The Smell of French Books

The smell of French books is particular. It is the bloom
of favorite shoes and pillows plump
with nursing, bells
of etched glass and cream yellowing in the belly of a spoon.

The smell of French books is one candle and three cold
canvases in a crumbling room in Picardy and meadows
beyond the rusting
crucifix, pinking with puberty and wooing the mooing cows.

There is a Livre de Poche beside the bed. I refresh myself
with Pierre Bonnard’s busy virgin in her emerald bath,
then struggle through four more pages.
Little accents fly off like perfumed arrows. From dialogue
I guess the plot and meaning of the story--
as I do in life.

I remember so little grammar, my ceremony of French books
will never change.
It is the lick, lick, lick of a chocolate clock, and I am asleep
before the chiming.

The Smell of French Books [#8]
© 2000 Fammerée

* * * * *

Richard Fammerée

* * * * *

“The Smell of French Books ” appears in Lessons of Water & Thirst,
a book of poems by Richard Fammerée.

* * * * *

To experience a performance of The Smell of French Books
please visit:
and listen to selections #8.

* * * * *


Livres Français (Français)

L'odeur des livres Français est particulière. Est-ce la senteur
des chaussures favorites et l'oreiller potelé
par l'allaitement, la cloche
d'un verre travaillé et la crême jaunissante
dans le ventre de la cuillère.

L'odeur des livres Français est une bougie et trois toiles
refroidies dans une chambre désolée en Picardie
et des prés pubères au-delà du crucifix rouillant, rosissant
en courtisant les vaches meuglantes.

Il y a un livre de poche près du lit. Je me rafraîchis
avec la Vièrge de Bonnard occupée dans son bain émeraude,
puis me débats tout au long de quatre pages encore.
Les petits accents s'envolent comme des flèches parfumées.
Du dialogue je devine la trame et la signification de l'histoire--
comme je le fais dans la vie.

Je me rappelle si peu de grammaire, ma cérémonie
avec les livres Français ne changera jamais.

Je lèche, lèche, lèche l'horloge en chocolat, et m'endors
avant la sonnerie.

The Smell of French Books [#8]
© 2000 Fammerée

* * * * *

Richard Fammerée

* * * * *

“The Smell of French Books ” appears in Lessons of Water & Thirst,
a book of poems by Richard Fammerée.

* * * * *

To experience a performance of The Smell of French Books
please visit:
and listen to selections #8.

* * * * *



In a latter myth of Hyperboreans I became
sculptor and traded everything one
candle could ascertain for a hoof
of marble to form your foot
hesitating upon its twin

You selected anklets and I became poet
to entice the oil and wick of each toe, suddenly
the candelabra, first and last

No longer distracted by gods, their chronicles, the
exegeses (each morning is the same
first miracle), I know

you are all three:

the river of a tree
the delirium of a rose
the maternity of a cloud

and these:

the flame of a fawn
the modesty of truth
the shy blue of a moth, me

wandering Crete and Lydia in search of any

Shy [#7]
© 2009 Fammerée

* * * * *

Richard Fammerée

* * * * *


February - October

She is the woman and ghost of the girl
who pretended in this solitary barn, who gazed
through these slats in the back where I now
sleep. Each restless, standing stalk is the shiver
of her, and the wind is an aunt on her
mother’s side, the one who lost her
husband to light between clouds.

Her body is hillocks, pond and spring, long
planted and greener before. Her spine is
the trysting tree from the time of the
grandparents. It is where they meet
and court. Birds turn and return. Her girls
come back. The wind sails their hair
in three directions: light, silk, conifer.

Before sleep one night she read my spine:
Roots above are as roots below.
We are the same.
I root in your body where our dead wait to be planted.
We pray upside down and right side up like a tree.

We made paths as deer. We crossed hills of lone
apple trees where she remembered orchards.
Thorns were still angry, she was still angry,
and the inland sea swollen.

"All vessels are fragile," she surprised me. "Still, a soul
sails on. There is no night or day or death."

And when two signal, I did not say aloud, from
whatever distance, no end of the world or world
between can prevent them.

The moon became a milky wafer melting in cocoa.
How gentle, how unexpected.

A man and woman eclipsed like that alone
upon a strand, all humanity, all history awaited
our decision.

I told her, "We’ll always be together, but like ghosts,
like this." My hands demonstrated an empty
vessel, a frail cup which would hold nothing
for long.

And, then, of course, the moon was gone.

When she left, as I knew she would [though
I had predicted to Peter that she never would--
after dressing each sad window with lace (a gift
from her French mother) and the raw ceiling
with a lamp (hung by her Welsh father); after
the feverish night she had lain beside me and
sat beside me as I writhed] I was surprised
at my grief and the tears--foreign things, foreign
as time--falling upon my hands.

February - October [#6]
© 2008 Fammerée

* * * * *

Richard Fammerée

* * * * *



Above the vindicating sea, rising whitely
from the kitchen’s cold-handled blessing, her pale

cardigan flaps its green gathering
to every field

her husband remembers, forking windrows of wheat
into dry, neat breasts.
He is ancestor and self in that dust-driven moment
his red face meets
the rude wind.

Alice blue school blouses slapping
at clouds and the church
is white and the water surrounding
the forbidden

tarnishes; her skin is forgiving where the water is
silver and the ruin black as a mask
and unapproachable.

Above the weaving of their hair a branch is trembled
for a berry

as the wind would in the blond, open

Where is the end room shuttered with indigo

From this throne of vernal conceit, milk cold
and bloated, bearing the fallen
spears of pine,
spines upon spines sprite green up above
the rust and mossy stream and insect

Dear Mary, soon-to-be-forsaken, Protestant-fingered
wife, provider for the children, proceeds
from the yellow door
of the new kitchen to the tiled hall. Her blind Jack Russell,
sausage pampered, rodent wristed, bounces widely
at a sensation of sullen sunlight among the fuscia, spins
with the grin and abandon of the closely protected.

The green-glassed porch remains narrowly open--
but only to Jack.

A fire is lit in the television room.
Down the long hall, bending to the convalescent
slope of the piebald
hill, she sweeps out each stale
fire, sending anemic wisps into a wind
frantic for the sea.

Leam of light draw near

the writhing in their salmon bodies
at the cloven

rock, lichened and forever keening, steaming,
kneeling, beaded wet and aubergine; screens of golden
leaf set glowing

the wooly sheep pounding nowhere
up the clover.
That last light steels

the partitioned windows of Johnny Byrne’s
Coach & Four and the contiguous stone chapel
up to its cloistered window and the priest’s
residence where Father Mahon once slept
for two weeks without a mattress, for he
was a just man, a generous man--not like this new
cleric, trained in England.
-God help us. Imagine a theatrical society in Cullenglen.
-As if we hadn’t enough nonsense--and especially with
the youth now--
-Well, one can see why the church is having her difficulties.
It all started with that Vatican II.
-I suppose he’ll next be wanting to do away with the Blessed
Sacrament itself--
-God help us.

Dissembler, cast a furtive stance this side of the glass
in the hollow
bellied banqueting room: the powder of ash breaking
upon the grating, the brown bindings
and green bindings of the mildewing authors, the long,

low-handled swords
impaled upon the papered wall, the palest and finest
portrait of Catherine O’Reilly--Do you
take this fair Aisling--I do, I do--
as the light moves,
abandoning her again to the contemplative
twilight of 1914.

Cygnets amplify the sable and viridian,
insignia of faith, for the fading
shall not be forgotten, not here. This night
they awaken to the ripple of Niamh’s

mirror. Here is the bright field
of their gathering, and the shrill
of the silence is the sound of their chorus,
the memory of an intonation, the little whistles

and green stories, the prayers we repeat
in the gethsemane of our hearts.

Twin cygnets, darlings of the water darkling,
what do you know beyond the reflection

of the low stone bridge--

Eulogia [#5]
© 2000 Fammerée

* * * * *

“Eulogia” appears in Lessons of Water & Thirst,
a book of poems by Richard Fammerée.

* * * * *

Richard Fammerée

* * * * *



In Evora there is a church
and the church was once a mosque
and the mosque was once a church
and the church was once a temple
in the time of the Romans

Behind the altar there is a false tomb
and beneath a Christian name there are thousands of years
of roots writhing through stone
and water echoes up vertebrae which must have been steps
and its light is the juice of emeralds

Now, consider the well that is my throat
and the pool that is my chest

What does one do when a well has been capped
for so many generations?
Is water safe in the stomach?

How did I become addicted to a self-imposed periphery,
its tithes, its prick and its poison?
Can all of this be unlearned in one generation,
one season, one summer?

My grandfathers and grandmothers
and their grandparents meet for the first time in me
I carry them to familiar places
I am their hands, their thighs, their nose,
their eyes, their lips, their teeth, their tongue

How did I become addicted to a self-imposed periphery,
its tithes, its prick and its poison?
Can all of this be unlearned in one generation,
one season, one summer?

I am the voice and the body now
and all that is closed will be opened
and all that hurts will be repaired
and all that sleeps without dreaming will be green again

In Evora there is a church
Inside the church there is a tomb
and inside the tomb there is a cistern
Inside the cistern there is water
and it’s light is the juice of emeralds

Evora [#4]
© 2000 Fammerée

* * * * *

“Evora” appears in Lessons of Water & Thirst,
a book of poems by Richard Fammerée.

* * * * *

Richard Fammerée

* * * * *

To experience the live performance of Evora
with music composed by the artist, please visit:
and listen to selection #1.

* * * * *

Photograph by Susan Aurinko

* * * * *

Notes From Above Ground

Ute's bed and flower beds are white.
Strawberries nipple in rows.
I drop one into my drink and it bobs
between ice. The heel of the glass marks
a full circle.

Blossom rings and prettier things painted
onto wood chalk the tongues
of my fingers.
A smudge has dried into a skin
of varnish; and a boar awaits orders.
His tusks are up and his eyes do not blink.
His hair is needles. I can't imagine anyone
having eaten his body.
- Where did you find him?
- He found me. She, too. Most of a Mother
of God is lost. Her left side is gone and
her mouth may as well have been carved
from butter or snow. She survived. The time
of the burnings.
She is almost a branch again.

A barrel is pissing upon nasturtiums.

When the sun is most carcinogenic, black

and brown bees fatten on fleshy flowers
as they do every year, as they did
in August, 1942, while my mother, who was
eleven years old in Milwaukee
and twenty years old in Auschwitz,
began to die in both places.

- Do you enjoy my garden?
- It reminds me of a Tarot reading.
- I like random. As one would find in more
primitive places--a little bit like we had in
Ute's toe nails sparkle, but she is not
as tête-à-tête as she had been in Morocco.
Half the sky is smoke
from Nadia's cigarette. Ash sticks to her
cropped copper hair. She is the scent
of our siesta, not the Mosel
nor the vineyards. We sip
Liebfraumilch, and I must witness her

- Why is this? My daughter will not listen
to the voice of her illness. She kicks at it and kicks
at it and kicks at it--

I am a house guest. How should I know?
Perhaps, she was a guard once.

Perhaps, she was the guard
who shaved my mother's head and crippled
her right leg.

Notes From Above Ground [#60]
© 1998 Fammerée

* * * * *

Richard Fammerée

* * * * *


Thump, thump, thump went Dorothea's
head. She burned with the authority of
a constellation of candles, and then she
didn't. Most people who claim spiritual
powers have thick skin and big bones. She
hadn't. I brushed her fingers surreptitiously
with an insufficient blessing of my beard.

A petty officer offered something and
cigarettes to her wardens. They licked and bit
and exhaled smoke. Our eyes followed their
swallowing. Dorothea waited at the end of
a rope.

"Mmm. . . mmm, . . ." said the Dürer
Madonna, a type who would bear one child
from a disappointing marriage. "Mmm. . .
mmm, . . ." said the other, engineered for
many children from any man.

Both were the color the sun makes on pale

If the willowy one was a deer, the sneering
officer was the wolf for whom she yearned.
It must be in the blood, this taste for tearing
apart and being torn apart.

They recognize no distinction between sow
and jew, and this allows them to milk, beat, bleed
and feed upon every sinew
, I spat and spat
quickly, and gunners from the tower fell.
But two übermen rose up and dragged
Dorothea the length of the wooden buildings
as if it were Christmas afternoon. They ran
and ran and their new sled became
very red.

Six years later, while walking HaYarakon
Street in Tel Aviv, alternately calculating
and praying (as is my way), I was born in
Oak Park, Illinois. This was a clever selection,
modeled, of course, after Hemingway.

Dorothy's primary concern, as she nursed
me in a bedroom of a bungalow, was our
anonymity. Shades were drawn religiously;
one lamp lit the bed red; and lint, busy
as ancestors in a corner of heaven, instructed
me, You are as we were. Her parents, her sisters,
herself as a child hid among silks. Prayers
clung as kisses, but no one has survived.

Her face alternates between a smile and tears
as it did when we were chosen;
but I write, This story must end here, with this
telling, upon the winter of this page.

Why should you always be among strangers?
she overrides my expostulations as she did
when I was her child.

When I died last year in Haifa,
Dorothea greeted me upon the low stone
bridge beyond the forest of our village where
her fingers were always cold.

Unterwelt [#59]
© 1998 Fammerée

* * * * *

Richard Fammerée

* * * * *


Keeper of the Blindly Glowing

From this rib of leaf I release the girl
from Rainy Lake, ringing again my skinny
Bedouin body with the nest of her
sleeves. She was more lilac than the sky, and I
was braver than any boy
in corduroy. My fist pressed each
victory to the ring of her
pink finger. We squashed every terrible
tributary, avoided depressions
with great steps, subdued the rank and silver
finned corridor; and I, tall
as her bluest button, was keeper of the blindly
glowing hair.

She told me that birds are souls
visiting. We were crossing this street.
Vehicles stopped. Their urgency made me
My left hand held her left elbow; my right
hand held her right.
Can you imagine, she asked as if we were
dancing in France. You came from my body.
Her new hair nestled beneath the rampart
of my beard.

A dripping beneath leaves assures me
that wings are less of a burden for her
than arms.

Fingers cannot delay the exodus
of heaven. Faithful and unfaithful
disperse but I remain, keeper of the blindly

* For Dorothy Fammerée, my mother, departed December 29, 1990,
and frequently present. The first draft of this poem cradles within
her left arm within the earth.

Keeper of the Blindly Glowing [#3]
© 2008 Fammerée

* * * * *

Richard Fammerée

* * * * *