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A Poem for Emma

by Jean-Michel Calvez

translated by Don Webb

À la version originale

Jimi climbed over the wooden railing. Upon his perch he shivered and breathed deeply the calm night air. He thought of Emma, and he felt good. He took his pale green notebook and fountain pen out of his pocket. He looked to the right, then to the left. Not a cat’s whisker in sight.

With a gentle smile illuminated from within, he closed his eyes and boldly jumped into the night. He landed with a harsh jolt on the sidewalk of the alley below. Rubbing his thigh bruised by the fall, Jimi smiled at the moon, stood up, ruffled his wild hair, and sent a knowing wink at the overhanging walkway, twice his height above him.

Jimi opened his notebook, his face shining with a radiant smile.

Like a jack-in-the-box, a policeman emerged from the shadows and looked down at Jimi with a stern and haughty smile that pushed up the edges of his handlebar moustache. “Hey, you,” he roared brusquely. “Yes, you. What are you doing hiding in a dark corner?” Then he changed his mind: “Is that a good place and time for reading?”

“But I’m not reading, sir. I’m writing. I’m a writer, or poet, if you like. That’s my job.”

“Hm. I see. A poet, eh? Well, my job is to keep people moving along when they don’t have honest business here at this hour. You’re not going to tell me that our city sidewalks are a suitable place for writing, are you?”

As a matter of fact, that’s true, Jimi admitted to himself. But if he had to explain to the cop that he needed to jump or have a shock or a fall to open his memory and write a poem or the beginning of a chapter, he’d still be explaining it come daybreak.

Jimi had decided to buy a necklace for Emma. He had been madly in love with her ever since she gave him a present: a secret smile that no one but he had had the time to capture. And he would soon give her the most beautiful necklace, the golden one in the store window on the big avenue, the necklace with two crossed hands. Then she would love him and he would love her for life, as surely as no one could separate two clasped golden hands.

But the price of the necklace — it was staggering. At least ninety-nine poems, practically a novel, assuming that the bookseller, Mr. Kindermärchen, agreed to buy them all. He would need time, a lot of time.

That is why Jimi often jumped from the small streets that encircled the small town on the hillside. He was tired, his back and legs hurt, and his heart hurt, as well, from all those shocks. But with every jump, a poem or fantastic short story would emerge like hidden treasure from a shaken piggy-bank.

Jimi had discovered his gift the day when Ludwig accidentally bumped into him in Father Van Hobst’s garden. Sprawling on the wet ground among heads of crinkly lettuce covered with dew, he forgot Ludwig, his pain, and his surroundings and feverishly rummaged in his pockets — quick: a pencil !

And the greater the height from which he jumped, the more he was likely to hurt himself, and the more beautiful the poem became, and the more money he received from Mr. Kindermärchen. “Jimi, you’re terrific,” the bookseller had told him one day. “The publisher will be happy, and the readers will be falling all over themselves to get it. But you’re limping. What happened?”

Mr. Kindermärchen knew nothing of Jimi’s secret. Nobody, and especially not Emma, of course, knew anything about Jimi’s secret. To tell the truth, Emma barely knew Jimi and had never spoken to him. She had only smiled at him once, when she was a little tipsy, and had almost stepped on his leg before she saw him on the sidewalk. Jimi was dazzled for life. His fountain pen dropped to the pavement.

One day, Jimi had saved up almost enough money. He often paused before the store window and crinkled the banknotes he kept safe in his pocket, under his embroidered handkerchief. But he didn’t dare go see Emma or talk to her. Not yet, no, not without a present to offer her. She lived in a room on the third floor of an old stone house with flowers in the windows like eyes decorated with red and green make-up.

From that height, the church should certainly be visible. Jimi was so tired. But the more he saw the necklace in the shop window, the less he could keep on waiting any longer. Yes, Mr. Kindermärchen must give him a little more money. He was almost there: a very little money would be enough, and the necklace would be within his grasp.

One evening, as the first stars were coming out, he jumped from Demon St., near Pursesnatchers’ Gate, concentrating hard on Emma. Perhaps his head hit a badly-laid stone jutting from the wall; who can say. The fact remains that when he awoke, all the stars were out, and he had too bad a headache to write... and all his belongings were spread over the cold pavement. He picked up his fountain pen, three nuts, a matchbox that contained his collection of dragonfly wings, his two-hole flute, two canary feathers, the pale green notebook, an embroidered handkerchief and, right under it, of course, his... his money. His money?

Where was his money? Where had it gone? The necklace... Emma? Flown away? All gone?

Jimi had lost consciousness, but hardly more than a minute, he thought, or a few seconds? And the wind or someone else had taken the money. Or maybe his necklace, he couldn’t be sure now. At a loss, he wandered the narrow, deserted streets. “You wouldn’t have found a necklace by any chance?” he begged as though praying, imploring the heavens and the shadows of closed doors. “Or banknotes, with, uh, two hands crossed, like that, made of gold, you know?”

Silence. Nobody. The wind.

He couldn’t wait any longer. Emma might go away, get tired of waiting... and forget him? Writing, yes, that’s it: he had to write. The most wonderful of stories, the prettiest of all. That very night! And the next morning, Mr. Kindermärchen would give him enough money to buy the necklace at last. The readers would fall all over themselves to have it. Emma... the clasped, golden hands!

Hoping, dreaming aloud, already happy with the gift he would finally be able to present to her, Jimi walked more quickly, with a light step, and soon came to the square in front of the church, across from the stone house with the flower-bordered windows. The most wonderful of stories, he dreamed again, radiating with happiness regained. And the most beautiful necklace, he added, looking up at Emma’s window and then at the belfry with shining tiles that rose above the small, paved town square, just opposite.

For her, for Emma.

He smiled at her, in the emptiness.

Jimi took his fountain pen and his pale green notebook out of his pocket, hurriedly opened the oaken church door, and with his heart pounding, he went into the silent church, almost hesitating because of all the noise he was making. It was hard to see inside the church, but the moonlight shining through the large stained glass window of the choir cast reds and greens around the modest entry to the spiral staircase that led to the belfry, high up.

The staircase was wet under his light, almost airborne steps.

Copyright © 2007 by Jean-Michel Calvez

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