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The Woman at Apollinaire's Grave







The Woman at Apollinaire's Grave 



It was my last day in Paris. I was enough sad to leave this magical city and Paris has done her spell on me. Like every artist throughout the ages, she has sheltered me and from Hemingway to Van Gogh I walk along with the shadow of them along with thousand nameless people who were stuck at the same time by the madness and the beauty of Paris.

The last day in the afternoon I took the metro and walked to the Pere Lachaise cemetery. It was a magnificent place and many people from Victor Hugo and Baudelaire and poets and writers found there resting place there. I was there for searching one such poet. My favorite French poet. From my youth, I have heard so many stories on him from Sunil Gangopadhyay the legendary writer and my mentor and his wandering tour with Alen Ginsberg.

He first said to me about Guillaume Apollinaire.



For almost half n hour I was searching in that vast beautiful cemetery of dark and light shadows his place among thousands of tombstones. But I was unable to find. There was so much wind and chill in the air that the sun appeared pleasant on my skin. Moreover, with hours I found myself little more depressed because my departing hours from Paris was coming closer.

At one time, I tired, stand at one place and closed my eyes and think again of Sunil's words.

And the poem of Alen Ginsberg.

I cursed myself that I haven't bought a map of the cemetery.

'Are you searching for any particular tombstone?'

The question came from nowhere.

I opened my eyes and found an old lady with a hat and overcoat standing before me. She looked Parisian.

I nod my head. 'Yes'. I said.

'Of whom?'

'Guillermo Apollinaire.'

She for a while stared at me strangely. For quite a while. I thought even that she was unable to hear my answer. Then she said,

'Apollinaire, are you sure?'

'Of course! He is my favorite French poet.'

'Have you read him?'

'As much of his English translation available.'

'You don't know French?'



'Not so much.'

The afternoon sun fell on her. Age has failed to grasp any beauty from her face. She has become more sophisticated. Elegant is the right word to describe her.

She after a minute said, 'Come with me.'

I started walking with her.

And turning through roads which I already traveled this time in ten minutes she guided me and soon we both were standing before the tombstone of Apollinaire.

I thanked the woman. And Paris. Paris fulfilled all my wish now.

'Can you recite one poem of Apollinaire for me?'

She said.

I was happy to hear that. I at once recited one of his long poems.

'Do you know any poem written on him?'

'Alen Ginsberg wrote an unforgettable one.'

'Please let me hear that young Man.'

I recited.

".....Guillaume Guillaume how I envy your fame your accomplishment

for American letters

your Zone with its long crazy line of bullshit about death

come out of the grave and talk thru the door of my mind

issue new series of images oceanic haikus blue taxicabs in Moscow

negroes statues of Buddha

pray for me on the phonograph record of your former existence

with a long sad voice and strophes of deep sweet music sad and

scratchy as World War I

I’ve eaten the blue carrots you sent out of the grave and Van

Gogh’s ear and maniac peyote of Artaud

and will walk down the streets of New York in the black cloak

of French poetry

improvising our conversation in Paris at Père Lachaise

and the future poem that takes its inspiration from the light bleeding into your grave'



It was strange and beautiful and I shiver to think of I am reciting Apollinaire just before his grave as Sunil did.

As Ginsberg did.

I was so lost in my trance that I forgot everything.  Suddenly I came back to present hearing the woman before me sobbing.

I hold her hand.

'Are you alright?'

I said.

She nodded. But she was not. I let her seat on a stone bench.

Then she looked at me at my eyes and it seemed she was searching words to say. Then she said, 'Are you an Indian?'

'Yes. '

'Do you write poems?'

'Yes, I do. That's my passion.'

She hold my palm and said, 'You are the first Indian whom I saw so mad about Apollinaire. You came from so far to just see him?'

'Paris called me. I have to come here. And I love the madness of Apollinaire' s lines and the truth in them.'

A cold wind blew. Sun has lost the heat.

She got up.

'May I know your name?'

She asked.

I told.

'Where you are staying?'

I said the name of the hostel of Montparnasse where I was staying.

'I am Edith. Edith Delacroix. '

'Are you from a painting family?'

'I am not from the painter Delacroix family. But grandfather in his youth met Apollinaire once. My husband was a great follower of his poem. And...she stopped.'

Then she brought out from the bag a French book of Apollinaire and gave it to my hand.

'Perhaps this book now will find the best place in you now young man. And...she stopped. Then said,

'I would always remember you.'

She came close. Touched my face with her old fingers suddenly cried again and then trying to smile walked towards the main gate of the cemetery.



But she stopped again. Turned and said,

'Learn French. You will never get the best Apollinaire in English translation.  I am sure you will be in Paris again. It looks you belong here. And nowhere else.'

Then she walked out of the cemetery gate.

I followed her but I was so overwhelmed by the incident that I sat again on a bench.

The gatekeeper for so long was looking at us.

Now he came a lovely handsome middle-aged man.

'Madame Delacroix gave you the book?'

'Yes.'

'She looked happy at the end. It was very hard for her these last few days.'

'Why?'

'Two days ago her son died and she cremated him here at the crematorium. Today she came to ask if she can donate some of his son's books to the charity library or the Church. But she met you.'

'What happened to his son?'

'He died in a car accident. He was a poet. And he was writing a book on Apollinaire's poetry. '

I was stunned. I became numb.

'Do you know where she stays?'

'I will give you the address.'

In next one hour I reached her home but the house was locked. Her neighbour said she has gone to her village.

'Which village?'

'Boulogne - Sur - Mer.'



'Will she come back?'

'I doubt. She needs time to recover from the shock.  '

In the evening I again came back to the Apollinaire 's grave and read some poems from the French book in my broken French dialect.

Next morning I left Paris.

After one month one afternoon a courier came and when I opened it I found three more Apollinaire books on French.

There was a small letter attached.

"My son Lauren was as mad as you  on Apollinaire's poems. He is no more but that afternoon I found in you he still exist.

Take the books as a gift of a mother.

Learn French. Live long.

Because in you live my son.

If you ever come back to France contact me at the address I give below.

Edith "

I broke down in tears and I decided that I have to learn French at any cost and be back in Paris.

Three years after when I made it again to Paris I searched her.

But it was late.

A year before she has expired. She was suffering from cancer.

And there lies a tomb for her in Pere Lachaise.

I walked in a spring morning there and I opened the book she gave me and uttered in my well learnt French dialect, the original Apollinaire again.   



"...We knew very well that we were damned, 

But the hope of love along the way

Made both of us think

Of what the Gypsy did prophesy."




SUBHADIP MAJUMDAR

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