LA CROIX MA FILLE

IMG_0831[You can click your way right onto Julija’s desk in Baan Uii Dee.]

It’s three months later and Julija is back, and I’m writing what follows as much for her as for you and me. Because we’re all working on this project together, though Julija’s Latvian, of course — Russian is her first language, Latvian her second, lives in Norway and was brought up in the Russian Orthodox Church, all powerful influences on her work. Today Julija’s desk is no longer under the volcano on Bali as it was before but up here on the porch of one of our old wooden farmhouses in Chiang Mai where she’s working on the first draft of a cover for La Croix Ma Fille: a Book of Poems & Relics. If you click on the sketch you can see in detail what’s emerging, an illuminated vision every bit as fey yet as final as the book’s last words:

……………………………………..grâce à la croix,
……………………………………..grâce à la fille,
……………………………………..fleurs de sel,
……………………………………..delivery.

…………….

PERSONAL NOTE: Please, please don’t worry about the French — indeed, if you don’t speak French the lines may well say more to you than if you do. Because French phrases and place-names have come to have an almost mantric quality for the anglophone imagination,  like “je t’aime” and “Côte d’Azur” for example — or for gourmands at least, “sauté,” “vinaigrette” and, most beautifully and appropriately of all, “fleurs de sel.”  In my experience, poetic phrases based on subliminal, polyglot fantasies come more out of the shadows of the heart than the light of the head, indeed, they resonate magically like Shanti Shanti Shanti  and Amen — in silence, or in tongues, or under the bed.

And be honest with yourselves. Which word in the above lines do you really not understand? Is it by any chance “Delivery?” Well, me neither — which is why the whole book not only got written but still matters!

C.

…………………………..

SOME NOTES FOR JULIJA

“La Croix Ma Fille” is the local Breton name of a 170 year old stone memorial on the cliffs of the Côte Sauvage high above one of the most dangerous lee-shores on the whole north-west coast of France — which is why the title is in French as well as why the love story that runs through it is set there.

But what makes these rocks particularly menacing is that they are right beside the entrance to Le Traict du Croisic ( = “the tract, area, sand flats of Le Croisic”), one of the safest havens for storm-tossed mariners on the whole of the Brittany coast but extremely difficult to get into. And that’s a terrible irony, because as the mariner-poet runs for the perfect shelter behind the breakwater he takes the risk of being dashed on the rocks just on the other side of his salvation, and many widows have been made in one last desperate effort to avert that all too familiar disaster.  Like the tides of life, half a dozen of one equals six of the other — and of course that applies to any dangerous crossing what is more love story like this one.

La Crox Ma Fille B:W tweaked 1 copyThe stone cross in question was erected as a memorial to a daughter who died on the rocks below on August 7th, 1845, and its inscription reads simply, “A Ma Fille 7 aout 1845.” Over time the local people have  come to believe that this solitary, wind-swept cross has a life of its own, and as such it is referred to lovingly as “La Croix Ma Fille.” Indeed, it has become a sort of ‘hex’ or ‘totem’ for the Le Croisic community, a ‘spirit house’ one might call it even (‘hôtel’ in French is ‘altar’ in English). Whatever, the local people believe La Croix Ma Fille has the power to reach out to their storm-bound fisherfolk as they struggle to stay off the terrible rocks below, that in the darkest moments it guides and protects them like a lighthouse or an angel, and brings them safely home to the hearth in one piece.

“Fille,” of course, can mean either ‘daughter’ or ‘girl’ in French, just as “my girl” in English can mean ‘my daughter’ or ‘my girlfriend.’ So the expression, “la croix ma fille,” just says “the cross my girl,” which is what it says in the title as well as in all the poems in the book. And it’s that mystery which is at the heart of what Julija is trying to illustrate too (I like this attempt in particular — and this one because it’s about Samson which means it’s even closer to home…).

But it’s clearest of all at the very end of the poem called “La Croix Ma Fille” —  it’s Part IX of the long poem called “Fleurs de Sel” which terminates the book. I’ve never put up “La Croix Ma Fille” before, and have a feeling I’ll eventually chicken out and take it back home and look after it in silence for the rest of my life.

But in case I don’t, I just want to say that there’s a boat beached on the sand flats of the “Traict du Croisic” at low tide with four heavy anchors set out fore and aft, two off the ‘samson-post’ on the foredeck and two more off the post on the stern, the rush of the last outgoing tide having been as ferocious as that which will surge back from the opposite direction in just an hour or two more.

…..
……………………………..LA CROIX MA FILLE

………………………………….Relict fast on an alien strand
………………………………….flaked out like an idle rope—
…..
………………………………….the plaits loose in their tress,
………………………………….the cradled belly soft and toes

………………………………….uncleated, the cross of the limbs
………………………………….a hammock loosely swung between

………………………………….four great anchor posts dry but deep
………………………………….in the leavening sand where the gulls

………………………………….wait the turn like soft marbles
………………………………….disposed on a board of white leather

………………………………….worked to a maiden smoothness
………………………………….fresh, unstained, released from all

………………………………….the muscle loads and lust
………………………………….of the great beast that once in-

………………………………….habited that hide, the tongue
………………………………….cupped in the silent cavity

………………………………….of words all said and signed
………………………………….and thoughts a mirror sunk

………………………………….like the sea when it lies down
………………………………….in the sand to sleep, its blind might

………………………………….cupped in the great callused hands
………………………………….that lie half-closed, half-open—

………………………………….infant hands that once
………………………………….and once only water held

………………………………….and wash and wash
………………………………….like off-shore bells—

………………………………….grâce à la croix,
………………………………….grâce à la fille,

………………………………….fleurs de sel,
………………………………….delivery.
…………

I thank you for still being there, and ask that you continue to be gentle too,
Christopher

6 Comments

  1. March 24, 2018 at 5:24 pm

    March 24th, 2018, and this post is done at last.

    If you came in at the very beginning a week ago, I do hope you’ll give it another go again today, it’s come such a long way. Indeed, I don’t think I’ve ever managed to say what I wanted to say better than this.

    And if you have anything you want to say back to me, I’d love to have the chance to read it…

    C.

  2. garybfitzgerald said,

    March 26, 2018 at 8:55 am

    Je croix qu’il est magnifique.
    Votre Ami.

    • garybfitzgerald said,

      March 28, 2018 at 3:32 am

      ‘crois’, that is.

  3. April 4, 2018 at 10:00 pm

    Very sorry to be so slow in approving your comments, Gary — which I greatly appreciated.

    Please forgive me. It didn’t mean anything — just incompetence.

    And what you say beautifully illustrates what I mean about trusting your own anglophone ear when it comes to French phrases in a poem in English. “Je croix que je crois” — I suspect that may have been just what I was trying to say and, of course, why I loved the girl in question so much (have a look again at what I say about “la fille” to see why that translation is not so politically incorrect.)

    What it’s all about, of course, is what our own language doesn’t permit us to say, and why we need poets to mess with our heads. Yes, and why sometimes in our peculiar anglophone ignorance we can say it more truthfully in French.

    C.

  4. Dawn Potter said,

    April 5, 2018 at 8:58 pm

    I admire these stanzas in particular:

    like the sea when it lies down
    in the sand to sleep, its blind might

    cupped in the great callused hands
    that lie half-closed, half-open—

  5. April 5, 2018 at 9:30 pm

    Thanks for that, Dawn.

    One of the advantages of being a largely unpublished poet like myself is that one’s poems get to stay at home like children, and like children too they grow and grow and sooner or later they begin to say the most astonishing things, quite out of the blue, and we’re gob struck! So we parents begin to keep diaries of what our children say, but sooner or later the diaries get too difficult to write, too knotty and time-consuming, and then we start to want to write back at our children and tell them what we really meant which indeed is not like what they think it is or was at all, and of course nobody’s listening.

    And then the silence, years maybe, and then if we’re lucky a new sense that our children maybe even know more than we do, and we stop writing and begin to listen better, and of course the children too begin to speak to us with more tact, care and understanding, and of course to listen to us too, perhaps for the first time.

    It’s children who eventually make parents wise, isn’t it?

    This poem speaks to me like that everyday now, and the lines you like are among my closest friends too. They make me like what they say, and that means both appreciate what they say and also, more importantly, be like they say.

    C.


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