Donna Hilbert



TRAVELER IN PARADISE

The guidebook says: air redolent of herbs.
On the road from Arles to Aix,
Van Gogh to Cezanne,
they travel amid a cloud
of fragrant happiness.

At the patisserie in Aix
the baker packs their lunch in bags
white and crisp as his jacket.
The morning light is golden oil,
a sentimental vision,
but she thinks halo, anoint,
as light pours over the baker's wife
arranging croissants on a tray.
When he learns they're from Los Angeles,
the baker says, "Ah, Paradise."

Ah, paradise! Violence and smog.
Real estate and cell phones.
They lunch on baguettes and wine
in the shadow of Mont Sainte-Victoire
looking down at ochre roofs
among the blue-green poplars.
Their favorite travel story:
imagine not recognizing paradise.

He wants a swimming pool:
twenty by forty, perfect rectangle.

Sundays in the car,
real estate section of the Times
in her lap, traveling from suburb
to suburb until they find new houses
going up, lots big enough to dig
the pool lengthwise, leaving room
for a long green lawn for the boys to play on.

Pool finished, filled,
they float on their backs in antiseptic water.
He says, we need a dog.

She longs for a garden,
digs up the lawn to plant lavender, sage, fennel.
Rosemary only grows
in gardens of the righteous,
but she plants it anyway.
Bougainvillea on the back fence,
morning glory on the side,
native plants for luring butterflies,
cupped red flowers
hummingbirds will drink from.
The summer garden: basil, tomatoes.

Their neighbor to the rear dreams
of turrets and finials.
He tears down his old house
and chainsaws snags
where sparrow hawks nest.
With an army of workers,
he builds a stucco palace.

From the kitchen she watches a hummingbird
shimmer red, green, blue as it flies
into the window,
its neck a snapping twig against the glass.
In death, color drains.
The glitterer becomes another dun colored bird
falling to the ground.

She tells the story over dinner:
tomatoes layered with basil, fresh mozzarella,
all dappled with oil, vinegar—
the caprese they loved so in Florence.

He answers an ad in the Times under Poodle Rescue,
comes home with a black standard pup.
Their little boy, playing around the corner,
runs home when he sees a dog
in the car with his dad.
She's in the front yard with the other boys,
watches them approach, spill onto the lawn—
arms, legs, laughter, licking.

It's the lucid moment in dream;
the denouement of the mystery
with everyone gathered in the parlor.
She closes her eyes against seeing,
so painful is the light.