Charleville

Patrick McGuinness

It’s not why Rimbaud left that mystifies, though this new year
the Place Ducale sports ice rink, carousel, and a waffel-stand
from nearby Belgium. It’s why he kept returning. On ne part pas:
he answered it himself, ‘we never leave.’ After Harar,

he thought his home town was a desert by other means,
and everywhere he walked he walked on sand; sinking
and finding his footing were the same. The sober bateaux-
mouches grazed on absinthe-coloured algae while barges

slid through bilgewater with rooftile cargoes
of Ardennes ardoise: slates bound into sheaves,
books with blackboard pages and all the boats
were floating libraries and all the letters spelled azure

or, after rain, erasure, which soon became its synonym.
Now his name is on every shopfront, from the obvious –
Le Rimbaud bookshop or café-tabac – to the genuinely
promising: the Opticien Rimbaud who tests your eyes

with mirages and rights near-sightedness with prescription
telescopes. ‘Follow in his footsteps,’ the brochure promises,
each one a wingbeat on the air, the muscle of glass under water.
Heel-flash, frayed hem, butt-ends and sand in the turn-ups:

for a moment the boutique dummies are window-dressed
in louse-ridden jackets and half-mast trousers with pockets
flipped out like limp dicks. Le Look Rimbaud!
the violet rays of neon stage-whisper to oblivious night.