We flew late, on the year’s busiest Friday,
to Toulouse. As we drove in the hire car
through Haut-Garonne and Midi-Pyrénées
into Gascony, its rolling hills green
with August’s growth, the sun was setting –
the burgeoning fields of sunflowers paused, bats
swooped before the car like twilit angels.
As we topped each rise we could see the glow
fade in the west above the Bay of Biscay.
We arrived in darkness at the pension.
The patronne gave us supper on the terrace –
her bread, pâté, tomatoes, a local cheese.
A cascade of shooting stars fell in the north.
We toasted ill winds and silver linings.
We woke to an ass braying, a cock crowing,
and a bell tolling for early Mass.
We drove to the city of Auch, Coeur
de Gascogne. The crematorium was new
– floor to ceiling windows, light wood benches.
The deceased, it was said, had chosen Holst’s
‘Venus: The Bringer of Peace’ on his death bed.
The wake was in a bar on the square
in a small, erstwhile market town in sight
of the Pyrenees, its highest peaks snow capped.
The mourners were mostly English, settled
in renovated, abandoned farm houses.
Each of us had some ill fitting jigsaw piece
of his life: an exile, a fugitive?
There had been a week of summer events
in the square with its defiant poilu.
The festivities ended the next day
with a dance in the commune’s echoing
La Salle Des Fêtes. An accordion played.
Old couples with dyed hair, some singing softly,
fox trotted slowly to ‘La Vie En Rose’.