Portrait of a French Village
The church stands helpless above the village,
its bell switched to silent since midnight,
the count-down to eternity on hold.
Second homers, holiday sleepers and atheists:
les Rosbifs have bought up Le Lot in numbers.
Arrive by night, and darkness has dispelled
centuries of pain like an analgesic; subsistence
wound up like coal-mines and cotton mills;
depression and grief sobbed into walls of stone;
staying and starving or try emigration.
It’s a timid bell that comes on again at six;
the quietness turns over and goes back to sleep
though the summer sun is shining – but it shines
to no purpose on vacant, unproductive fields;
it’s only value that grows on former farms.
1731 above the door of her crumbling cottage,
a couple of ragged fields and an empty barn:
the old woman had lived on, remembered
the last flock of sheep; husband broken, faces
of children, those who grew and sailed away.
A small pair of leather boots, at least
a century old, are curling in the heat, displayed
by their new owners on the barn window sill.
How quaint, some guest will remark;
another will try to picture the wearer:
a girl hauling water daily from the well, or
the old woman, perhaps, enduring from dawn
till dusk, stumbling and sticking it out:
one of the world’s unremembered dead,
who has quietly left something to show.