I wrote this after visiting the famous cemetery in Paris. I visited a few cemeteries in France (the Père Lachaise was another one) to see the graves of some people I admired, although the solemnity was undercut somewhat by being handed a map and feeling like I was at a theme park. Of course that’s a consequence of people like me wanting to visit graves. I don’t really have the desire to do that anymore like I did back then.
I didn’t learn until afterwards that Baudelaire had an cenotaph a little ways from his actual headstone and resting place. That’s what the picture is of. I should’ve paid closer attention to the map..
It’s a rite of passage for any young writer
to visit the grave of his hero, pay his respects
and, consciously or not, certainly agonistic,
pry the baton away for himself with
a sentimental piece that won’t see
the light of day, and, whether or not
it was sunny, say the weather was gray.
That day it really was gray. Except it was summer.
The trees were full. Stone warm to the touch.
His grave wasn’t easy to find—I mean without
the map they give you. Then it’s a scavenger hunt.
One man, prowling the grave of Sartre and Beauvoir,
fired the Canon round his neck, turned to his wife
and declared “Next.” It was getting close to lunch.
Finding it in the shadow of a taller mausoleum
I stopped, gathered my solemness but was
suddenly overtaken with wondering why his name
was sandwiched between that of his mother’s
and stepfather’s—really the stepfather’s grave—
I’d read somewhere he loathed the man—
Only forty-six? Was he only forty-six?
There’s the rite too of the stomach like a diving bell.
I hadn’t properly contemplated the importance
when a woman landed like a bird on a wire.
“Oh! Guardate,” she called out “questo è Baudelaire.”
Six vacationing Tuscans fell upon the site.
I placed a pebble, a gesture for all his work.
For mine he said, “Tant d’appas répugnants !