Enemy, December 2019

For Caroline

No mid-winter sunlight plumbs it, this jumble-roofed
down-shaft, this multi-storeyed canyon that step-
slopes from the ruined citadel into the narrows
of the Vieille Ville. A pigeon wing-claps into flight
and threads the shuttered airway over our heads.

Nearing Place Rosseti, we stop at a corner
whose masonry is fine-hewn, rectilinear but for
the groove that bevels the building’s edge and peaks
at eye-level, proffering in carved relief a hand-sized
cross, smudged dark against stony pallor.

From side-street shadow a man approaches,
reaches in front of us to touch the cross,
then retreats the way he came. ‘Rue du Jesus,’
the street name reads, still, centuries since the Jesuits
were banished from this quarter. Soldiers

with assault rifles pass us to patrol wider streets
where the ranks of bollards will not be steel enough
to save pedestrians. On the Promenade des Anglais,
two small Christmas trees, decked with tender
memorials, mark the path of the Bastille Day massacre.

After nightfall, from our restaurant table, we notice
the elderly figure sitting on pavement close opposite.
Street-lit, intent on the book she reads, she lets
the cap at her feet make her appeal. Few passersby
to see her there. I go to her with our offering,

and say it is from two sisters visiting this city
on a journey of return. ‘I came here in my youth,’
she smiles, ‘and the Vieille Ville became my home.’
So light she is, as if she were of the air a wingbeat
over the enemy infiltrating unrecognised . . . permitted.

Andrea Ward