Pierre's Room by Ron Padgett

Pierre’s Room
by Ron Padgett

In Narbonne, I drive straight to the Novelty, a cheap hotel French truck drivers like. I get a room without bath for fourteen dollars. In the hotel bar the patron is talking to a regular. I interrupt them to ask if they know the best way to Moussoulens (“Moo-soo-lahn”). They look puzzled.
     “Oh, you mean ‘Moo-soo-linz,’” says the patron. His name is Claude Strazzera. He looks grumpy, with a pencil mustache.
     “Yes, I’m looking for the farmhouse where the poet Pierre Reverdy lived.”
     He gives me directions on how to get to Moussoulens. Sort of go-left-then-right-then-left-then-left-then-right-you-can’t-miss-it. I repeat his instructions and head out to the car, but just as I open the car door, M. Strazzera comes running out and waves me back in. Something’s wrong.
     He and the regular are having a discussion.
     “Moussoulens is a place name,” the regular keeps saying, “not the name of a village.” It’s just a spot. No houses. Do I really want to go there? We’d better check.
     M. Strazzera grabs the phone and calls somebody downtown. He
has friends. “Moussoulens, the home of Narbonnais poet Pierre
Reverdy. . .”
     “You know,” the regular says to me, “there’s another Moussoulens.”
     “And it’s a village, not just a place name. It’s over near Carcassonne, though. Could that be the place?”
      “I don’t know. All I know is that the farm was called la Borio de Blanc.”
      “Pierre Reverdy—did you read his novel about Tahiti?”
      “About Haiti?”
      “No. Tahiti. He wrote a wonderful novel about Tahiti. He was a doctor.”
      “Pierre Reverdy? No, I don’t think he was a doctor. He worked as a proofreader in Paris. And I don’t think he ever published a novel about Tahiti.”
      “Then it’s another Pierre Reverdy. The Pierre Reverdy I’m talking about was a doctor here in Narbonne. I know people he treated.”
      “Is that a common name here?”
      “No, but it’s not uncommon, either. There are some Reverdys here today.”
      M. Strazzera is now phoning the police station for more information. Meanwhile, the afternoon is wearing on, and I am starting to fear it will get dark before I can get to this Moussoulens.
      “Try Carcassonne,” suggests the regular.
      M. Strazzera dials Information, then City Hall in Carcassonne.
      “Yes,” he reports, “there is a Moussoulens outside of Carcassonne.”
      “I told you so,” says the regular.
      Maybe there was a second Pierre Reverdy, too.
      “But was it the Moussoulens where Pierre Reverdy lived?” asks M. Strazzera. Then he says, “I’ve got an idea. We’ll call the library. They know everything.”
      He calls the library. “This is Claude Strazzera, Hôtel Novelty. I have a tourist here.”
      As he talks, a phrase pops into my mind: “Au pied de la Montagne Noire. . .” I say it aloud.
      “Aha!” says the regular. “If it’s at the foot of the Black Mountain, then it has to be the Moussoulens outside of Carcassonne.”
      M. Strazzera hangs up. He has the look of a hunter who has just put a bullet between the eyes of a grizzly bear.
      “We’re in luck. At the library, they’re having an exhibition devoted to the life of Pierre Reverdy, to celebrate the centenary of his birth. He was from Narbonne, you know. The librarian says for you to come and see it—the library will be open for two more hours, and you can walk there—and also to go upstairs and ask for M. Viala, in the Municipal Archives. He has done a lot of research on Reverdy and will help you find whatever you need.”
      The truth is that I just want to get into the car and drive out to the family farm, but I have no choice now.  “It’s only a five-minute walk,” he adds.
      The Bibliothèque Municipale is on the rue Jean-Jaurès, and M. Viala’s office is on the top floor. His door is open. I poke my head in and give a little knock. He looks up from the desk. He has a long mustache and wears a tweed jacket, one of those fellows who acts older than he is. He’s maybe forty. There is a pleasant smell of honey tobacco lingering in the air of his office, with its low ceiling and old, comfortable atmosphere. He smiles, shakes my hand, and launches into telling me what he has discovered about Pierre Reverdy in the municipal archives.
      “Reverdy was born on Friday the thirteenth, but he was very superstitious, so he always gave his birth date as September eleventh,” he says, leading me downstairs to the exhibition cases.
      “Here’s a picture of the house he was born in, 3 boulevard du Collège, now called boulevard Marcel Sembat. And here’s the house he lived in as a young child, 1 rue del’Ancienne Mairie, now called Benjamin Crémieux. Here’s his birth certificate. He was delivered by a midwife. Notice that the mother’s name is listed on it as ‘unknown.’ The father is listed as ‘Henri Pierre Reverdy,’ which is Pierre’s name, also. Notice that the father did not recognize him legally until Pierre was six years old. And his mother did not recognize him legally until he was twenty. See here: her name was Jean Rose Esclopié. And here’s his military record. On this questionnaire, he said he had no experience shooting guns, riding horses, etc. He answered no to every question! Here you see he was 4-F because of a heart condition.”
      “Oh, so he wasn’t discharged?”
      “No, he wasn’t inducted.”

Military census card for Reverdy as a member of the 1909 group.

      The other display cases contain photographs of Reverdy and copies of his books, most of which I have seen. A few readers, mostly young people, glance up at us. We seem important because we are allowed to talk aloud.
      “But about Moussoulens: come back to my office when you’ve looked at the exhibition.” And off he goes.
      I take a few photos of the display cases and, using a close-up lens, of some of the documents. Then I wait a respectable amount of time before going back up to M. Viala’s office.
      He picks up the phone and calls the Municipal Archives in Carcassonne. His counterpart there confirms that yes, the Reverdy family farm was in Moussoulens, outside of Carcassonne. M. Viala goes out and comes back with a detailed map of the Aude region, and there it is, Moussoulens, a little dot.
      But now it is too late in the day to drive there, so I say thank you and goodbye, and go out for a walk, to see the birthplace and childhood house. I go first to the rue Benjamin Crémieux, but can’t find a number 1. There seem to be only two numbers. Something like 13 and 17. I ask several passersby, but they don’t know either. All they know is that there’s a plaque that’s going to be put up to honor Reverdy. They read about it in the newspaper.
      So I set off for the house he was born in. It’s a longer walk, but the afternoon is pleasant, with some leaves drifting down across the slanting sunlight. And there, in the block after the school the street was once named after, is the building Pierre was born in, September 13, 1889, exactly one hundred years and fifty days ago.

The house where Reverdy was born.

      But it’s just another building, three or four stories, gray stone, another French building, with cars parked in front. I try to recreate the scene of a hundred years ago, but I don’t  know which floor to use in my imagination. The “unknown” mother, the stunning news that Pierre was a bastard, the vague relationship of father to mother—it all swirls around my mind, erasing my visual fantasies as soon as I conjure them. I need a cup of coffee.



The next morning, after breakfast and many thank-you’s, I drive to Carcassonne, get a room, and head toward Moussoulens, which is only ten or fifteen minutes outside of town and easily found with a detailed Michelin map.
      It appears to be a sleepy little village, but the sleep is even deeper today, which is All Saint’s Day. Everything is closed except the bakery, where I go in and ask the young woman for directions to la Borio de Blanc, the Reverdy family farm about eighty years ago. She’s new in these parts herself, but maybe M. Fiche, across the street, could tell me: his family has lived here for generations, and he used to be town secretary. 
      I go across the street and tap at the glass door. Inside, a man lifts himself out of an easy chair and pads toward me in his socks.
      “I’m sorry to bother you. I’m looking for the Reverdy family farm, la Borio de Blanc, and the girl in the bakery told me you might be able to help.”
      Certainement,” he says rolling the r. He has the same accent as Reverdy, the same dark hair, but he seems more congenial than Reverdy was supposed to have been. “You just go down this street until you get to the monument, then turn left. That road will take you right to the farm. It’s only about five hundred yards outside of town. The present owner is named Loisel, Mme. Loisel.”

The driveway to La Borio de Blanc.

      His directions take me out to a farmhouse, but at first I’m not sure that this is la Borio de Blanc. A man is backing out in a car.
      “Excuse me, is this la Borio de Blanc, the old Reverdy farm?”
      “I don’t know,” he answers pleasantly, “I’m just visiting. Ask inside.”
      With some hesitation—though not much, since I’ve come this far—I crunch across the gravel and ring the doorbell. In a few moments a woman opens the door. She looks handsome and intelligent, with dark hair and brown eyes.
      “I’m sorry to bother you, but I’m a tourist, an American tourist, a poet, actually, and I’m trying to find the farm where the poet Pierre Reverdy lived.”
      “This is it,” she smiles. “Would you like to come in and look around?”
      “Uh, well, I don’t want to bother you. . .”
      “But it would be no bother at all.”
      “Really? That’s wonderful!”
      Inside, I introduce myself formally to Mme. Loisel. She tells me the farm has been in the family since her father bought it more than fifty years ago. The basic structure is the same as when Reverdy lived here, except for the living room, which has been enlarged by the removal of a wall that partitioned off two small rooms, to the left and right as you enter. And of course the interior has been modernized: new floors, new kitchen, new bathroom fixtures, all in good taste. The attached barn has been converted to living space. (In fact, the Loisels, members of the gîtes ruraux system, rent out that space to guests, such as the gentleman in the car I had spoken to outside.) The main structure is a long, two-story stone building with red tile roof. Upstairs, off a hallway, are the bedrooms. The first one on the left is Pierre’s, the one he used when he was at home from school on vacations.
      We peer into the room. It’s about eight by twelve feet, but I almost can’t see it, because I keep thinking, “Little Pierre fell asleep here, in this room.” At the far end is a single window, looking out on the front side of the house, with a view of trees, fields, and the sky. In the wall to the left is a small doorway that used to lead into the hayloft. I can almost hear the hay. The animals shift in their stalls—or do they? Probably only a cow or two, maybe some rabbits and chickens outside, since this farm was primarily a vineyard. And still is. Now this room belongs to Mme. Loisel’s little boy.
      “Sometimes he slept in the room next door, his parents’ room,” she says. We take a look, but it doesn’t have the same radiance. She gestures vaguely to the bathroom further down the hall. 
      We go downstairs and out the back door. The red and yellow and green vines that stretch all the way up to the village seem to crackle pleasantly in the autumn light pouring down from the pure blue sky. A deliciously cool breeze causes a huge pine to sough softly above us.

Front view of the farmhouse and attached barn. Pierre’s window is below the chimney, the nearest of the four windows.

Back yard view of the house.

Side view of the house.

      “Was that tree here when Pierre lived here?”
      “Almost certainly. There were several others, one over there and another over there, but they had to be taken down when they were blown over in a storm.”
A man in wading boots and gentleman farmer clothes comes out of the house.
“This is my husband,” says Mme. Loisel.
      We smile and say hello.
      “I’m just doing some work around the place,” he explains.
      “Oh,” I say, “I just realized that it’s a holiday and I’m taking up all your time.”
      “No, not at all, really,” says Mme. Loisel.
      “These vineyards are so beautiful,” I say. “Are the property lines still the same?”
      “Yes,” says Mme. Loisel. She points out the boundaries. “They grew the grapes here, harvested them, pressed them—did everything. Come, we’ll show you the old vats.”
      In a big shed just beyond the house, we view the vats. It’s possible that the Loisels, perhaps the French in general, have a feeling for wine vats that we Americans do not have. Sensing my blankness, Mme. Loisel says, “Why don’t you take a walk down to the orchard? My husband will show you where Pierre tied his donkey to one of the trees: you can still see the ring it made around the trunk. And the bulge in the tree he used as a bench.”
      “Yes,” says M. Loisel, “I’m just going down to spray the trees now. Would you like to come along?”

Lane view from the house toward the orchard.

       Mme. Loisel goes back inside the house and I stroll with M. Loisel down a typically beautiful allée of plane trees, maybe two hundred feet long. On the right, about half way down, is the tree with the bulge, about seat high, and higher up, the ring that grew because Pierre tied his donkey there. The tree is dying, but M. Loisel is doing everything he can to save it. The vineyards are to the right, and to the left is a stream, with a sluice that once powered a grain mill. Straight ahead is the orchard. As he goes on ahead to spray the trees, M. Loisel tells me to take my time and look all around. I walk over to the stream and find the old sluice gate, now rusted, and I look back up through the trees, where the leaves are shaking and glimmering gently against the bright blue sky. It’s as pretty a day as possible.

Tree bulge Pierre reportedly used as a bench.

Stream on the property, near the orchard lane.

View of the vineyard and house.

View of the landscape from near La Borio de Blanc, with Moussoulens in the distance.

      When I finally mosey back up to the house, a polite teenage girl—Mme. Loisel’s daughter—tells me that her mother has gone into town, and that she’ll be right back. I stroll around outside for a while, waiting for madame to return. I can’t just leave. When finally she drives up and gets out of the car, I see that she has not only done some shopping, but has also dressed up. Complete with earrings.
      “This has been wonderful, this visit,” I begin.
      “But you must come inside and have a drink with us,” she insists.
      “Well, just a tiny one,” I say.
      In the living room, we’re joined by M. Loisel again, and madame offers us a choice of drinks. We choose a local specialty, an aperitif that tastes like rich port wine. Whatever its name, it goes down smooth and easy. She stands up and goes to each of us with a little tray of snacks. I choose the dried apple chips, which go nicely with the drink. She even serves her husband, who after the second round, tells her, very politely, “Non. Merci beaucoup.” It’s been a long time since I’ve seen anyone play the role of perfect hostess. It’s like Tulsa in the 1950s.
      “My father had owned this place for a few years, when a man knocked at the door and said that he used to live here. It was Reverdy. He had a woman with him, but he never introduced her. He asked if he could look around. My father invited him in. Pierre ran from room to room, excited like a kid, and he walked down the allée, looked at the old tree, and asked for a glass of wine from the vineyard.”
      Whatever she had served me is working its wonders. I am feeling warm and pleasantly vague.
      “Then he left and never came back. And he never introduced the woman. But from what my father later learned, it must have been Coco Chanel.”
      “Yes,” I say, “Reverdy and Chanel were . . . friends.”
      M. and Mme. Loisel smile at my choice of words.
      “It must have been Coco Chanel,” she says. “She was petite and wearing black.”
      “I suppose the village was pretty sleepy back then,” I suggest. “It seems awfully quiet now.”
      “Oh,” smiles Mme. Loisel impishly, “it’s quiet on the surface, but underneath. . .” She waves her hands around, pantomiming turbulence. “The people will smile and act as if everything is fine, but suddenly they explode.”
      “Like Reverdy, no? He had an explosive temper.”
      “A sort of Spanish temperament? It goes with his rolling r’s.”
      “Just like me,” says Mme. Loisel. “I’m sure I have Catalan blood, as do many people in this area.” She starts to talk about the history of the region, the Cathars, and the area between Carcassonne and the Pyrenees. Both she and her husband are well educated. I wonder what they do for a living.
      “What does la Borio de Blanc mean, exactly?” I ask.
      “Borio is an old Provençal word that means place or area,” she explains. “Blanc was the name of the man who owned the farm before the Reverdys. La Borio de Blanc: Blanc’s Place. But actually the farm is better known as La Jonquerolle.”
      “And Reverdy’s wife, “says M. Loisel, “do you know about her?”
      “I think she is dead now.”
      “Really?” says Mme. Loisel, surprised. “We saw her just a few years ago.”
      “Oh,” I say, “I said that only because I saw a portrait of Pierre that she had given to the Foundation Maeght in 1975, so I assumed it was a bequest.”
      “No, we saw her two years ago, in Solesmes,” says madame. “But we didn’t speak to her. What could we say? That we live in the house Pierre grew up in? And what then? But you, you love Reverdy—you should go to Solesmes and meet her.”
      “I will, if I can muster the courage,” I say. But I am only being polite. The plans for my trip don’t include Solesmes.
      The talk shifts to Pierre’s books and books about him. A few years ago a local writer had published a little book about Reverdy’s childhood. And here is a picture of the place, as it used to look. She hands me a book opened to the illustration.
      “I bought this book in 1965,” I say, “and you have no idea how many times I’ve looked at this picture and wondered about this place. In fact I must tell you that being here is, for me, incredible, it’s overwhelming.” Perhaps the drink has enabled me to say what I feel at the moment. “And your hospitality has been wonderful.”
      “But it is our pleasure,” they both reply. Their gentility seems authentic: for them this is the normal way to behave.
      “Thank you. And now I must be going. It’s two o’clock!” And with that we say goodbye. When I open the car door, I glance back up at the window of Pierre’s room. How happy he must have been here.

The window of Pierre’s room.



I spend the rest of the day and night in Carcassonne. The trip continues as planned: exploring the areas around Cahors and Sarlat, then on to Angoulême to drop the car off and get the train to Paris. In Angoulême the train station and car rental agency are both in the Place de la Gare, as is a recommended hotel.
      I park in the square, buy a ticket for tomorrow’s train, and then am told by the clerk that there might be rail strike. Tomorrow. So, after some thought, I cash in the ticket, notify the car agency that I’m keeping the car, and head north. Maybe I’ll spend the night in Tours.
      But Tours isn’t that far from Le Mans, and Le Mans isn’t that far from Solesmes. The landscape flattens as I blast along the superhighway. At Château du Loir I take a smaller road through Vaas, le Lude, la Flèche, and Sablé, and suddenly I find myself entering Solesmes and immediately exiting, it’s so small. I turn around and go back.
      There’s no tourist information center. There’s almost no one on the street. I stop at the building that houses both the town hall and the post office. The town hall is closed Monday afternoons, but in the little post office, I find a young woman behind its only window, serving a monk in a brown robe unloading packages and letters from a golden cart. He’s from the Benedictine abbey, the Abbaye Saint-Pierre, one of the best-known centers of Gregorian chant studies in the world. He takes a long time with his numerous transactions, fumbling about in an old coin purse for those last twenty centimes of what amounted to around four hundred dollars’ postage. Finally it’s my turn.
      “Hello. I need some information. I’m looking for the house where the poet Pierre Reverdy lived.”
      “I don’t know,” she answers, “but maybe this gentleman can help you.”
      I turn to the monk. He has close-cropped gray hair, wire-rimmed glasses, rounded features, lively eyes, intense and secretly funny. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that he keeps one foot in each of two different worlds. In any case, his face has a glow different from any I have seen on this trip.
      I explain that I am an American admirer of Pierre Reverdy’s poetry. He asks me where I am staying, and when I say I don’t know yet—I’ve just arrived—he tells me that Mme. Reverdy can’t put me up. I nearly leap out of my shoes telling him that I had expected nothing of the sort, that I wouldn’t even knock on her door or speak to her. He seems reassured, but keeps looking deeply into my eyes. I wonder what he sees.
      “Come with me,” he says, “I’ll show you the house.”
      We walk half a block toward the abbey, and at the corner, he turns and points down the street. “It’s the last house on the right. She comes to Vespers every day. But please don’t bother her, she’s quite old, and looking rather drawn lately.”
      “She must be old.”
      “Yes. Would you like to visit his tomb, too? You just go down this street about two blocks. It’s on the right.”
      “Thank you very much.”
      He smiles and says goodbye, turning away with his little cart.
      At the cemetery, I walk down row after row of graves, looking for the tomb. Some of the stones don’t even have names on them. Then I spy a man across the way. He seems to be a florist, or perhaps the caretaker. I outwait my hesitation and go over to ask him if he knows where the grave is. Yes, the grave is here somewhere, he’s sure, but where? He is solicitous and eager to help. After some random searching, he notices a young priest who has wandered in, and asks him for help. Yes, the grave is here somewhere, the young priest smiles, and he thinks it’s . . . somewhere. We all wander around a bit. Suddenly the man calls out, “Voilà!
      When I thank him for his help, he says, “That’s okay. I spend a lot of time here. I lost my wife eighteen months ago.” He and the young priest drift off.
      I look down at the slab. It’s red marble, low and flat, with specks of black and gray in it. Lying on top of it, also flat, is a black cross, and slanting across the bottom of the cross is a black bar with the work MAGNIFICAT. Along the front edge of the marble—only three or four inches thick—the words HENRI PIERRE REVERDY 1889-1960, flush right. The left must be reserved for his wife Henriette. Henri, Henriette.
      I quickly take some photos—the 4 P.M. autumn light is beautiful, but waning—and then I stand there, looking down at the grave, and I get the curious idea that I’m much taller than Pierre. I feel as if I’m looking down at his stone from a height of eight or nine feet, not six feet two. I try to imagine him in the coffin, but get only a general sense of morbidness, so I abandon that line of thinking.

Reverdy’s tomb, in the foreground.

      I drive to the parking lot across the street from his house. A lot of new houses have been built since he moved here in 1926, and the abbey’s growing reputation must have put Solesmes on the map. Solesmes feels less remote than it must have in the 1920s.
      Through the windshield I take some photos of the house, and I decide to wait until Henriette comes out.

The house of Pierre and Henriette Reverdy in Solesmes.

The Solesmes house, with garden wall.

      As I sit there in the car, gazing at the garden wall and the top half of the house, I remember a dream. At a small seaside village in France, I get off the train and walk a few hundred yards toward the beach, where Reverdy’s cottage looks out over the water. No one is home. Inside, it is quiet, cool, clean, refreshingly pretty but not decorative. I am feeling hesitant about barging in, when his wife enters and says pleasantly (and she was supposed to be sour and cranky), “Pierre’s out now, but I expect him back soon,” At that moment he comes in the front door and greets me. He suggests we go out to lunch at a nearby restaurant he likes.
      It is austere in a way that tells me it’s a good restaurant. The dishes Pierre ordered arrive, one after the other, until the entire table is covered. The word cassoulet suddenly takes on a fierce pleasure. Across the table, Pierre eats with calm sobriety. To my left, my son is undecided as to what to drink. The waitress is growing restive: “Comme boisson?” “What do you want? Coke? Milk? What?” I prod him. The waitress starts off across the room. “De l’eau,” I call out to her. “Ce n’est qu’un gosse,” she says. “Brat is more like it,” I answer in English. “Oh, it’s not that bad,” she chides me. Suddenly I realized that Pierre has selected this restaurant because the waitresses are English.
      It is now 2:30 in the afternoon, but the light has grown dim. Pierre is in deep shadow, with only a circular patch of brightness on his white shirtfront. Otherwise I can’t see him, but he seems to be either asleep or in deep thought.
      He is sitting in the chair to my right, with a sheet of white paper and an ink pen, the old kind with a nib, and he is writing furiously. I recognize his handwriting and realize that he is writing a poem. I move to the chair opposite him and, on a sheet of paper of my own, start writing a poem in two-line stanzas that describes him writing. When we finish our poems, we stand up. He smiles. 
      “What did you write?” he asks pleasantly.
      “Oh, nothing much, just a little thing,” I answer shyly, knowing that I am perhaps the only person ever to write such a description.
      I wake up. Where are my glasses? What time is it? I reach out for clock and glasses, as if to convince myself that it really is June 21, 1981, not 1931.
      At 4:45, the white garden gate opens and Henriette steps out—all ninety-seven years of her. She’s wearing sensible brown shoes, wool stockings, a tan raincoat, and a loose-fitting wool tam. Her eyesight must be good—no glasses. She carries a cane, but she hardly uses it. In fact, she sets off at a brisk clip. At first her face looks huge to me. Like a spy, I take some photos of her. I don’t even feel ashamed.

Henriette Reverdy on her way to Vespers.

      I get out of the car and follow her to the abbey, a little more than a block away. Inside the church, she sits down about half way up the aisle, on the left, alone in a pew. I sit five or six rows behind her and on the right. About ten other people, mostly old, drift in singly and go up the aisle to sit near the front. The bells chime and Vespers begins.
      The communion grille—a low fence—separates the congregation from the choir, from whose wings the monks, one at a time, cross back and forth, their hands folded beneath robes. Then a bunch of them, fifty maybe, enter from the left in triple file and arrange themselves in rows on the left, parallel to the nave. I can barely see the ones in the front now. The singing begins.
      The sound is serious, calm, simple, utterly beautiful. It spreads evenly throughout the cool, dim air. The believers among us bow down. I decide to relax and remain seated, though every once in a while I stand up. It occurs to me that the monks get a lot of rehearsal time, but that the rehearsal is in some way also the performance. The audience is God. 
      Henriette, who, if she has attended this service five days a week since moving to Solesmes, has heard Vespers more than 16,000 times, anticipates everything by a beat. I alternate between watching her and looking at the gray blocks of stone, the stark, simple, romanesque arches along the sides and the gothic vaulting over the nave. I wonder what the interior looked like in 1926, and in 1960. When Pierre sat here he must have been funneled down the narrow nave toward the altar and its inevitable crucifix.
      After thirty minutes, Henriette puts down her Vespers book and a moment later the singing stops—she has already retrieved her cane and turned to start back down the aisle.
      I follow her out and down the street. Soon I overtake her, and as I walk past I sneak a glance. Her face is very old, though—and this is the odd part—not particularly wrinkled, and her dark little eyes remind me of those of a wily dog.
      A bus is coming up the street, her street, towards her. She steps aside and stops, in that silent way the elderly have of protesting an affront. The bus goes past, and she resumes her walk. In the middle of the block (the safest place) she crosses diagonally, and when she gets to the opposite curb she spots something in the gutter, probably a leaf. She stops and swipes at it with her cane, two, three times, until she manages to move it to the right a few inches. That accomplished, she approaches the gate, inserts her key, and goes inside.
      But the gate doesn’t close. She reappears, holding a small, bright blue plastic bag tied at the top. She plops it down outside the gate, near the wall. The top part of the bag (above the tie) seems to bother her. She bats at it weakly with her hand, to force it to the side. She doesn’t like the way it looks. She pushes it again, then again. It’s still not right. She picks up the bag and plops it down a few inches away from its original position. Then she pokes it. It sits there, sagging. She looks at it, pauses, and closes the gate. She’s gone.
      I start the car and drive back up to the corner. It’s 5:45, the light is failing, and a chill is in the air. I wonder where I should spend the night. The only hotel in town, the Grand Hôtel, looks ritzy and expensive, compared to the other places where I’ve been staying. Nearby Sablé has cheaper hotels. In the midst of Reverdy’s tomb, Henriette’s vast old age, the monastery, the spirituality of the chant, and the onset of dark, I pause for a moment and head toward the Grand Hôtel.
      In the room, I step out onto the balcony. Below is the hotel’s pretty garden, and off to the left, a block away, still visible in the early evening, is the house Pierre Reverdy died in.

View from my hotel balcony, with the Reverdy house (the one partially obstructed by small trees).


Photographs by Ron Padgett, 1989.

RON PADGETT’s books include the poetry collections How Long, How to Be Perfect, You Never Know, Great Balls of Fire, and New & Selected Poems, as well as three memoirs, Ted: A Personal Memoir of Ted Berrigan; Oklahoma Tough: My Father, King of the Tulsa Bootleggers; and Joe: A Memoir of Joe Brainard. His translations include Blaise Cendrars’ Complete Poems, Guillaume Apollinaire’s Poet Assassinated, Valery Larbaud’s Poems of A. O. Barnabooth (with Bill Zavatsky), and Flash Cards by Yu Jian (with Wang Ping). He has collaborated with artists such as Jim Dine, Alex Katz, George Schneeman, and Joe Brainard. Padgett has received Fulbright, NEA, Guggenheim, and Civitella Ranieri grants and fellowships, and was named Officer in the Order of Arts and Letters by the French government. In 2008 he was elected Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. He also received the Shelley Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America. For more information, go to www.ronpadgett.com.