where all the ladders start

“Now that my ladder’s gone, / I must lie down where all the ladders start / In the foul rag and bone shop of the heart.” – from “The Circus Animals’ Desertion” by W. B. Yeats

For the 2 weeks of vacation that French schools have for All Saint’s Day, I took the train an hour south to Paris and spent time living and working at Shakespeare and Company, a little literary, anglophone bubble just across the river from Notre Dame. It is impossible to spend any amount of time in this shop without meeting extremely talented people who are passionate about reading and writing, and so living there is essentially a constant motivation to write (or to at least appear to do so). One of my fellow Tumbleweeds was Pat Cash, spoken word artist, journalist, and all-around lovely person. I also had the extreme pleasure of attending a reading by Aja Monet, another spoken word artist. She read from her first collection of poems, The Black Unicorn Sings, as well as Chorus, a recently released collection of spoken word poems that she and Saul Williams edited together. I still regret not getting a copy of Chorus when I was at the shop. Continuing on the spoken word theme, I would highly suggest attending and participating in the spoken word nights at Le Chat Noir, a weekly event organized by Spoken Word Paris. The group, though mostly anglophone expats, welcomes any and all readers, regardless of language or renown.

While in Paris, I also trekked out past my usual stomping grounds in the Latin Quarter and the Marais to visit a small lesbian-owned bookshop in the 11th arrondissement called Violette and Co. One of the shop workers was more than happy to help me fish through the poetry section, for despite the fact that I speak French, I have little to no knowledge of francophone queer poetry, and so after many suggestions, I ended up choosing a collection by Nicole Brossard called Langues obscures. Brossard’s collection is an interesting mix of prose, poetry, and philosophy of self, making it the perfect thing for me to read, or rather, attempt to read; I cannot boast that poetry in French is particularly accessible to me, even after ten years of learning the language. Nonetheless, it can be stunning, even for the non-fluent:

“Plus tard, à mille lieux de l’éternité, quand nous pensons mouvement des paupières ou nuit pharaonne ou parce que c’est beau, je m’intéresse aux nuits les plus simples, sans nuage, les nuits de bonne odeur où la culture accepte de se taire. Nuits sans légende au bas de l’image pendant qui nous regardons les étoiles et laissons le chien de l’âme en profiter démesurément.”

Later, miles away from eternity, when we think of the eyelids’ movement or pharaonic night or because it is beautiful, I am interested in the simplest nights, without clouds, the sweet smelling nights when culture lets itself be silenced. Nights without a caption below the image when we look at the stars and let the dog of the soul thrive immeasurably.

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