Town Hall, Fifteenth Arrondissement

By Pierre Martory 1920–1998 Pierre Martory

Translated By John Ashbery

You should have heard the soldiers’ feet
wounding the swirls that the accordion waltz
left on the pavement like a mower’s swath
once the parade had passed
you should have kissed the soldiers’ feet
pulled out of their boots and licked the ankles
and climbed as far as the khaki
seven and a half millimeters thick would allow
you should have shaken their belly like a carpet
it was grand illusion day
when they escape their deep knowledge
and pretend to look for handsome successors
but it would be better to look for the heart
and put an alarm clock in its place
that could play reveille like a puppet
but wouldn’t serve coffee in bed
you should have rummaged under their false teeth
to hunt for hidden diamonds with lively fingers
hunt for them everywhere not find them
even in the creases of their nakedness.
Joy of being a child of the sovereign people
of lending a hand to institutions
and seeing one’s name inscribed on the slate
of urinals in letters of coal tar
for a single flag that one has become
flapping its boredom at the angles of two streets
that the wind stirs unless it’s first
the wind of trumpets all love to the winds

“Town Hall, Fifteenth Arrondissement” from The Landscapist: Selected Poems by Pierre Martory, translated by John Ashbery. English translation copyright 1961, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2008 by John Ashbery. Reprinted by permission of Georges Borchardt, Inc., on behalf of John Ashbery. All rights reserved.

Source: Poetry (October 2000).


French poet Pierre Martory was born in Bayonne, France, grew up in Morocco, and attended the School of Political Science in Paris. He fled Paris before the Germans arrived and served in the French Army in Morocco during World War II. After the war, he worked as a drama and music critic for Paris-Match and published a novel, Phébus ou le beau marriage (1953). In 1956, he met the poet John Ashbery in Paris; he and Ashbery lived . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Growing Old, Living, History & Politics, Cities & Urban Life, Social Commentaries


Poetic Terms Free Verse

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