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  • Riffing on Paris
  • Janet Hamill (bio)
Where Night and Day Become One: The French Poems
Steve Dalachinsky
Great Weather for Media, LLC
226 Pages; Paper, $25.00

We have night and day because the Earth spins on its axis, slowly, all the time. From east to west it spins, from darkness to light. The diurnal cycle is a simple fact of life. To the astronomer, night and day become one during sunset and sunrise, twilight and dawn. A simple fact, ne'est pas? But to the poet, twilight may be beads parting the entrance to a subterranean café, dawn an alley littered with fragments of a broken bottle of vin rouge. The wonder exists in a preternatural country, a city of soul. For the author of Where Night and Day Become One: The French Poems, the merging of these "simple" phenomena is

billie holiday singing           Night and Dayin a bar on rue de rivoli      the sky so dark night & day areindistinguishable

or "the spanish dancer," who

is only the encore of a dreama life spelled backwarda change of address

a point on the map growing distant & fainta painting locked behind my eyesa splash of stars upon my faceas she enters my cave & sits down

In his new collection, Steve Dalachinsky riffs on Paris, Versailles, Giverny, Toulouse, Bordeaux, Chartres, Brittany, Normandy, Marseille, and Aix en Provence, but mainly he riffs on Paris―sewers, clouds, museums, hotels, cafés, dead poets, painters, cemeteries and le metro interlacing waves of darkness and light:

         it is MUSIQUE it all isMUSIQUE all MUSIQUE.

Dalachinsky's compositions, written as homages to his ever-faithful muse―la capitale infâme―let the alphabet improvise off cords and out of thin air. Poems zig and zag across the page, gather in suites, create monoliths, and stretch their limbs in prose. Starting with or without a melody in the dark, smoky jazz club of his mind, Paris opens, classically and free.

In the marvelous city of graves, to which Dalachinsky returns and returns, he spends a lot of time

playing        with the dead likeplaying        with the dead likelistening to the dead likelooking at the dead & watching the dead        & seeing the dead

Gratefully! In Père Lachaise, with its sheer number of mildewed head stones and markers, he thanks his partner "for buying the map"―so crucial to the location of Richard Wright's interred ashes, where the poet places a paper flower before moving on to Proust, Molière, Fountaine, "oscar gone wild(e)," all day, Ernst, Modigliani, Delacroix, Morrison, and Chopin, "worshipping the dead & finding them alive with no regrets" (a veiled reference to Piaf, perhaps, at the end of the map, in the new section, showered with fresh flowers, the most beloved).

While riffing, mainly, on Paris, Dalachinksy side-trips, often humorous, to Giverny―

i travel to Givernyin order to blur the boundaries between urb & suburbtombstones and circuit breakers along the wayi travel to Giverny because she travels to Giverny& because this is one of her dreams& because we are so tired of each other& the city streets we've walked for hours everyday for weeks& because she cannot go by herself& because i cannot go by myselfi travel to Giverny on a train packet with touriststourists just like me

or the fantastic "Island of Gustave Moreau," as otherworldly and unhinged as Marlon Brando's cinematic Doctor. Here questions are asked and answered:

WHAT IS THE LAW?–not to walk on all fours–that is the LAWWHAT IS THE LAW?–not to eat meat-that is the LAW

From the "Gare de Lyon" and back again, Dalachinsky's Paris is a liminal place―neither real nor surreal, dreamed or conscious reverie, experienced or imagined, day or night. It's haunted by the lives and achievements of those who've gone before, personal memory, and happy, tired and reflective in the present. It's a vision, blown out of a jazz horn or vibrating on the strings of a standup bass―a murmuration of swallows over Montmartre and Montparnasse, divining...


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pp. 24-25
Launched on MUSE
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