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A Nice Place on the RivieraAllen Curnow
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Vol. 23 No. 4 · 22 February 2001
Poem

A Nice Place on the Riviera

Allen Curnow

581 words

The last act is bloody, however fine the rest of the play. They throw earth over your head and it is finished for ever.

Pascal, Pensées

1
Refuge in San
Remo won’t work
out. Local health
officialdom rules
La signora è
malata. Not
welcome this side
of the frontier.
France is not far:
why don’t I try
cousin Connie
Beauchamp? Nice place
they say they’ve got
in Menton. She
and inseparable
Jinnie Fullerton.
This horrible cough!
Kind souls. Perhaps
their prayers will work
with a few more Hail
Marys thrown in.
Connie or Jinnie
(never mind which)
murmured ‘The Lord
has delivered you
into our hands.’

2
‘No personal God
or any such
nonsense’ – Katherine
Mansfield Beauchamp
to Murry, spouse,
from Villa Isola
Bella, Menton,
18 October –
being much the age
Blaise Pascal was
(three centuries
back) to whom God
personally did
appear that day
‘from about ten
thirty p.m.
till past midnight’.
Sick too. And wrote
‘Fire’, ‘Jesus’, ‘God’
(ten times over) and
much more. They found
the parchment stitched
into his clothes
when they stripped him for
burial. Not known
like her, at this
address.

3
And there’s
his Pensées, where
I left the book,
this rickety desk,
the Villa’s one
spare room, kept up
in her name. Here
the annual New
Zealander sweats
brief tenure out,
memorialising
her genius. I
brought profound Blaise
along, whose death-
mask eyeballs me
glazedly, from
the paperback’s
cover, with eyes
they plucked (I learn)
out of his painted
portrait and poked
them in here
and they look it.

4
Spring equinox:
lemon trees drenched
one minute, next
blast of the same
black sirocco
blow-dries bright green
under the shuttered
villa windows. Miss
Fullerton rose
from the escritoire,
having inscribed
her gift, the book,
from Jinnie, to
Katie, Saint
Joseph’s day, nine-
teen twenty, The
Imitation of
Christ (Thomas à
Kempis), in soft
red morocco,
title in gilt …
One Turkey rug’s
length separates
the two. The bonne
brings coffee, liqueur.
That rabid wind
bangs shutters, dis-
colours the sea,
dishevels the world
outdoors. Beside
the demi-tasses
the Abdullahs in
their silver box,
the Imitation
waits to be read …
The climate here’s
her only hope,
some doctor said.
Always a chance.

5
Your call, says Blaise.
Heads, there’s God;
tails, none. The coin
infinitely far
away spins itself
asleep, a still
spherical blur –
slowing, splits down
meridians, falls
over, face down,
face up. Your call.
God knows the odds
incalculably. Tell
me, what your plans
are, for retirement.

6
Pieces of his mind
by the thousand,
jottings on jumbo-
size sheets. Pierced
for threading string.
Tied in liasses.
Too sick, or just
ran out of time
sorting the huge
heap. Such heads as
PROOFS OF JESUS,
NATURE CORRUPT,
SO ARE WE ALL,
CAUSES, EFFECTS …

7
Imitation – big
ask – of the life
he lived, the death
he died – if that
doesn’t make two
of us, there’s one
Christ lookalike
more than we knew.

8
Top-heavy Alpes
Maritimes grind
the sky small. Fast
forward, to autumn.
One of those two
women, who could
be seen watchfully
to cross the rail
tracks where they start
threading the rock
through to Liguria
halts, chestily coughs
in her handkerchief:
but has finished
writing her last
storybook; by now
consumption’s two
years’ gallop away
from Gurdjieff’s
Institute, that
fatal torrential
haemorrhage, at
Fontainebleau,
stumbling upstairs.

9
Fast forward again.
Top-heavy Alpes
Maritimes grind
the sky small. One
more dull day scraped
off a slaty sea.

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