The Wanderer
(Three Excerpts)

It's daylight. The sun is still weak but it will be a warm day. Far off in the sky, a trail left by a plane. Cars are starting in the street. A baby cries. Further away, some voices in argument. The sound of an electric coffee grinder. Soon the smell of bread toasting. The sun comes into the bedroom. The city is heavy, heavy. Get dressed, have breakfast, leave and lose yourself anywhere in any neighbourhood. Walk, wander, or maybe not budge. The city is stirring. The sun warms the balcony. The toast is ready. You have lost your age and your name. You're only this ray of sunshine, these scarcely opened buds that are filling the balcony. You are only the low murmur of this city without coherence, without unity. To try once again to grasp this impossible city, to confront the icy winters and hot, humid summers, once again to wander.

I remember a streetcorner that no longer exists. Crooked roofs, crumbling chimneys, zinc eavestroughs, labyrinths silhouetted against the low sky. . . . The Paris of the artisans still existed then and there were interior courtyards and low houses with crooked roofs. It was before the office towers and supermarkets. At the end of the courtyard there was a garden with mint and marjoram. You'd hear the machines of the tailor next door and a tinsmith a little further on. . . .

Every year on July 14, the Place de la Bastille was transformed. There were tricolour flags and paper lanterns everywhere, and refreshment stands and accordion bands. The people all wore liberty caps and danced the java vache. The uncle taught you the java and bought you huge balls of cotton candy and lemonade. And then there were the speakers. All reds. They spoke of '89 and '93, and the Paris Commune. All you remember is the end of their speeches, which never changed from year to year: "There are a lot of Bastilles still to be stormed!" and then the Internationale. "They soon shall hear the bullets flying, we'll shoot the generals on our own side." You sang your lungs out on that verse, your mouth full of cotton candy and your left fist raised, loving it. You were twelve years old at the time of the big demonstration against Ridgway. The Bastille, the blaring music, and the cotton candy.

You've always lived beyond borders, in a language, a language along the roads of central Europe where once the poppies and columbine and fall mushrooms spoke Yiddish, where the clouds still play the fiddle on evenings stitched up in the back of the courtyards of Warsaw or Vilna. . . . Basically, you've always lived in a language, and nowhere else—those little black marks on paper that are read from right to left. Those finely drawn letters. When you were little, you adored the with its three little legs and the that reminded you of a branch of lilacs. Your mother spent whole evenings reading those books with the little black marks running along in lines. You've always lived in a language—in sounds that sometime ring Germanic, sometimes Hebraic, even Slavic. A crossroads language, wandering, mobile, like you, like her. To live in a language, an untranslatable closeness. You've always lived in a poetic rhythm, a way of breaking verses, breaking vessels, breaking anchor. A language in reverse, unlike others. . . .

©Phyllis Aronoff 1997