Paris Poems: 270 / 500

0293 Black, White, Gray, Color

Rating: 3.4

Black and white are the magic of the drama
in the world of film;
gray, the poetry –
silver-gray of Paris; sunshine gray;
dark tragic gray of lovers’ partings
on the symbolic bridge, while the Seine
flows inexorably, darkly past like life and love;

who needs Casablanca in full color?

But there’s another gray –
the gray of exhaustion.
In 1945, a trip to London was a trip
to another race, of gray to unhealthy white
exhausted survivors, of the bombs
and doodlebugs and rockets,
of dead husbands, wives, sons or daughters,
broken marriages; bomb-shelter life drained of all emotion,
and almost too tired to welcome peace;
gray as the soot-encrusted buildings,
of smoke and London fog;
and Eliot’s ‘Waste Land’ which we had read
before 1939 as a vision of the new poetry
was now in 1945 a vision in the mirror
of what we were, of how it was; the truth of life.

Paper – so dangerously brought across the sea in war
from Canada, in ships sharked by U-boats,
bombs, torpedoes, was reserved for
the War Effort – propaganda, booklets
portraying the British countryside, the villages, we were fighting for;
and the occasional Penguin book on brownish paper,
of the dazzling white and crisp black contours
of the Modern Architecture
in which we all, we happy all would live – this earth,
this realm, this England, this jewel set
in a silver sea, this demi-paradise...
Corbusier would house us in the sky,
reclining in our Breuer chairs,
Gropius would cosset us,
our outhouse would be Bauhaus.. in
a paradise of black and white and gray
as they and we should be

and then, as we continued to snip
our ration books, ‘restrictions were lifted’ on some things,
and from America, that magic land, where
possibility had not died, one could order through the post
the lavish world of the colour magazine; and such things as
‘American Home’ came like a rainbow zapping
through the letter-box –
like some art film, black and white and poetic gray which
suddenly printed in full Technicolor:
California sunned itself by long, low walls,
fierce cacti tamed in terracotta pots;
New England sparkled, spick and span,
white picket fences in the sunshine,
The Flag on every trim front lawn,
and at the door, She wall-to-walled her smile
which matched her frilled red-white gingham apron
and the 2.2 children looking up at her adoringly,
young Dad with his pipe in the background;
inside, the blue-white gingham table-cloth
and blue-white crockery zinged against
the buttercup yellow wall; the bright blue red green yellow
painted (do it yourself) or stencilled
Pennsylvania Dutch chairs and cupboards said,
life is good, listen to the
Hoagy Carmichael, Benny Goodman, Johnny Mercer
in the background, life is buoyant, look at all the colours,
optimism runs from every tap, it’s in the air,
we’ll think of a new word for it all – upbeat…

and the blood began to flow in our gray, exhausted cheeks:
there must be hope, for Over There, Over There,
yes, the Yanks were showing us, there was a magic land,
and it was here and now; Somewhere over The Rainbow
had arrived; Deanna Durbin sang, Nat crooned; there was, after all,
Something Worth Fighting For..

It’s a moment in history some forget,
some will never know, some few remember,
the moments of the heart which escape
the compressions of the history books,
the moral fables of a hopedry world; but
live undaunted in the memory
in full, glorious color,
the moments of the heart.

kskdnj sajn 24 February 2006

A very respectable poem Michael. This was indeed a pleasure to read, and yes.. an important keepsake I'm sure for many. Truly, Angie

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Raynette Eitel 24 February 2006

Michael, this poem really ought to be published in the history books so our children and grandchildren can see the drab colors of the war and what hope the U.S. brought to our allies in Great Britain. 'Historical conclusions' have been written and re-written but within your wonderful poem is the drab color of war and fear against the rainbow of hope. This is beautifully done. I am bookmarking it and printing it out to show my family and friends. Thank you for this lovely rendering of a sorrowful time for you. Raynette

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... ... 24 February 2006

you seem to rally against historical conclusions in an attempt to arrive at a more sentimental or universal conclusion. the sense of the poem is similar to that in the early poems of ted hughes' birthday letters when sylvia plath enters his life in britain, the sense of american activity and colour, that was in 1955 and the stench of the war and disrepair hadn't left. the two world wars economically and physically drained us, killed our empire. america picked up the pieces. you portray this shift as moving from black and white to colour. maybe you are fortunate in a perverse way for your life to have spanned the period it has in history, for you have witnessed two separate ages, and there must be a wisdom of sorts in that.

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Cj Heck 24 February 2006

Excellent poem, Michael - will we, as a universal society, ever learn? Again, excellent. Many hugs, CJ

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