SHORTLIST: L'Eau and Behold by Jill Pearlman

Jill Pearlman

Paris. A skip and a jump to unwind. To “decontracter.”
1) To stifle the contraction of a muscle. 2) Ease psychic
tension, anxiety. To elevate life. Get our heads
out of the shadows, the boxing ring, civilization having
come again, so boldly, out of the shadows revealing itself

As long as I am able to spin words, what ails?
Plus, it’s Paris.

Leave nothing out, not even the rain

I arrive with baggage to a monolith
Those old dame buildings under slate-gray
mist under a bank of clouds.
A gray-tinted eye barely lifting its lid.

I, my stony inside and outside, swept along as if
on a conveyor belt.

Paris limestone, pasty, heavy, immovable,
more beautiful than my insides.

Still, the faces.

Still, from a window: red bedding.
A woman heaves a wet quilt
from her terrace railing; it flies, arcs
slightly before landing on her shoulder.
Cigarette, phone, purse in the other hand,
she is done waiting.

A Spectacle and Nothing Strange

Rain, great whorls of it spinning, falling as
knotted string, strung pearls, bird’s nests,
gray hair, wire barbed or not, cat gut, old paint brushes,
tumbleweeds. Clean your hairbrush, bad curtains
in strips, cloud shreds, albumen, cauldrons
of bouillon, cassette ribbons, phlegm and tears
like liquid crystals. We came to unwind, stifle
the contraction of a muscle, ease psychic anxiety,
thicken the moment, elevate life from sorrows revealed --
drizzle honey, find tea to paint with,
wake with, dazzle our eyes, spy, spin words,
sun on a surfing bird, its bright wing soon
pink lakes that pool in the clouds.

Still, faces. In the fog of the daily,
Paris the last refuge of the face,
The human loop: both seer and seen

Warm eyes behind coin-sized glasses

Working man with a boxer’s magic:
Crooked nose, pinched cigarette
Where is Leger to paint your portrait?
Your strong arms and crucifix, tight t-shirt
What we used to call “trade.” Brotherhood.

Take a bite of pleasure. Long wet suck of a
cigarette. Drenched with water yet providing air.

Man in the process of softening, of losing his eyebrows.
His best foot wear, velvet slippers.

Hard-bitten French woman in the mirror:
loves me, loves me not.

The long-necked intellectual:
Long-stemmed thoughts.

Woman sitting in a banquette flush with pleasure.
Fanning out her years of adventure.
Spray of auburn curls, kind smile.

Then the girl: smooth plump cheeks
that surrealists say are asking
To be slapped.

Tamp it down, baby. Despair-light.
Gray flap pasted over your channels
of ecstasy. Its feel and weight
when you plunge into the world
to do and to make. Voices are nothing
but soothing annoyances.
Before you were drunk, you were drunk.
The fact that her eyes are like live fish,
tail in the corners, detracts nothing
from her expressiveness.

Weather report: oyster gray sprinkled
With sea salt. The Seine veiled in iodine.
The compass needle flickers to the church
of the oyster eaters, this marché. Conviviality
brings its own bottles of wine to the plastic table.
On this plane, no police, no puritans.
The seaman in his blue-striped sweater wields
his salty knife and knowledge.
The tent of feasting, the eschel.
Same kind that festivity maker Abraham built.
First foray into oral alchemy,
minus the oysters. This patch of dank ground,
a gray sky and what lies in between.

“The religious inebriation of great cities. – Pantheism. I am everybody: Everybody is me. Whirlpool.” Baudelaire

Briny men stand on street corners with crates

stacked half the height of their bodies,

covered in gray dishrags so beloved they have a name, serpiers

Still, my vagabond eye

Oh, reconstruction of my inner parts,

soft as oysters, and sea mist, inner atmosphere

They have shaken me loose; I had to wait to see

bright white

to butter-yellow to dull nicotine –

A pile of green globe artichokes, waiting as a hand on the clock for their hand that will unflower them.

Wings tucked, pigeon sits on a branch
leaves in brown baubles dangle
tree earrings; even dull light creates
shine with double faces. Behind,
bamboo gates over windows dotted
brown; maybe someone just waking
is putting on her dangling earrings.

A man appeared in my dreams with an opening in his chest.
Three times I looked, and his upper cavity
was an aquarium, clear and flowing. Into my dreams
he broke: His bright blue clarity
lights up the dark room and wall. He has waves within him
that surge and course but never overflow.

The Man. Aquarium where his heart would be.

In-sight, the eyes before the mind.
Not to waver, even as we waver.
The mind tags along, a chastened dog.

An eye a leg a face.
Modern humans,
One after the other,
Severed by reason
Of a shop’s small windows
the shop girl selling pairs
of lifeless gloves that a dandy,
fracturing under pressure,
might find beautiful

or spiral him into the abyss
depending on mood
or eyes of a passerby
hurricane in her eye

Such whirling chaos
And divine disorder!
Befalls human order –
Briefly, briefly, the beauty
Of illuminating tumult

The city exulted, all in flowers.
Soon it will end: a fashion, a phase, the epoch, life.
The terror and sweetness of a final dissolution….
                                         Czeslaw Milosz

He is looking out of an upper story window, his gaze lingering on the stone facades and wrought iron details across the street. A sober, elegant apartment with an entrance of massive double doors; over the façade, elaborate laurels or frisée lettuce or cabbage (the debate over what kind of edible greenery and the best way to cook or serve it could occupy the evening), window grills in black, especially on the second floor. Zinc gray roofs are tipped at 45 degrees to let a snail’s ass of light eek through clouds in the gray months; dormer windows for the maid, that is for the bonne, that is for the good, whether it is a maid, a student, a wealthy child who has a good sum in the pocket to live and overlook the entire city street. Sometimes there are pressed columns alongside the windows and artichokes at the top; or for variety, an androgynous head, known as bust, which means a modeled head, not a set of breasts. The color of the stone: anywhere from cream to nicotine. Look into a bowl of freshly whisked eggs, or at the fingertips of an inveterate rolled cigarette smoker; or your counter wedge of butter.
But getting to my subject: a breakthrough to joy. On the road to my topic, I delayed in the making. I got lost in spinning, in spell-making. In alchemy.

The man standing on the other side of the room,
his body of surging water and waves
miraculously contained
turbulence doesn’t overflow itself
doesn’t rock the world
doesn’t spill over into so-so reality

Above all, for someone who has lost all curiosity and ambition, there is a kind of mysterious and aristocratic pleasure to be had in contemplating. Baudelaire

But this you know. It has to happen, dislodge, loosen
Eyes adjust to the dark, where things reveal themselves
Is dark rechargeable or available in an emergency?
Fragments, like traffic: always starting, always stopping, composed at dusk when the cheeks of street lights burn with fervor, in fits and starts on stray paper

I want to take a room on rue Baudelaire, a randomly named street that lays its line along a small park; there is a bank, an optical shop and elegant, but not overly so, apartment buildings; we are still in the faubourg, outside the old borders of chic, in the margins where values could change, be malleable. Where the veils of importance could be lifted, and one could see, plainly, that life is to be tempted and failed, mostly, it is simply not for us mortals. We suffer but we begin to glow, in infrared. Baudelaire might be saying Kaddish in one of those rooms: he might be praising the source and destroyer at the moment when a life is being extinguished; through the darkness, a white moth has found its way to his room, to a candle, the flame flashes, crackles, and we bless that flame.

L'éphemère ébloui vole vers toi, chandelle

The end of one cigarette ignites the next. Give me your flame, your hot butt,
Your blood lust, give me your dying Galoise,
As day fires red pools of dusk.

Because fugitive phrases delight in eluding me
Because “failure” is a fugitive phrase which delights and must play;
if we pounce, we kill the mouse and the game is over
Two people writing analog: fountain pens on paper
As I woke up from my sleep with the words of my dream
of impersonating artist Sophie Calle: “Poor dears.
They have waited so long to be freed.” Things, from their long captivity and slumber.
Because she photographs her mother’s entrapment.
The breaking of the dam. What happens with happenstance.
As dark as possible to be released towards densely flavored promise.
I want to stage no more parties. Only these unforced moments before a large window in winter,
each of them holding a fountain pen.

Swept back in my memory
is the story told by a man, wavering

like an echo, an expanse of color.
It surfaces in shared circumstances

A writer laments the monochrome
of his mind, leaden hours make their countless rounds

in the city of photographie, shadows
seem forever sucked into their objects.

He ponders the street’s geometry
from vintage glass of his fifth-story balcony

wheels of a moto being parked, woman with a heavy caddy.
Two men huddle smoking in a doorway.

His vagabond gaze.

Something snags his eye – un serpier – fringed
carpet for a fish or gnat, used to clean wooden floors - trapped.

It tosses in the gutter. Poor waterlogged rag
caught, water frothing over its back as it

rolls, the roll trembling and jostling as
a needle of a compass suffering from nerves.

Bounding, in a single push, it goes like a tooth
Out, out, gushing with the flow.

What flies: the poem. Maximum freedom: as a traveler who has left her country, has stepped out of a conversation and started anew; no protection, no competition. The poem takes its right to step out of your wars. It is stubborn as a painter who sits on a sidewalk painting an apple while fascists are entering Barcelona.

To praise a wind that cuts cruelly
and water that surges. As a masterpiece
is tossed at my feet, is trampled,
wind cuts like love,
cells swell with newness, breath.

You become more them as you say yes to the cup of ocean, yes to sea brine and brine of a creature.

Hedge me in winter,
with your rows
of soldier-trees
in the Palais Royal.
Stray hairs dart
from buttoned collars
dark moustaches sprout
From afar
winter crowns
rub the sky--
purple hats of holy days.
I trust them implicitly
And will in the future
When no human is left
To trim them.

Call it monochrome, and it gets sly;
Trickster; the gray in a gray alley
Begins pricking new forms,
tossing color in your path:
New Angles, rain spouts, church spire
In the apex, towers and cylindricals
Garbage cans, paving stones,
Spokes of a bicycle, pale yellows,
beaten egg yolks on the limestone and cream,
City of someone’s childhood, I cannot
Be retrospective, though born again
Only in that again and I again I fall
In love.

Jill Pearlman

Jill Pearlman is a Rhode-Island poet exploring ecstasy in the decentered self and world. Her poems wander the world as impatient travelers, immersing in disorder and reflecting voices of fluidity and phenomena. Within chaos, the life of poetry is always growing, seeding the next moment, sensing new values. Pearlman's poems have appeared in Salamander, Barrow Street, The Common (upcoming), Ocean State Review, Crosswinds, Soul-Lit, Indicia. She has produced several multimedia poetry series: “Trees Road Vertigo,” documenting the fate of plane trees in France, and “Mirrors, a conversation with Avivah Zornberg.” She posts weekly poems at and at jillpearlman on X.

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