Mark McKain


from a vendor outside Notre Dame
                              a near-religious rainy day in December
                                                     clipped branches
                    black skillet          swirling chestnuts

                    you bought a bag           with your crumbling French
(the high school French                              learned before I was born)
                                                                 chestnuts chased around the pan
                                                                 till the pale meat appeared

hulls stripped off                     your fingers like knotted branches
                    the chestnuts welcome as we walked
through flying buttresses                your carved face dissatisfied
                              then grimacing from the climb to the top of the vault

                    an open cathedral with a congregation of winged guardians
                                                                 looking down on pigeons and chimneys
the city domed with silver cloud            fed by the Seine
chestnuts’ strange tender taste               you hugged a gargoyle
                                                                                          as if it were a lost child



I began writing "Chestnuts" after reading James Schuyler's poem "Sometimes" which begins "I remember the synagogue at Amsterdam/ a tenderly overcast day." Those staggered lines of this sixteen line poem triggered a memory of chestnuts eaten on a December day in Paris with a traveling companion who died a few years ago. I have tried several recipes that feature chestnuts—in mashed potatoes, with green beans, and with stuffing, but nothing can compare to having them on a cold rainy day in Paris in front of Notre Dame Cathedral. If you cannot go to Paris, reading Schuyler's Collected Poems would be a good second choice.