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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

A Poem in Honor of Bastille Day

God Over Paris
by Jesse Lee Kercheval

In the toilette at the top
of the Eiffel Tower, a cabinet--
a stall--in the men’s room
costs 50 cents, but the urinals
are free, so my son, four,
stands next to his father
& for the first time in his life,
pees standing up.

The line of men waiting to piss
is longer than for the elevator
or the bronze telescopes--
which charge three euros
to see Paris up close,
something, it seems to me,
we just paid to escape.

How to explain this sudden desire
to urinate, to hold
your penis in your hand
at the very top of a tower,
which, while too pointed to be a penis,
is--in its own iron way--
spectacularly endowed?

So like men, I think, to take joy
in the near impossible--
in flushing a urinal with water
that traveled 300 meters
straight up for the sole purpose
of carrying their urine,
triumphant, to the ground.

My son, leaving the warmth
of the men for the view,
looks at me with pity
knowing I lack the necessary equipment
to do what he has done.

Though this just morning, he saw
a gypsy woman peeing standing up

in the Bois de Bologne,
her feet spread, skirt hiked to her knees.
Her daughter called
to my son by name--
Had she heard me call him?
Had she read it in the stars?
Max, she said, I’m thirsty.
Give me a drink.

And though she spoke to him
in French, he understood
her need & gave her his warm Coca-cola--
bottle shaped like a tower--
& she drank it
without stopping, like a diver
desperate for air.

Now at the top of the Tour Eiffel,
it is raining, fat drops
fall from the bruise-colored sky--
Max points to a cloud.
Is that God’s butt? he asks.
Does He ever sit down?

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