An Elegy to Emmanuel

An Elegy to Emmanuel

Do you remember
I was five years old when we met
At L’Ecole des Belles Feuilles.
And I invited you, a small French boy
Home for Thursday lunch. And you so shy,
Had to be coaxed up the stairs
Step by step up that red carpet,
To the third floor at eleven
Rue Spontini; by the pastry shop,
Where later, after school we would buy
Yellow Caramba toffee sticks.

Do you remember
How we played for hours, building battleships.
From Lego. With triple rows of cannon,
We fought sea battles in my bedroom.
Or when, in your flat with the long corridor,
Grey walls and wooden floors, that you shared
With your mother and three brothers,
We giggled and panicked, as we spun off
Musical Chairs and I, dared to refuse
Your mum’s coffee cake, as we boys gathered
Around the table in La Rue de la Pompe.

Do you remember
Our holidays at La Noé Rocard;
Your grandparent’s little chateau by the Loire.
How we used to pick up wild strawberries
In the woods, and play in your grandad’s blue
Four-O-Four Peugeot in the barn, and chased
Each other round the garden hedges till lunch,
Where we scoffed mounds of haricots verts, piled
On white plates, and filled glasses with little hills
Of fresh fruit salad soaked in white wine, and
When finished, we ran out to play once more.

Do you remember
How back in Paris, our mothers grew close
On our friendship, so we had two mums and
I, two families with four new brothers.
How Versailles, Saint Cloud and Meluns, just names,
Came to us fresh; new playgrounds to explore
On croissant Sundays when time was promise.
How you used to sprint across the traffic,
Leaving me holding your mum’s hand, aghast.
At your daring in the Bois de Boulogne,
Where later, we ran through dusk’s dark embrace.

Do you remember
When my dear parents brought you ‘en cachette’,
To my Prep school on a summer’s Sports Day,
And my delight to see you sheepishly
Revealed from behind my parents’ back.
How we then ran on beds in empty dorms.
I so proud in my little grey uniform
Showing you round my English boarding school,
With its faded classrooms and wooden desks,
And the pavilion on the playing fields,
Pungent with cricket sweat and linseed oil.

Do you remember
That summer holiday in sixty-eight
When we found dirty pictures on the street,
And your friend, one vital year older, so
Proud to show us his first ejaculate.
How in Ajaccio we watched the moon
Landings, gathered around a tiny screen.
And later in the mountains, you locked me
In the outdoor loo for forty minutes,
And I, enraged, punched you hard in the face.
While you, fought back without inflicting pain.

Do you remember
When we met again, at fifteen,
We talked all night of girls and music, while
Listening to Doors’ Riders on the Storm
With your broken motorbike by your bed;
And when restored, I rode pillion,
Waist gripped, at eighty miles an hour
In the early promise of a June dawn,
Through sleeping boulevards and up narrow streets,
Passing the swish of street cleaning machines.
And scattering pigeons before our roar.

Do you remember
When I drove to Paris to see you
With Oxford friends, and you took us
To Jimmie’s, and we were amused to see
Rod Stewart with Britt on the dance floor.
You now so smart, polished in black tie,
At ease sipping champagne from cut glass,
A real Parisian Man About Town,
With your crowd of sophisticated young things,
And a diary full of young girls’ dreams,
But it was not to last, for a few months later…
Do you remember
That Oxford phone call, when in gentle tones
My father told me, over my mother’s
Kitchen tears, what had happened.
It’s strange how words can, instantly suck one
With such force, into an abyss so dark
That, phone in hand, I could hardly stand;
How your friend’s Alfa hit a tree sideways.
And you, in a three week coma in Limoges,
Without your oldest friends by your side,

Do you remember
The church in the Avenue Victor Hugo,
Packed with elegant suits and summer hats
As if for a wedding; and then the shock
Of seeing you boxed in that green casket,
Shouldered and gently carried up the aisle
To Albinoni’s Adagio in C minor.
But proud that you had eight hundred mourners.
And I, with your two girlfriends draped on my arms,
Relieved that I didn’t break at my Reading.

Do you remember
How later at La Noé, we laughed till
We cried, at hitting a poor little rabbit
On the way to the church, where alone, you
Rested in candlelight before your burial.
How the next day the pallbearers struggled
To lift you into the mortuary.
And I too, was buried in cold pressed stone
That day; for long months after, my body
Spoke of the ulcerating pestilence
Of shock, and even the sun wore a veil.

Do you remember
How for all these years since, you lightly stepped
Into my dreams; and I, convinced that you
Had never died, but were hiding somewhere,
Dreamt to show you alive and well to all,
To celebrate your return unharmed,
A happy Prodigal Son.
But you never reappeared.
So this is for you, dear Emmanuel,
Always to be young and twenty-one.

From Here I stand published in 2015