Inscription

Canal du Midi, France

Arcades of plane trees arc Aves above the canal.
I know they are not a choir.
I know they are not Kabuki, tusk, knuckle, or
the swords and flames St. Joan rode into,
though it’s true I think of them as these,
and as the sky’s deep pockets of snow, white keys,
mammoth teeth. It is my way and my need:
mes amours, sycamores. My emblems on a crest,
gallery of visible ghosts. Mostly I love the light
they hold inside, the all-too-much and aged toujours
of them, their airborne electricities. Who’s to explain
affinities like these? Two seas were joined this way
in 1681, sparing sailors from piracy and storms.
In the 1830s, planes were planted on its banks
to protect vacationers from sun. Now a careless
tourist nicks a tree with rope and spreads disease
that will kill them all. Ceratocystis platani, traced
to munitions boxes brought by World War II GIs.
42,000 must be felled and burned to save, scientists
hope, the remaining planes, cousin to our sycamore,
that is the wood that made the box that held
the fungus riding in the waters of the canal.
Measures have been taken. The road to hell, etc.
St. Joan, finally, was burned to death for the cross-
dressing; Kabuki theaters incinerated by soldiers
for their drag shows and wartime sympathies.
Sorrow. Desire. There are so many auto fatalities
on plane-lined streets here, the French joke
about why the tree crossed the road. They burn
the hollows out sometimes. Inscribe vaginal lips
around the gashes in swaths of hot pink paint.
What we leave behind and what is left of us
are related questions. The graves in town are up
to three centuries old. Some crypts, forged crosses,
chipped wreaths of ceramic flowers. Earth gouged,
trees felled, buildings razed, never mind the lives.
In the new world, a fungus-resistant sycamore
is bred to replace relatives destroyed at the canal.
Measures taken. Like swapping out the burnt-out
bulbs on a string of Christmas lights. So what
if we are replaceable? Mostly I love how
we burst the prisons of our skins and shine.
Outside the cemetery, someone’s magic-markered
a locked electrical box with the words Sexe Toyes.
The plaques on the graves nearby are inscribed
Souvenirs and Regrets. Which are, even in my language,
polite ways of saying Done.

More Poems by Kathy Fagan