Two brief encounters last night, like book-ends to an overlong evening at the year-end staff party in a local school.
After a familiar brown face peered out at me from a passing car, I found the owner of the face loitering near one of the local homes sheltering young migrants awaiting validation of their papers. He attended a few of my workshops and shows a natural talent for writing. In fact, in one of those workshops, he told me his life ambition was to be a poet, but he’d settle for social work. Well, he’s made a success of his school year so they’ve signed him up for a Bac Pro (the French designation for a trade-oriented B.A.). In social work? Literature? No, in Entretien des équipements industriels (Maintenance of Industrial Equipment).
He laughed – sort of – when he said it and added he couldn’t send me emails anymore because the computers didn’t work in the Home. I told him to sign up for my sessions in August and, in the meantime, to read through his writing and attempt to combine into one powerful statement the many attempts he’d made throughout the text at getting a certain something across.
The walk home involved an isolated stretch between the stadium and the pool where I keep a wary eye and a jaunty step. A group of teen-aged boys approached, thoroughly engrossed in their world – no problem there. Then a solitary figure came my way. I gave him a crisp bonsoir in the murky light. He answered something I couldn’t make out as I walked by, then called out Madame in a light voice. The voice was so soft, I hesitated before turning. He laid a hand on his heart to show his good intentions and came closer. “I’m Salah,” he said and I recognized the boy I coached (for a total of four hours…) prior to his French literature exam. He didn’t have the results yet, but he was pleased. The luck of the draw landed him a text by Voltaire to comment and he’d applied the rules I’d pointed out, he said. Held out his hand for a handshake, smiled, said merci with all the hardware glinting on his teeth, and took off.
Something quite beautiful picked out this morning of an article in Le Monde about French poet Yves Bonnefoy who died yesterday at age ninety-three. « La tâche du poète est de montrer un arbre, avant que notre intellect nous dise que c’est un arbre, » he once wrote. (The poet’s task is to show a tree before our intellect tells us it’s a tree.)
Maybe the same applies to fiction writing. Slow going at the moment, in my case. There’s some fascinating stuff to translate (for a fee? wheeeee!) for a circus group and a puppet theatre. Papers, emergencies, laundry, friends…hop-hop-hop.
Allez? hop-hop-hop. Or maybe at a slower, steadier clip because I’m not keeping a hop-hop-hop kind of pace these days.