2 poems by Camille Francois

1999


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.