I wasn’t looking for a home
that night at the truck stop in Ogallala
in September of 1971.

Ray and I simply gave a ride
to an exhausted French hitchhiker
and a hippie chick from New Jersey.

We drove into Lincoln,
picked up his buddy at the Greyhound Station
and then chugged to Chicago in my ’65 Mustang.

I put them up for a week,
and the hitchhiker invited me to Paris
the next summer. I went there and returned again in ’75
and lived with Michel and others for a year in a commune.

Joe, a college acquaintance,
stayed in Paris for a few months that year.
We hung around together and became friends.
When I got back to Chicago
he dropped by one night with his buddy John.

John became my friend. Years later
he introduced me to Jan.

We had Claire.

This is the myth of my life.
You probably have your own—some party
you attended, a phone you decided to answer
after you had already closed and locked the door,
a missed turn... and your life tumbled out.

But is it that simple?
In truth, I already had a fascination with Paris,
so when I saw he was a “French” hitchhiker
I was more than ready.

Or perhaps I needed to create a home
for my imagination—a Paris, a place
I could learn to leave of my own accord:

It is 1961.
My parents are moving again—from Denver
back to Chicago. My father calls it a vacation,
but within a week I realize we won’t be going back.
Once again I do not get to say goodbye to my friends.

(In the coming years
we will move through every neighborhood
where they once lived,
in search of their lost happiness.)

It is 1972.
I am young and in love
and leaving Paris for the first time.
Alicia and I kiss on the platform at Gare de Lyon.
The steam scarves a dream around us.

It is 1976.
I am finishing the grand odyssey of my young manhood.
It’s time to go home. (My mother is older now. Alone)
I lean out the train window at Gare du Nord.
My friends walk alongside for a few seconds.

It is 1984.
I have fallen in love,
but she does not love me.
We drive and drive through the hollow streets.
She pulls over along a wide stretch of dark still water.

It is 1987.
I get a call. My mom has had another heart failure.
I don’t want to leave Jan. I don’t want to go back.
“It’s time to come back,” says my friend George.

It is 1994.
Jan and Claire and I have lived in Paris
for two years now. I collect our security deposit,
then sneak a quick sidecar at Harry’s,
playing ghost of the fly on Hemingway’s wall
as a tanned and glitzy couple down the bar
booze and bitch about each other’s teen-age daughters.

But is it that simple?
During all these many years
I have recurring dreams of leaving Paris:

I have been in the city
months longer than I expected
and now I am leaving and I have not seen my friends.

Why have I not seen my friends?
Why have I not said goodbye?

I rush
down streets, along boulevards,
across intersections, under viaducts, up expressway ramps
in Paris
and in the many leavings of my childhood,

through rooms packed high with boxes
my parents have hastily packed as we are moving once again.

I have been back to Paris twice since ’94:

A friend my own age died there a few years ago.
This summer a friend’s daughter committed suicide.

(Are those leavings of another order
or are they tied to mine?)

In the dreams I race through the streets so I can never say goodbye.
But to whom? The boy and girl who lived next door?
(We swung brooms at bats darting through the summer twilight.)

Perhaps they
are my Paris,

as I am their unidentified face
in an old photo—

a
waft
of
wind

from 1959.

 

 

 

© 2002 M. J. Rychlewski
Photo: "Winter Chairs" ©1993 M.J.Rychlewski

M. J. Rychlewski is a poet and a playwright. His first volume of poetry, Night Driving, was published by the Wine Press in 1984. Over the years his work has appeared in many publications, including American Pen, Private Arts, and Conversation. His poem “An Early Work” recently placed in the Polyphony Press anthology The Thing About Second Chances Is.... A theater piece, My Atget, was performed at the VIA festival in Paris in 1994. His work will be appearing in upcoming issues of The Seattle Review and In Print. He lives and teaches in Chicago. He is pleased to contribute this poem to The Scream. He can be reached at mjrychlewski[AT]hotmail.com (replace [AT] with @).

For more of his work in TheScreamOnline, visit the Talent Index.

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