are If god were gentle (Dos Madres Press) and the chapbooks Split-Level and Why War (both Finishing Line Press).
Dessert pour Deux ~
We oft’ passed by the tables outside
the small bistro, but walk on in stride.
The wine flowing, not free,
would soon prove that we
had a purse that fell short of our pride.
Once we married, our family and friends,
though of meager means, shared of their ends,
and inside the café
out of sight, tucked away,
déjeuner, with a love which transcends.
We’ll remember that old Maitre-D’
at the guinguette they called “Chez Amis,”
because, at that table,
young, willing, and able,
we asked, “May we?”
He said, “Mais Oui!”
Ken Gosse prefers using simple language and traditional meter and rhyme in verses with whimsy and humour. First published in The First Literary Review–East in November, 2016, his poems are also in The Offbeat, Pure Slush, Parody, Home Planet News, and other publications. Now retired, Ken was raised in the Chicago suburbs and has lived in Arizona over twenty years. Married, children grown, but multiple cats and dogs run their lives.
Last Patron in the Outdoor Café
sun, have faded.
is broadcast by wind
that strips the last leaves
from the café’s trees, propels
that one lone bird as
he swoops south.
Yet, wrapped against cold,
one last chance to enjoy
outdoor arbors still beckons
as respite from shopping chores:
A moment to oneself
to order coffee, a pastry…
a moment alone
to think and plan…
to prepare for those
even more barren hours in
the shivering days of
Winter, just ahead.
Joan Leotta has been playing with words on page and stage since childhood in Pittsburgh. She is a writer and story performer. Her Legacy of Honor series feature strong Italian-American women. Her poetry and essays appear or are forthcoming in Gnarled Oak, the A-3 Review, Hobart Literary Review, Silver Birch, Peacock, and Postcard Poems and Prose among others. Her first poetry chapbook, Languid Lusciousness with Lemon, was just released by Finishing Line Press. Joan's picture books from Theaqllc, Whoosh!, Summer in a Bowl, Rosa and the Red Apron, and Rosa's Shell celebrate food and family. Her award-winning short stories are collected in Simply a Smile. You can find more about her work on her blog at www.joanleotta.wordpress.com
There you are, Vincent,
Filtering the world
With solitude’s metallic taste,
With melancholia’s aversion to life.
Standing in the midst of your own dreary painting,
You are anxious for change,
To transform your palette to yellows and blues,
To find solace in the night sky,
To dream your way to stars.
Your posture depicts the loneliness of undiscovered cave etchings,
A longing for other worlds,
For relationships like those of your café patrons,
For the freedom of the lone bird above you.
You are an Aries,
As sensitive as tea bags in hot water,
Always feeling the air that is Saint Remy’s,
The darkness that will swaddle you for your journey
To reach the stars.
You agonize that you are on the brink,
That the Fates have cut you a short thread,
That you would labor with the fury of a spinning top gone mad
To complete the art coursing your veins.
Vincent, because we see what you can’t,
We implore you to come out of the shadows.
The light will bless you,
The sun ordain you,
Your sons and daughters will populate the earth,
And your creations receive eternal life.
Jo Taylor is a retired English teacher (as of 2018) residing in a small town outside Atlanta. Though poetry was her favourite genre to teach, she had little time to devote to writing it. At this season of her life, however, she writes daily, mostly about family and faith. "The Calling" was inspired by the many students who, when given an ekphrastic challenge, chose to write about Van Gogh. His offspring, indeed, are many!
The Bad Waiter
puts his fingers around the rim
of the water glass, sneezes without handkerchief,
asks for your order two minutes after you sit down.
He brings the main course before you’re finished
with the hors d’oeuvres, forces you to lift your plate
to make room, asks how the food is tasting
while your mouth is full, stacks dirty plates
in front of you, perfunctorily hands you the bill.
You say he hasn’t been trained,
doesn’t view the job as a career, a métier,
unlike the starched and pressed servers
in Paris, who are not snooty or servile
but efficient, pacing the meal, elegant as
dancers, stretching, gliding, holding aloft
trays of wine and beer, platters of coq au vin,
gigot d’agneau, cheeseboards, lemon tarts,
landing these safely, leaving you to savor
the faint sounds of a small orchestra, the whispers
of rumour, the beginnings of a late-afternoon breeze.
Ronnie Hess is a essayist and poet, the author of five poetry chapbooks (the latest: O Is for Owl and Canoeing a River with No Name) and two culinary travel guides (Eat Smart in France and Eat Smart in Portugal). She lives in Madison, WI. ronniehess.com
Rendered in the sepia of an old photograph
full of people you have never known, this café
is hardly genial. Clearly, Van Gogh felt
no welcome here. No one waved him over
to a table, offering a glass in greeting.
The figures are faceless, outdoor tables
lacking in detail. It’s the light he features,
grey autumn sky with its lone bird, grape
vines climbing metal gates, still waving
their green banner, refusing to give way
to winter. Stiff brown grass licks
like flames around the diners’ feet.
Robbi Nester frequently writes Ekphrastic poetry. She is the author of four books of poetry, including an Ekphrastic chapbook, Balance (White Violet, 2012), and three collections of poetry: A Likely Story (Moon Tide, 2014), Other-Wise (Kelsay, 2017), and a forthcoming book, Narrow Bridge (Main Street Rag), which is available for advance sale from the publisher at http://mainstreetragbookstore.com/product/narrow-bridge-robbi-nester/. She is also the editor of two anthologies: The Liberal Media Made Me Do It! (Nine Toes, 2014) and an Ekphrastic e-book, Over the Moon: Birds, Beasts, and Trees--celebrating the photography of Beth Moon, accessible athttp://www.poemeleon.org/over-the-moon-birds-beasts-and. Her poetry, reviews, articles, and essays have appeared widely in journals, anthologies, and other publications.
Come Share a Glass With Me
Van Gogh presents his La Guinguette in muted tones. It is a sweetly balanced painting in several ways. Its rosy beiges meet oranges and browns overlaid with touches of greens to represent the trees and what may be ivy above the trellises. This is a quiet scene, but I wonder about the hidden relationships of the ten people present in the scene.
A guinguette is described in a French Dictionary of 1750 as a small cabaret either with or without a small dance hall where people can gather to drink a cheap “but malicious” light green wine.
The artist painted this Guinguette with four alcoves in the middle distance. These are airily separated, one from the other, by bent-wood trellises. Couples are seated in these alcoves and glasses and bottles are faintly visible. What do the people discuss? Do they talk of the rising price of cabbage? That Jeanne will meet Pierre after his shift ends?
Three rustic wooden tables and benches fill the foreground with one bench situated askance from its table. A bustled woman sits engrossed with her partner in the foreground. Nearly each of the figures in the painting wears a hat, but for the waiter who stands in a place of importance at near-centre.
Behind the alcoves is a building to the right whose 32-paned window adds airiness and whose brilliant orange slanted roof points toward a towered structure to the left. Around the tower a bird flies, but that bird, unless a very large bird, seems slightly out of proportion.
Viewers of this painting can enjoy the way the gas lamp in the foreground rises up to meet the corner of the orange roof of the distance. Here is overall balance of composition.
I love the quiet tone of conviviality demonstrated by the people seated at the tables; most appear in relaxed but engaged stances. The figure who dominates the scene, however, is the waiter standing— immobile, patient, nonchalant but attentive—in his sober black jacket and pants, with a very long white apron. He’s emblematic of something particular. He seems to speak the sentiment, ”As long as this cabaret exists, as long as you, my people, visit, I’ll be here to serve you.”
We must not pity him, as Orwell in another era, advises us. For le garçon stands proudly, as servant, dreaming of the day when he too will have the money to sit at leisure like his customers.
I’ve read guinguettes were popular in the areas surrounding Paris’s suburbs for the cheap wine to be had, and at a time when citizens often swam in the nearby Seine. Perhaps customers came for after-bathing relaxation. Perhaps the cabarets died out when the people’s habits changed, the river having become too dirty for swimmers and too busy with barge traffic.
In the meanwhile, nothing will disturb the relaxation permeating Van Gogh's scene. Vive l’apres-midi! Another round here, Garcon!
Carole Mertz, poet and essayist, has recent essays at Eclectica, Mom Egg Review, Writing in a Woman’s Voice, The Working Writer, and elsewhere. She enjoys spending as much time out of doors as possible. She lives with her husband in Parma, Ohio.
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