Astride the rusty bridge, tumbleweed
floating around, she thinks this is nature
fucking itself and I am in the way or am I
fluffing out, she thinks
on Monday if she’s good they will let her use
the soldering iron again, she will sit
with the girl with the boiled-sweet
cherry smell and they will make metal
go liquid together, find its soft side – one look
to the teacher and they inhale
the older girl’s burnt hair, the boys
at the front table turn to watch it bend,
a handful of starved fireflies, she likes
how they’ve hooked their legs at the knee
those two, shins at an odd angle, recalls
the heap of tired limbs last week at the back
of the bus, homebound after three days
of cliff climbing, everyone’s sweat on her
tongue and how strong she felt as they passed
the bottle and the cool water
hit her throat, no longer threatened
by purity like those fancy breeds
of dogs the slightest cold will carry off.
After class she goes home
with the one who smiled and on Sunday
she is back on the bridge looking past the trees
below at sprawled families’ post-lunch stupor,
thinking with tenderness, and a little pity
of what the men are all hiding
The fishing hut
“[...] and then, afloat,
Fish to his hook he doth bring;
Thus he’s called the Fisher King,
And that pleasure is his delight;
For there is naught else, sir knight,
That he may suffer or endure.”
Chrétien de Troyes, Perceval, or the Story of the Grail
For me, it was the light
seeping between the rotten planks as I looked from the shore
that brought me back; how it hit the water below
hard, in a way that mirrored my own glare.
I crossed the footbridge and looked through
a crown-shaped crack, where the wind had pushed
a finger in the broken edges of the glass –
there were many of us there.
Different ages, hair lengths,
but the same moth skin, the same
dazed look – he
lay in the dark, too busy with his wound
to mind us (we knew to ask no questions).
The net blocked most of the view to the bay.
We took turns to tend the net,
or lower the bucket to rinse the blood,
watched the luscious mess of rust and fat
round the pulley, the snags we wanted to touch
but kept our hair and fingers from.
I loved to hear the crash as I paid out the rope,
to force the water in the pail until
it was the opposite of us, loud, heavy.
I pulled and lifted for him and thought
of the Norse giant who, for safekeeping,
hid his heart inside an egg inside
a duck inside a well, which a fish helped find,
and as I slashed the shiny bodies
open I made sure to look.
At night we ate raw fish filets in salt and huddled
in bunk beds under the same netting
we used to plug the holes and keep birds out.
Sometimes a gull got in and lifted a cloud
of dust on landing, as if to disappear
or turn itself into something better,
but kept its dry magic to itself.
The day he stood, I watched
as one by one he gently helped them through,
holding them in his gaze before the drop.
And as I stepped over the edge
the net was down, the view was clear,
I saw the island off the cove
I heard once lay in its embrace; now,
a short swim away, like the distance to love.
Camille Francois holds a PhD in contemporary British literature and has taught literature and translation at Cambridge and other universities. She now lives near Paris with her daughters and teaches at an international secondary school. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The North, Wild Court, Magma, and others.