The Cemeteries of Paris II
LES CIMÉTIÈRES: Instructions for use
Do not eat all day. Prepare body and mind ritually. Bring some cheese, an apple, and a bottle of orange soda, sit at a bench in the autumn sun for hours and watch people walk by as you eat. No reading or other distractions. Let your nostrils fill with this air and your mind with the thoughts provoked by being here, in this place. Wipe the sweat on your brow produced by the brisk walk from the train station. Cool and calm down. Emulate the teachers all around you.
[Black cat suns himself atop a tomb and watches me make my rounds]
An hour from closing, as the sun nears the horizon and nearly all the other visitors have retreated to their homes, fetch a map of the grounds and proceed.
Find the suicided philosopher, whose friends promise never to forget her.
The writer with a photo of her as a young girl with another who is perhaps her sister.
The intellectual couple who were only steps away from where you chewed your meal and contemplated the living walking among the dead.
The poet interred with the step-father whom he detested.
The singer whose tomb is covered with subway tickets.
Another writer lying side-by-side with his wife under the blackest of black slabs.
The actress with the headstone reminiscent of the hairstyle she wore in the ‘60s film from which you learned of her art.
The foreign political leader who is visited here by his countrymen from far away.
The wife of the philosopher and the artist you stumble upon while looking for someone else.
Some you seek you will not find in the maze. In a coincidence that must be an augury or a fate or at least a fine literary touch, the shooting star who left a few brilliant pages in his youth and then was extinguished in a war, his art condemned eternally to what might have been but was lost, he cannot be found here where the map indicates he should lie.
But you find the one you sought this day, identified simply as “Poète 1896-1963.”
Clean the dead leaves and wilted flowers away so that the words can be seen by any who look and polish the stone with your jacket sleeve and some saliva.
As the cold gathers, let it enter you, in preparation. Practice your breathing as the bell tolls and the guards come to fetch you. You can now go off to a warm place and drink a warm drink and entertain warm thoughts.
But now you will recall more easily: that warmth is for but a fleeting moment, some days, perhaps dozens, hundreds, even thousands, but a number that will soon enough come to its end, and then you will be back in this, the most human and humane city, the one in which we all find permanent residence and a place to lie down and take a load off.
How can any fear of failure, any trepidation in the face of ridicule or shame or exclusion, any worry for tomorrow and the day after that, how can any of that touch you, if you will but return in spirit and in your gut to that stone that today you touched and wiped clean of debris and traced in it the letters of the name of a man that are now all that remains of him?