Literary Hook: A poem for Valentine’s Day

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Paris, France, is a city for lovers. If you are lucky enough to go there with someone you love, the city’s charms sparkle even more brightly.

Perhaps you are “of a certain age” and can recall a time when it was actually possible to travel in Europe, even Paris, on $5 a day. When you are young enough to resist group tours and well-meaning tour guides, travel is an adventure, not a commodity. I miss those days.

In 1973, you could stay in a pensione that was clean and included a good French breakfast. You created your own experience, unique to you and your love, with memories that endure. The second time I visited Paris, in 1976, you could have such an experience for $20 a day. And this was in the summer, considered Europe’s high season.

Now, if you are willing to go to Paris in winter, and you act quickly when the deals come out online, you might get a four-day package for a great buy.

No matter what, Paris is the city for romance, and worth going—no matter what you have to pay!

Though this poem is set in 1973, I wrote it many years later, recalling my first time in Paris. It was first published in Chiron Review, edited by Michael Hathaway; then subsequently published in Who Walks Among the Trees with Charity, from Wind Publications—Charlie Hughes, editor. With gratitude to them…

Paris on $5 a Day x2, 1973

The thin Tunisian man served breakfast

at the pensione near Gare du Nord:

the heavy pitcher of black, rich coffee;

real cream, four croissants like angel wings;

slab of sweet, white butter;

petite tub of orange marmalade—

all atop white paper lace on an orange tray.

We ate on a slim balcony

between open shutters that day,

our first in Paris.

Of course

we were compelled to pack in

perennial tourist pleasures:

the Louvre, famous fountains

whose names we no longer recall,

a stroll to the Eiffel Tower, content

in our vow of poverty, to let others

ride the elevator with its steep fare

to the top, thanks.

We lit slender candles in Notre Dame,

sat on the Seine’s bank near a boat

with black sails.

Dinner was a late picnic

of red French table wine, fresh bread,

and the savory cheese we learned to love,

on a bench near the honeycomb dome

of Sacre Coeur. Afterwards, we walked

and walked down streets and alleys

of no significance except to us,

our bodies light and bristling

with the jet fuel of desire,

the electric hunger of the world

stretching out ahead.


we didn’t give a damn yet

about so many things,

because we didn’t have to,

we slept with the shutters open,

didn’t mind the smoky Parisian night

at all, most likely dreamed

of trains and strangers.

Christine Swanberg is a local author and poet who has written several books of poetry and formerly wrote a column called “The Writer’s Garret” for this newspaper.

From the Feb. 14-20, 2007, issue

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