1071: Ode to the Idea of France by Dan Alter

20240311 SD

1071: Ode to the Idea of France by Dan Alter


I’m Major Jackson and this is The Slowdown.

At parties, I jokingly discuss with friends about collectively purchasing property, maybe even a castle. I want us to live out our days together, to communally enact our shared values. They… are not convinced. I romanticize social utopias, especially those that, guided by equity and love, espouse alternative ways of coexisting with each other and the land. When I dream in this way, I let my inner socialist fly. Honestly though, I am thinking up ways to overcome a fixed income in retirement.

My older friend Rita called me out on my misguided idealism. I told her I was born in the wrong decade, that the radical values of yesterday, peace and love and freedom, should be renewed in our time. She told me that I had watched too many movies about the sixties. In her youth, Rita joined an intentional community in Oregon. She corrected my quaint notions by citing all the nights she went to bed overworked, all the petty dramas by people who, ultimately, were fallible human beings. Utopia is hard work.

Like the speaker in today’s poem, I am drawn to utopias as a response to life’s complex problems, even if temporarily a convenient mental escape.

Ode to the Idea of France
by Dan Alter

Because life is too filled with failures, shins
banged, shoes that no sooner 
home from the store don’t fit, 
once more in the doorway turning
back but the words, only magnets
drawing metal fury. I have hidden
and hidden my hopes, slipped free
of their knots ragging my skin until I am
my own Houdini, escaping the handcuffs
and glass-walled water-closet 
of my self. My first car, for instance,
was an ancient Ford Falcon van with no seats
in back, just carpet, bought from a lady 
in a parking lot to bus my friends 
every weekend to the beach, which we did,
more or less, once. And my friends
who had held to each other like the inflated 
raft after a plane crash, floated off. So 
let there be France! not the one we can visit, 
with universal healthcare and five weeks 
off every year, saturated with museum
tickets, baguettes and stinky cheese
next to the Seine sun down; nor the one
that with gusto packed its Jews onto trains
for the solution to the east, nor France
of the banned hijab, car burnings
spreading from rage in the suburbs;
                                                      but a someday France
across the unsullied water where the Paris commune
sheds its light into history, where the evening
mist is tender on country fields, and pizzicato
continues an orchestra into the gentle
summer dark. A France of sensible little cars
but still enough headroom, of movies 
about people like us stumbling 
back toward happiness, France 
of bison in ochre motion on cave walls
at the end of the last ice age, where I can drop
the recent centuries to the floor like my shirt,
can undo the zip ties of our suffering
and make up right then.
                                                    This is not, I know, convincing.
The Antarctic ice-sheets really are
dissolving. Oh my friends, demoralized,
medicated and spread everywhere like margarine,
like you, I do not know what to do.

“Ode to the Idea of France” by Dan Alter from MY LITTLE BOOK OF EXILES, © 2022, Dan Alter. Used by permission of Maida Vale.