Verlaine after Mons

Verlaine After Mons

Now that the boxcars
have ceased bickering
past his barred window
and the tracks remain

impassibly distant
as old lovers,
he watches them hold.
“Nights,” he complains

in letters he is free,
at last, to write,
“are raw, sleep bitter.”
To his east, Paris

grates the evening white,
a grand carnival
cold as the moon,
familiar as the hiss

of boiling stew. And so
he writes: of forcing
food into his mouth,
of how he’ll leave the rails

of an old life,
use momentum to flee
this room, these letters
he will never mail,

the glow and pull
of a body not his own
and never present,
if never wholly gone.


This poem was written and published (one of six I managed to place after my MFA) in the mid-90s.

I was reading Rimbaud heavily and a little Verlaine (a very little), and used their story as a mask to write about the end of a five-year relationship: I thought we’d marry; she had to move on. It took me about three years to write about it, and then in disguise.

I was also thinking about Rimbaud’s abandonment of poetry (allegedly accompanied by the statement, “I must become a modern man”) and wrangling with what it would take, post-MFA, to put poetry and teaching aside (I couldn’t get a job and placing poems was rare) and find another way to make a living.

The poem, perhaps, deals with these things. Mons is the city in Belgium where Verlaine was imprisoned after shooting and lightly wounding Rimbaud. The poem imagines him after his release, living somewhere west of Paris (perhaps even in England, where he soon found himself). The thoughts and words I ascribe to him are entirely made up.


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