Michael Heffernan

The Emperor 

Everyoneís gone to Paris.  Iím staying here.
I have to watch the daffodils on the lawn
trying to keep their faces from the snow
and wishing they could get up and go away.
Whatever they want to do, what anyone
might do, is perfectly all right with me.
Whatís going on outside is hard to tell.
It may be turning into freezing rain.
Sometimes this place is hard to recognize.
Sometimes I canít tell who or where I am. 
Iím glad Iím not a daffodil.  Iím glad
Iím not in Paris.  Iím glad Iím doing this,
though what Iím doing isnít obvious
even to me.  Iím doing what I do,
and I donít get it; so, with nobody
else in the place Iím in, itís hard to know
exactly what Iím doing.  Henry James
spoke from his deathbed to his guardian angel,
from a point of view unlike most other peopleís
and in a mental circumstance completely
removed from what heíd ever had in mind,
about how ďmere patchwork transcriptionĒ can
ďbecome of itself the high brave art.Ē  He thought
he was in Paris.  What he thought he was
doing in Paris was even crazier:
he thought he was Napoleon, making plans
to decorate the Louvre and the Tuileries
with ďa majesty unsurpassed by any work
of the kind yet undertaken.Ē  I think he meant it.
He knew precisely who and where he was.
No one on earth knew who and where he was
better than Henry James.  The part about
the high brave art of mere patchwork transcription
may seem a little antithetical,
especially for Napoleon Bonaparte,
but for me it makes a jagged kind of sense.  
Iím noting down a view of springtime flowers
and freezing rain, which has begun to fall
on them and me.  I donít care where I am.  
Iíll pull the collar of my old gray coat
snugly around my neck and observe the light
staggering down from sodden chestnut trees
onto the young priests strolling with their books
in the straight alleys by my old friendís house
one Sunday afternoon in early June.
Mad crows are calling after me from the wind.

 

(photo by Shauna Rutherford)

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