Apologia pro vita sua


One night in Paris I saw glowing in a small shopwindow a page of Ren? Char’s handwriting: Recours au ruisseau. The delicate ink of finality. At the foot of the poem I saw where Char had dated it – three years and two days before my birth. At that hour the backstreet, somewhere between the Mus?e d’Orsay and Op?ra, was completely deserted. Lit by a single lightbulb, the window seemed to have waited over half a century to find me.

Last night I dreamt again of my own death. Guided by the head priest of some strange church I was ascending the inner staircase of an immense tower, just ahead of me my family and the serene and tender face of the Buddhist poet, my friend Judy. We marvelled at the wall we were climbing against – a magnificent rust-red patterned in waterpipes, putti and other embellishments of the underworld. With my crippled leg and damaged body I had fallen behind the others when a stair broke, the cracked stone slab crashing into the darkness below.

I woke on a stretcher inside the church. The priest had bandaged me and removed my calliper and I lay there praying that I would stand and walk again. In the poem Char promises that he will “begin again higher up”, that when all is destroyed the river will speak. The priest’s voice flowed on, a darkened stream in which I could recognise no reflection but which held, I sensed this strongly, no malevolence. Weighed down by his robes of office he was simply doing what he could, human and divine, to summon a miracle. Impatient to rejoin my family I tried to put the calliper back on but my fingers no longer knew how to grasp laces or buckle straps.

I rested at the top of a low hill where the dry yellow grass folded around me. In the distance, unreachable now, was a small stream that divided me from the others. The magic rites of the church were beginning to take effect as I woke again in the air a little way above myself. The panic of not being there for my children came and went in waves like a long cargo ship buried in the shadow of bridges, like everything else abandoned to its own fate.

I remembered the flooded world of Char’s landscapes, barges gliding through villages and under fortified walls, and that beautiful word l’amont, “upstream”. I remembered the confident builder he was, defiant of all downfalls. I was already dead and I was still only just underway.

from The Transformation Boat (River Road Press, 2008), Peter Boyle 2008, used by permission of the author and River Road Press

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