The Canal du Midi is a several hundreds-year-old engineering marvel: The first waterway to connect the Atlantic to the Mediterranean via existing rivers and canals, its green waters, lined by plane trees, wind through Southwest France’s bright-lit landscapes to this day. Kathy Fagan’s “Inscription” is constructed as a similar sort of marvel: The poem shapes the canal’s natural and cultural worlds into a fluid, cylindrical form, one that moves freely along the borders of a rough ten-syllable line. “Arcades of plane trees arc Aves above the canal. / I know they are not a choir…” the speaker begins. And it’s this tension between projection and reality, between external observations and the emotional structures they build within us, that guides the speaker’s voice. Her France is a raw natural world, a tight-strung tangle of living and long-dead histories: of trees given to blight and a cross-dressing Joan of Arc burnt at the stake; of American G.I. graffiti and an electrical box marked “Sexe Toyes.” And always, it’s language that carves the place with meaning, translating associations, as here, on the plane trees:

                                       “…Mostly I love the light
they hold inside, the all-too-much and aged toujours
of them, their airborne electricities. Who’s to explain
affinities like these?”

Read the poem in its entirety at Poetry Foundation’s website.


[Photo Credit: Peter Gugerell, Wikimedia Commons.]