Peter Hughes: Berlioz


Part 3


so gifted so
what is that
it's not just
Camille though
there's Mme Moke
moanin' mini
the mother
whose forearms
are forewarned


she wants to
know exactly how
her baguette
will be buttered

sister Nanci
what you said
about our
fortune being
founded only
on our talents
worried her a lot

straightening doilies
till they tear


Camille Camille
I love the dark
hair of her
looking through
her blue sky eyes
at who the
hell am I
         when she told me
she loved me
my ears blinked
& stuttered


I just had to win
the Institute prize
for money status
& the gong
I resisted
each temptation
to compose
a Berlioz

I gave them
what they wanted
as the sounds
& vibrations of
revolution turned
streets & facades
to intimate whispers
my redeeming
percussion &
Promised Land
Camille & sound


for three glorious days
the people were sublime

I even heard them singing
Berlioz in the street
                      my War Song

I went to join in
without letting on
& over ambitiously
tried to right the tempo
as the crowd grew
& the times changed

we could hardly move

three National Guardsman
kept audience & choir apart
& even passed around
their caps in a whip-round
for those injured
in the uprising

people coughed up
as much for the absurdity
as for the victims

we reversed like dogs
guided by sheep

& backed into the
Galerie Colbert
hemmed in & squeezed
to sing again
from the upstairs window
of a haberdasher's shop

what else but the Marseillaise?


everyone stood nicely
shut up & listened

as we held forth
like the bloody Pope

circumambient silence
verse after verse after verse

until I shouted SING

& damn me if they
didn't all start singing
in that confined space

a perfect performance
unscripted & refined

full of ragged passion
like the voice of France

for a moment I passed
out on that wave

I won the Prix de Rome
& scuttled around
the Institute with the biggest
hair in Europe


when the Symphonie fantastique
was performed even moaning
Mini Moke was impressed

we are to marry
Camille & I
when I return from Rome

in the morning
I leave for the south

my parents' house
& then the Alps

I have the Prix de Rome
& thus am exiled for months

away from the sites of my art
& heart

it's not the right time
it goes without saying
there is no such thing


I couldn't face the mid-winter Alps
so I headed for the port of Marseilles

I've seen cosier graveyards
in the rankest armpits of Paris

than the stinking sties that bobbed there
moored inside the biggest piss-pot in the world

after days steering clear of the worst
wrecks stenches & villains I bumped into

some simpatici Italians bound for
Livorno on a Sardinian brig

we had to feed    & fend for  ourselves
throughout the 4 day journey

so we stocked up for a week
& eased out onto the glittering sea

the Mediterranean miracle
& lunch in the salt & vinegar air

mixing Italian accents with French wine
our stories & songs became richer
strangers by the hour


in fact all the other passengers
were Italian

one claimed
to have captained
Byron's boat
down the coast of Italy
to Greece

I loved his
descriptions of gold-braid
alcohol & orgies
too much to demur

seven years now
since the great man died
it feels like none


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