Cultural Notes from the Commune
A shell can whistle like an abonné
backstage, or mew like a litter of kittens,
scream like a soldier in his agony,
tear the air like silk, or moan like a woman's
pleasure climbing towards her petit mort.
Bullets nip stems; leaves bury spring with fall.
A sergeant hoisting a dead comrade caught
a bullet in his thigh. Before they fell
they whirled round in a hideous pirouette
lead-swift as Coppélia in pointe-shoes,
steel-cold as dead empire. Hallucinate
girls at the barricades—bloodstained tutus,
ghostly girls, starved dancing forms
the war had tossed out on the streets,
bereft of work well past seven months,
find a faith, find Marx, find the sheets,
a bone-thin corps of village sylphs or Wilis
in danses macabres with a vicious kick.
The Commune's cultural eye, dark as Achilles',
draws its sole bead on plans of armed attack.
Those who had the power have hurt, real killers
who bang pulled out of Paris, a beaten whore,
Haussmann's broad highways chutes for civil war.
Sacrifice your eye for one
enamel eye. One corporal
sealed his deal, left eye liquified,
blue raining down his cheekbone.
We spit on arts like café-concerts
real people can't afford.
We refuse to reward
nudes on canvas. Who cares
about the Louvre, however harmless,
however many armless dames? Comrades lie dead.
Courbet's a realist? We'll give him real to think
about. We're eating brick-dust bread. Drink,
drink to the Commune.
Fraternité. Come, arm in arm,
let our raised red flags symbolize
France reborn—France sans bourgeoisie.
A burned-out theater. Gold and silver spangles
glitter among the charred tulle and lamé.
A black rain of charred public records dances
our history to ash thick as in Pompeii.
Real civil war makes the Iliad a bore.
Shelve Homer, sweep out dry-as-dust Molière.
Keep theater bouffe! Send onstage prostitutes
out to the streets to serve Fraternité,
not flirt with flames like naked butterflies.
No naked arms, no naked legs more smooth
and rare than chicken eggs. No bourgeoisie,
no nobles, emperors—our working chance
to cobble up from whole cloth our new France,
a perfect fabric of perfect citizens
who need no art to make them weep or think.
The government's no longer in control.
Casks of bloody wine our National Guard
guzzle gush out again in Communard
red streams. Drink to the Commune, drink, come drink.
Paris shoots back with a bang
as strutting whores in soldier's drag
ease your load while street puppet shows
lampoon Commune and empire.
Upwards of 20,000 Parisians, more
than any battle of the Prussian war
killed. Blue smoke has replaced the Prefecture
of Police. Sainte Chapelle gleams, a stylish whore
in Viollet's new gold. Welcome Flaubert,
whose hair the wars have neither grayed nor mussed
in his unceasing fight for le mot juste,
in Paris to lavish patriotic care
on research, if he can find one library
unburnt, for The Temptation of St. Anthony.
Ruins glow, magnificent,
l'Hôtel de Ville like molten jewels
agate, ash-green, hot-iron-white
palace sun-baked five centuries.
Liberté's pale architect
has bathed in rose Fraternité's
standing stone walls, now skeleton
clockworks, a charnel warning.