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Callaloo 24.4 (2001) 1110-1111

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A Mountain Village In Southern France

Clarence Major

Snow on a line of flat rooftops beneath a sky of driven clouds.
It's warm for winter. In fact, it feels like summer.
Below on a cobbled narrow passageway,
an old woman in a heavy black coat
shuffles along carrying a bread basket.
From somewhere within the stone walls
a young woman cries out, but not in pain. It's early.
A hundred years ago another old woman
shuffled along toward the same bakery with a different name,
located in the same street with the same name.
Just like this old woman she was neighborly and merciful,
crotchety and cursed,
petty and paradoxical,
ailing though active.
It was this early in the morning
on a morning like this.
She walked past the same dark entryways,
the same locked gateways,
past the same skinny dog
sniffing piss-stained cobbles,
past the same columns and empty scaffolding.
She passed beneath the same three verandas in a row.
She walked by the churchyard,
with its whitewashed stones lining the walkway,
and past the lich gate.
She shuffled on across the cour and under the archway.
Both old women walked at the same pace and wore the same coat.
They carried the same straw basket, except
the earlier basket had a nice little hinged top and a cast iron latch.
A slight breeze blew in
from the nearby sea just like this morning.
It came in across a sea of wheat trembling at sunrise,
and the wheat blades glowed yellow-white
above blue shadows beneath each blade,
row after row, with nobody there to appreciate the glory. [End Page 1110]
Loneliness permeated that place as now
and the fields and the village.
The smell of Devil Trees in the meadow below the fields
rode high up through the old stone dwellings,
and on up farther
to the hills where hermits stayed hidden
like bugs beneath doormats in rainy weather.

Clarence Major is the author of several award-winning novels, including Such Was The Season, Painted Turtle: Woman With Guitar, Dirty Bird Blues and Reflex and Bone Structure, My Amputations, as well as stories collected in Fun & Games (1990), a new edition of poetry, Configurations: New and Selected Poems 1958-1998 (a finalist for the National Book Award in 1999), and Necessary Distance (2001). He has also edited a number of anthologies, including Calling The Wind: Twentieth Century African-American Short Stories (1993) and The Garden Thrives: Twentieth Century African-American Poetry (1996). He has received numerous awards, among them a National Council on the Arts Award (1970), a Fulbright (1981-1983) and two Pushcart prizes (1976/1990). He teaches at the University of California, Davis.