“Guiding Proust through my childhood”

This is a poem I wrote and read at the slam of homeLE some weeks back. It is inspired by French novelist Marcel Proust and my childhood in Greece. I didn’t win in the poetry battle; the other competitors were good and the audience was mostly German-speaking. But I got a few marks and it was fun.

Marcel Proust in 1900. (Photo: public domain)
Marcel Proust in 1900. (Photo: public domain)

Guiding Proust through my childhood

Reading Proust these days, at last
(One has to, I suppose, he is a classic)
And as I’m visiting his childhood
His aunts, his mother, grandmother
His servants, his neighbours
His uncle, the philanderer
As he describes the churches, the old houses
The landscape, the garden at Combray
I am revisiting my very own childhood
Quite different than his of course
But equally exotic
Our childhood is the only place
We can always find again
Through our memories
It’s the one place we will never find again
Because we’re not the same anymore
And because most of its inhabitants are gone
So Proust takes me into his crystal ball of the past
Or is it a magnifying glass?
And guides me through his childhood
With every detail, with every shade of joy and sorrow
I, too, can taste his savoury madeleines
And drink hot chocolate in the company of Monsieur Swann
Whose intentions I still don’t know
‘Cause I haven’t come so far in the book
I would like to take Proust by the hand
And guide him through my childhood
Make him taste the salt of the sea
Go around in a bathing suit for three months in a row
Although somehow I can’t picture Proust in a bathing suit
Still, I’d like to make him feel as I was feeling
Those nights under the stars in Greece
And this one night when we stayed up to wait for the sunrise
But we were looking at the wrong place
Me and my friends, stupid children
Thought the sun would rise from the same place we were used to see it setting
The side of the sea, but it rose from behind the mountains
What would Proust think seeing me grasping a live octopus my father had caught
And beating it mercilessly on the rocks until it would become tender and edible?
He would find it gross, I’m sure, such an elegant man
But he would probably enjoy the wet sand under his feet
And some evenings near the sea singing songs under the moonlight
Accompanied by a guitar
And swimming at night,- he would enjoy this, too, I’m sure
A taste, and a smell, and a piece of music
Will exhume memories, good or bad
And if for Proust it’s the marzipan and the tangerines
For me it’s the lobster and oysters and fish
All kinds of fish
From the simplest, cheapest, sardine type
To the most expensive ones
Whose names in English I don’t know
But their smell and texture is still here
Along with the sense of the sun on the body
When none of us had heard of SPF or such things
And we were comparing our tans: the darker the better
Going to beach tavernas always in the swim suit
It was still wet but soon would get dry
The hair was carrying the salt from the sea
A pleasant sense that
Although not so pleasant on the body
After a few hours it would feel strange on the skin
And I didn’t like the dry sand under my feet
Whereas walking on pebbles, hard as it might be
Was good exercise and felt cleaner
But what beats everything
Were the evenings at the beach disco
Where you would dance with somebody you liked
And the music would bring you closer
Then you’d want to leave the other friends
Go away, far from the madding crowd of dancers and drinkers
Just the two of you go sit on some boat or sea bicycle
Turned upside down on the beach
And talk and kiss in the moonlight
The sky so huge, the stars so bright
The Ursa Major and the Ursa Minor, the Milky Way
Childhood, adolescence, beautified through remembrance
Remembrance of things past
Childhood turned into a monster through distance
Or through examination of details
Some sounds are omitted, some feelings are left out
Some events are forgotten
A tourist in my own childhood
A tour guide to my own childhood
I’d like to show Marcel Proust these little sea shells
You need a knife to detach from the rock
They are very small but so persistent
So tight are they grasped, almost glued
To their environment
I’m a person of habit
I cry my heart out for every habit I’ve lost
For every person who dies or simply doesn’t choose to remain
In my circle, in my environment
I cry my eyes out for every summer that is gone
Dear Proust I wouldn’t dare to you to compare
It would be unheard of, a sacrilege
But if you can teleport me back to time
To your imaginary village of Combray
To your everyday routine, to your pictures
So can I, I think, so can I

LS, August 2017.

My poem is inspired by French novelist Marcel Proust and my childhood in Greece. (Photo: public domain)
Public domain photo.

Lito Seizani contributes giving personal insights into being an every-day tourist. She is the author of "The Ideal Bench", which is available on Amazon.

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