Back to Issue Thirty-Two

The Sacrifice


The difference
between animals and us
the main one is
they don’t need to know
it’s a park. The coyote
lopes through
just the same
looking for food. We
stop, in mourning,
sensing everything
we’ve lost. We call
that ceremony
a park.





She never saw it completed,
did not glimpse the many
varieties of tortoises
that lounged in a pond
near the north gate, never
peered into its vast fish pool,
never lowered her voice upon
stepping into the medal
room, her son’s decoration
shimmering in its ambition.
She, being a woman, had to
move in while the making was
still being made, 1625,
interiors sawdust and silk. Mornings padding
across cold marble floors past footmen
clicking heels together, the arc
of her life there for all to see
in twenty-four Rubenses—girlhood,
motherhood, widowhood.
How they resented her,
the French, but needed her
money. She would have to
commission her own story. She
just needed more time, but time
knows when it is being chased.
The cardinals and ministers did not
even hide the whetstone.
They would eat
her. Sailing to the Spanish
Netherlands, banished
to Belgium, did she know
she’d never see her beloved park again? Or did
it occur to her, finally, she could never
replace time with time? Even a third
of a century building was not enough
to return her childhood
for a moment. So she gave
the park to her son, the second
son, in the full throes
of his dukedom, an expert in
acquisition. He’d never
understand the only things
that matter are irreplaceable. Then the palace
began to tumble through the ages,
each exchange erasing what
it was meant to replace, developers
nibbling at its margins, Napoleon
ripping up her fountain, urban
planners stuffing its walks
with statuaries, a hundred
thousand kisses exchanged
in its shadows every
spring. Even the
Nazis in 1940 passed through
and the Luftwaffe said, this will do.

It’s sleeting today, winter, the park
glistens in its blanket of cold. By
noon the snow will be gone,
an easy embrace to refuse.



Somewhere You Are Sleeping


and the lights are out, the lights of your eyes, the shine in your hair, fanned
              across the pillow,
it breathes at night              did you know this? 
              The room is dark,
and here in Paris the city wakes, fitful and furious, everyone clutching 
              their private
agonies on the metro. I am ordering coffee and a croissant and I hear you mimicking my
              in gray morning light
you are so beautiful waiters do not ask you to speak, they simply bring things to
              delight you,
partly because they understand beauty here is not a projection, but a possession, I
                            often wonder
when you came into yours, there must have been a day you peered up at a mirror
              and there it was,
resting inside you like a flame you would not need to protect, that is another
              thing they understand,
how little one must do around it, beauty, we do not need to cup our hands, or explain
              it to itself, as if
a woman is always confused, in need of explication, desperate for someone
  to tell them
what it all means; the pink sun falling like a disk in the sky, the air blowing
  across our arms
like breath, I want to be like a park for you, dear, like a place you go
  at lunch
on days when you have time to sit by yourself and eat slowly and
  read in that lazy
way that makes your face relax, and your eyes soften, when you are
  marvelous, unobserved,
so much in your mind, your beauty is telling anyone around you all
  that is there
and I am the park, around and below and next to you, holding my breath, listening.


John Freeman is the editor of Freeman’s, a literary biannual of new writing, and executive editor of Literary Hub. His books include How to Read a Novelist and Dictionary of the Undoing (forthcoming), as well as a trilogy of anthologies about inequality, including Tales of Two Americas: Stories of Inequality in a Divided Nation, and Tales of Two Planets (forthcoming), which features storytellers from around the globe on the climate crisis. Maps, his debut collection of poems, was published by Copper Canyon Press in 2017; The Park is forthcoming in May 2020. His work has been translated into more than twenty languages and has appeared in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, and The New York Times. He is the former editor of Granta and is a Writer in Residence at New York University.

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