Matthew Paul was born in New Malden in 1966, and has spent 30 years working as an education officer for local authorities in south-west London. Matthew’s collection, The Evening Entertainment, was published by Eyewear Publishing in 2017. He is also the author of two collections of haiku – The Regulars (2006) and The Lammas Lands (2015) – and co-writer/editor (with John Barlow) of Wing Beats: British Birds in Haiku (2008), all published by Snapshot Press. He was co-editor of Presence haiku journal, and has contributed to the Guardian’s ‘Country Diary’ column.
One can always tell from the light, naturellement:
at the street’s far end, the Mediterranean flares
its blue along the shoreline to the docks. On low chairs
on the pavement, four women smoke; and for a moment
stop what they’re doing; not their actual day-to-day work,
because the Conseil would not permit it en plein air,
except, peut-être, during Carnaval, bien sûr,
among the dense, decorative evergreens of Parc
Borély after sundown. Quelle tendresse, quelle souplesse! —
with which they apply Normandy cider vinegar
and bitter cloves of garlic onto each other’s hair;
then comb and pull, comb and drag, like the tide; comb and wrest
spanking blood-black lice and skulking eggs. Wrapped in her gown,
Marcelle’s been sent out to say they’re having an early
lunch—of monkfish-liver soup—today, as the jolly
Old Port pompiers have block-booked the whole afternoon.
Madame won’t sanction short hair, not even Eton crops—
‘nos habitués ne l’aiment pas’. So the nits make hay
and the women scratch and scrape in sunlight every day;
but never eradicate the small boys from their scalps.
After a painting by Edward Burra, 1932
The Blue Coast Blues
The merriment that day was just as you remember:
at the sea-terrace windows, your knowing, debonair
parents, Stuart and Lisa Blatch, brandy and soda
in hand, and all your siblings, ranging widely in age.
Processions of incoming planes strobe the Baie des Anges.
Professor Longhair is blaring out. He’s all the rage.
The walls are deckchair-striped in Rococo pink and blue.
Outside, from the beach, someone photographs the tableau,
to be conjured into a jigsaw for you to do
when you furnish your own first home. You’re the eldest boy,
intent upon bathing. Turquoise combers froth away.
Gendarmes with kid-gloves boss the Promenade des Anglais.
The snow-capped massif parasols your features as you’re
snoozing at the beach. You let your sloshing dreams take their
course, through the sandy sediment of the night before.
Previously published in The Evening Entertainment, Eyewear Publishing, 2017.
Poetry in this post: © Matthew Paul
Published with the permission of Matthew Paul