At first it was mince and cabbage at the Sorbonne,
where the other students pretended they had seen
the rhapsody of cobble stones seven years before. My
French ignored, I spoke German to a shopkeeper who
shouted in my face about either cows or cow-like soldiers.
When I ran out of money, the free hotel breakfast of
a bread roll and strawberry jam had to last all day,
and after dark, tanned backpackers from Heidelberg
and Tübingen made the vermillion carpet vibrate
with wholesome hiking songs and hearty copulation.
The staircase creaked like a movie coffin, hollow as
my stomach, this sense of absence prompting the sad
suspicion that a hasty marriage six months earlier had
been ‘a mistake most unfortunate’, as Poirot might say,
un peu judgemental. Luminescent from a distance,
deceptive as the butter cream of Lutetian limestone.
A week later she arrived wearing a Che Guevara beret,
with some cash and her own revolution. Self-conscious
sex in Fontainebleau forest confirmed it, bickering crows,
traffic noise and cheesy Big Macs on the Champs-Élysées.
We lit candles in the cavern of Sacré-Cœur, so far north
that I glimpsed the spirit of ’68, when hope was wide
as the Seine, the river of appetite, itself ravenous to learn,
and no mystique or marriage can survive that hunger.
Fifty years now since the uprising, but again students
and rail workers are kicked in the head by gendarmes,
baptised with tear gas. Patrice the philosopher writes:
‘May 68 hasn’t passed, it got stuck in time’s throat.’
Philip Neilsen published his sixth collection of poetry Wildlife of Berlin (UWAP) this year. He has won various prizes including the Philip Bacon Ekphrasis Award 2018. He teaches poetry writing at the University of Queensland and is an adjunct professor at QUT.