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Chris Tysh

Our Lady of the Flowers, Echoic

Source text: Jean Genet. Notre-Dame-Des-Fleurs. Lyon: L’Arbalète, 1948; Paris, Gallimard, 1976. (Folio 860)

On the news Weidmann, his head
Like a nun in white or a wounded
Pilot, falls down in silky rye
The same day Our Lady of the Flowers
Stamped all over France dangles his crimes
By a golden string — nimble assassins mount
The back stairs of our sleep

There were others, of course, orphaned
Fragments I overhear prisoners sing
Inside when voices rise in a psalm
From the depth of their misery
Each time my heart bangs like it did
When the German dropped his bomb
And I smiled, a tiny sign between us

It can’t be pure chance that I cut out
Those handsome heads with empty
Eyes or rather sky-blue like windows
On the construction site not yet up
Who said vacant? When their eyes do close
It’s creepier than a viper’s nest to the girl
Who walks by the barred spyhole

Each cell becomes where strange types
Crash, swear, and dream on straw pallets
Or maybe something of a confession
Booth with its dark screen. Empty
Theatres, deserted prisons, idle machinery
Those eyes hold me entranced and I feel
My way, groping along like a blind man

Until in wild panic I arrive by a sordid alley
Come face to face with nothing, void
Propped and swollen as red foxglove
The papers are torn, sheared of their pimps
Like a May garden looted of its blossoms
It is you I remember at night: stretched
Like a coffin at sea, pale and wintry

You flow into me, white, blessed body
Now a halo, supernatural cocoon
You prick with both your feet.
Out of chewed bread I make glue
For my cutouts — some I pin with brass wire
That inmates use for funereal wreaths
Now star-shaped frames for the criminal

Element. I live here among ruins
Smiles or pouts all enter through
My open pores, myself, my family.
To give them their due, their retinue
I’ve added a few profiles from those
Cheap paperbacks we smuggle in the yard:
Young half-breed or Apache with a hard-on

Under the sheets I choose my nightly
Outlaw, caress his absent face
Then the body which resists at first
Opens up like a mirror armoire
That falls out of the wall and pins me
On the stained mat where I think
Of God and his angels come at last

With the help of my unknown lovers —
Nobody can say when and if I’ll get out —
I shall compose a story: my heroes are
Stuck on the wall and I in lock-down
As you read about Divine and Culafroy
You might at times hear lines mixed in
With a drop of blood, an exclamation point

In the drowsy morning as the screw
Throws in his low “Bonjour”
The fact of a few pink girls, now white
Corpses, flows through
An ineffable fairy tale I tell
In my own words
For the enchantment of my cell

Divine died yesterday
In a pool of blood more red
You would see Jesus’ oriflamme
Flying for Sacred Heart
Her lungs like a piece of evidence
In the judge’s chamber squeezed shut
Now it rains behind bars, wind too

A spiral stairway leads to the attic
Overlooking a small Montmartre
Cemetery where D lived for a spell
It will be the anteroom of her crypt
Thick with putrid flowers and incense
Floor to floor it rises toward death
And then at the top no more

Than a phantom shadow
Tinged with blue while outside
Let’s say under the black canopy
Of tiny umbrellas, Mimosa I,
Mimosa II, Mimosa half-IV,
First Communion, Angela, Her
Highness, Castagnette and Régine

Await holding sprays of violets
All the queens, boys and girls
Are there knotted together chattering
And tweeting, pearl tiaras on their heads
I let myself sink to my old village grave-
Yard where snails and slugs leave
Trails of slime on white flagstones

“Poor darling!” “Can you beat it?”
“She was losing it.” “Where’s Mignon?”
Any minute now there’ll be a black horse
Procession and the rest by way of Rachel
Avenue. Oh the scene: the Eternal makes
His entrance, smiling, supple and elegant
Without a hat. They call him Mignon-Dainty-Feet.

In the rectangle of my door I thought
I saw him once like a dead man walking
On pricey furs. At once, I’m his
Discharged to the core — not a dab of self
Remains but ruffian, pimp and gangster
He’s lodged instead, his lacy fingers—
Baby Jesus in its crib —receive the world

As he moves through the queens
Like a shiny slaughterhouse knife
They part and recast in silence
Their traveling line — two at a time
He runs up the steps, lifted, I’d have
Said, to the house of death now real
As tears, flowers and mourning veil

Old Ernestine, Divine’s mother
Though still a beauty was done for
Having ransacked a thousand and one
Roles from pulp novels that corrupt
The real: gun in gloved hand
She stages her son’s denouement
The way others shoot up smack

With a crystal spike
The room slides like a diamond
On her index finger into gold
Velvet and walnut-paneled walls
“I feel it, Lou’s hour has come,”
She moans using the boy’s old name.
Buried axe at the bottom of a pool.

The whole construction bound
To shatter her nerves, feeling faint
Amid hangings, beveled mirrors
And gloom’s infernal ruckus
In two seconds flat, she recovers her cool
Would go first lighter than thought
And wait by the coffin, gray shape now.

That’s how Mignon saw her
Drunk with grief like a Queen
Of Spades, black widow of dry
Wings spread across the bed
Curtains, walls and rugs that wear
Death’s private seal stamped low
On the parchment. Some stray dogs

Like to repeat such news, scent of sulfur
In the air — already Mignon forgets this pad
He shared with D, will not linger near the lacy
Shroud. He’s simply drifting about.
Outside, a black cortège, rouge and blush
Finally arrives by the pit already dug
And Divine is no more: dead and buried

Among cries and girly giggles.
Divinaria, D’s saga, will be the tale
I trace in the starless subterranean sky
Switching genders as if passing under
A nightclub’s scarlet awning where I steal
A glance at some elfin gypsy with hair
Covered in dew and river marsh

Limpid water to the shapeless mud of others
Divine enters Graff’s café at two a.m.
Fresh scent of scandal at her heels
Heads turn: bankers, gigolos and scarecrows
Her public life starts now: alone at a table
A ceremony with black tea and a pair
Of pants stolen from a sailor.

Her seduction will be implacable
Finer than amber and yet she’s kin
To the prowlers at fairgrounds
Who with a flick of their wrists
Set slot machines and trail behind them
The fatal lacework of magic-city
She crosses her legs and smiles

She’s cruising tonight and no dice
If it were up to me I’d give her marble
Hips, polished cheeks and pagan knees
From which to climb toward Pigalle
Picture her on a bench, a hint of leg
And a column of smoke rising
“They’re crazy about me, those nights

Oh the sultanas! My God, they’re
Tickling my ass, the cheeky girls.”
Some mornings, men wake up gasping
So horny they’d swallow their own hand
To be done with wanting. Divine is hungry
In the empty streets only a few rowdy teens
Insert a stripe of sound, undone shoelaces

Dragging behind. It’s understood
She won’t score tonight. Just then
A man bumps into her. “I’m so sorry.”
“No problem,” says the queen. It is
Mignon-Dainty-Feet: 5’9”, 165 lbs, blond,
Blue-green eyes, perfect teeth, oval face,
10-inch prick, and as young as D

When I knew her in the joint at Fresnes
She’d talk about him, deep swell prone
To exaggerate the sumptuous contours
Of his face I never met in person and now
Must borrow a thing or two from a thug
I call Roger in my head as we’re bound
Together by the make-believe ring of crime

I‘m worn out and my wrist has a cramp
Like a Tour de France cyclist I give up
The race and yet certain details foretell
I shall wear his crown but now surrender
To Mignon, a little drunk, as he plows
Into D in that chancy dawn that starts
Our tale, inside out, phantom frame

Having ascended high above the sea
Like a crow’s nest from where D shakes
Her dust rag and bids adieu to ghosts
They find themselves tangled up in
The damp sails of an avalanche
“Boy, I was really wasted last night,”
He laughs taking in the scene

From the way he speaks, lights
His cigarette, D knows him for a pimp
Like a bird they say that flies
Into a serpent’s mouth, she goes
“Stay, I mean, if you want to.”
Among the stolen radio wires, shabby
Rugs and lamps, a life begins

Chris Tysh

Chris Tysh

Chris Tysh was born and raised in Paris, and studied American literature at the Sorbonne. She was naturalized as a citizen of the United States on July 4th, 1998. Her critical study, Allen Ginsberg, was published in Paris by Editions Seghers in the collection Poètes d’Aujourd’hui. She teaches writing and women’s studies at Wayne State University in Detroit. Her books include Secrets of Elegance, Porne, Coat of Arms, In the Name, Cleavage, and Continuity Girl.

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