For an Unknown Man in Paris

A stranger, no name,
you smile, a young man,
scant years out of boyhood,
pausing in the street, your gaze looking back,
eyebrows raised, mouth half open in mild surprise
as if to say something witty my way.
Your eyes ignited
by the sudden attention.

If I could approach you,
then closer,
I am sure I would find no trace of stubble,
no razor needed on that smooth cheek.
You, in a hat, a tie, a buttoned suit jacket,
a pipe locked at the end of your fingers
as if you were born to it, having only waited
for age to carry it off.

If I could know you, approach you,
I would probably not like you:
seemingly so brash, assured, too young
to be wearing such adult attire
with such confident swagger—

but we will never talk

in Paris, together, you and I,
two men, two strangers, staring one to the other.

I watch safe from another century,
while you remain where you have long departed,
on the sunlit street, a black and white photo
of bygone Paris.

I do not know what colour your suit,
your hat, or tie are, what shade your hair,
but I know you wear yellow.

The star of David is pinned on your chest
like a paper rose in your lapel. It is ’42,
spring, the Marais in Paris, rue de Temple,
the old Jewish quarters.
A list of names dwindling to no escape.

I see your fate in the photo beside you:
July, the roundup, Velodrome d’Hiver,
buses bound for internment at Drancy,
then east, to the camps.

Did you survive? Do you remain?

Perhaps your spirit still shelters here,
a refugee haunting this restored mansion,
The Museum of Jewish Art and History.
You move unseen past the metal detector,
the counter where visitors’ cameras are stored.

These rooms with their saved wrecked
Jewish gravestones, carved letters rising
like sculpted smoke, these photos that open
their misted windows on names of the lost:
Rosenfeld, Kramer.

Or maybe your own.
Each grain of your photo, an ash.

Kevin Irie has published poems in Canada and abroad. He has five books of poetry, including “Viewing Tom Thomson, A Minority Report,” which was a finalist for the 2013 Acorn Plantos People’s Prize For Poetry and also The Toronto Book Award. He lives in Toronto.

To view other poems published in this issue please visit Vallum’s website.

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