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Paris: Vision


The following poem is included in a book of photos my sister, Suki, created after a trip to Paris in May 2008. My mother gave her children the gift of a lifetime, a trip to Paris for my four siblings, Jane, Jon, Ann and Suki. I was already here. She arrived needing an eye operation which was scheduled for after she returned home to Arizona. But she is a stoic Norwegian-American Viking, and explored Paris with the five of us, ignoring the pain. By the end of the ten days, she was walking down steep steps, in spite of also needing a hip replacement, which she's since had.

Richard traveled, while my mother stayed in our apartment with me. It was wonderful to be able to market and cook for her, after the thousands of meals she made for the five of us throughout our childhood.


Betty Heimark Kitchell and Kaaren


While my father was alive, he and my mother traveled around the world. After my father died in 2006, my mother was in a stunned state for two years, and said she would never travel again. This was the first trip she made after his death. We all felt his presence with us in Paris.



                  For my mother, Betty Heimark Kitchell


Two eyes

gaze out from the Seine:

the eye of judgment,

the eye of dream.


We cross into the left eye:

Here is where Camille Claudel

wrestled lost love

into faithful stone,


where Baudelaire wove

his poems out of smoke,

where Breton planted

Les Champs Magnétiques.


(Here is the place

on her left eye

that teared up,

preventing her from seeing.)


Here is the Pont St.-Louis where police

tortured a gypsy for a crime--

her mother cursed the bridge

and it crumbled seven times.


We cross into the right eye

where tulips bend their heads

over smaller blooms

in the park named for a pope,



past pink cherry blossoms,

through the Portal of Last Judgment,

and enter Notre-Dame.

(Here is where he and I


lit a votive

beneath the painting of mother and child

and prayed to pagan Demeter

for the health of her eye.)


Here is the Hôtel Dieu,

the first hospital in Paris,

where a drag queen stands in the quadrangle

dressed like Snow White.


Here is the Conciergerie

where Marie Antoinette was locked

before losing her head. (Her judges,

Danton and Robespierre, lost theirs too.)


Here is Sainte-Chapelle, the king's chapel

where 15 windows blaze with blue,

green, gold, red, mauve light,

and stars spangle the ceiling.


Here is where we remember our father's

Four Seasons (blossoms opening, bees

buzzing, horses galloping, snow falling).

Tears spangle our cheeks.



And here is the Square du Vert-Galant,

the old charmer, Henri IV,

most beloved king of France

astride his bronze horse.


Willows hang heavy as lashes

in the corner of the eye

where the bateaux mouches1



Where she descends

hundreds of steps

and we embark, exultant,

under the bridges of ghostly faces



carved in stone,

our boat sliding

toward the tower of lace

flooded with light.



We have passed

through death, passed

through suffering,



[1] Open excursion boats that provide visitors to Paris with a view of the city from along the river Seine.


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Reader Comments (14)

love the poem but especially love the picture of your Mother-- (is that you with her?) Hoping she has a very Happy Mothers Day- please tell her for me

Saturday, May 7, 2011 at 2:00 | Unregistered CommenterBetsy S


I'm calling my mother on Mother's Day and I'll pass on your message. She's still beautiful, and I know she'd remember you as a little girl.

Hope you get breakfast in bed or anything else your heart desires tomorrow. Happy Mothers Day to you too!


Kaaren (and Richard)

Saturday, May 7, 2011 at 17:21 | Unregistered CommenterKaaren (& Richard)

Hey Kaaren and Richard:

Happy Mother's Day to your respective mothers. Kaaren even as a baby you were just radiant.
I love the poem -- what a beautiful homage.

until then,

Love Jon

Monday, May 9, 2011 at 8:57 | Unregistered Commenterjon hess

How beautiful! "bridge of ghostly faces...gliding toward the tower of lace..." simply breathtaking!

What a gorgeous poem, not only to your mother (I so love that image of your young mother holding you), but for your father as well. Yes, may we always "pass through death... pass through suffering... whole!"

(and that photo of Notre Dame through the cherry blossoms is lovely... and the "ghost faces" so mysterious)

Thank you for sharing this...


Friday, May 13, 2011 at 7:36 | Unregistered Commenterdawna

Dear Jon,

We thank you and our mother and step-mother thank you. And we send greetings back to your mother.

Sometime when you and Patrice are in Paris, I'll show you the beautiful book my sister, Suki made of that family trip. The poem leads into a great photography album that she had published as a book.

Love to you, Jon.

Kaaren & Richard

Monday, May 16, 2011 at 21:43 | Unregistered CommenterKaaren & Richard

Dear Dawna,

You cannot imagine how much we appreciate such a close reading of the poem and viewing of the photos. You are such an attentive editor and friend. And the same close attention to image and phrase is evident in your fiction. We are rich in friends indeed!


Kaaren & Richard

Monday, May 16, 2011 at 21:49 | Unregistered CommenterKaaren & Richard

Beautiful poem! I love your father's Four Seasons (blossoms opening, bees buzzing, horses galloping, snow falling)
The photo of the Eiffel Tower is exquisite. How nice that you got to share Paris with your sisters and brother and mother, and what a lovely memory to share with us.

Sunday, May 22, 2011 at 6:05 | Unregistered CommenterDiane Sherry


Thank you! It's amazing to me how music can unlock both memories and emotion, as it did for the six of us listening to Vivaldi's The Four Seasons" in la Sainte-Chappelle that day. Just slayed us. And with no discussion, we were all thinking of my father as we listened.

I love this photo too. It captures the lacy feel of the Tour Eiffel in spite of its being made of more durable metal.

This ten days in Paris with my family is one of the great experiences of my life. I think we all felt that. A very generous gift from my mother. And of course, a handsome Frenchman tried to pick her up over lunch one day, right in front of his wife.


Kaaren (& Richard)

Sunday, May 22, 2011 at 16:57 | Unregistered CommenterKaaren

Dear Kaaren:
Your's is an extraordinary poem. A deep tour of Paris, and your prefatory note enough to know we're traveling with your mother throughout, in spirit and reality. A Wonder! And as mentioned above, the laciness of le giraffe qui pisse now giving it a grander and even more motherly sheen... (and nice to see the truly beautiful mother of the two daughters we knew so well in their wilder Berkeley days...)

I have another take on "mother", my mother, gone now as described in the poem... but I looked through my indices and see how many poems I've written to and for her over the years... So happy mother's day, mom, as Jimmy Durante used to say to Mrs. Callabash, "wherever you are."


I don’t think my mother knew what I was
talking about half the time
it felt like I was playing one game and
she was watching another
the ball might fly straight up in the air
but she’d see a square orb being jacked up like a
house or else wonder how much the ball cost

Was she a miniature goddess enshrined in a painted ostrich egg
holding magical implements and making a
secret empowering sign with her hands?

A small mouth that held words from the library
whose kisses though Victorian were sweetly sought
but thunder cracked above her head when I was
born and there was no time before that
in which I was conceived
it was all a gray ocean with no shores
it was all a sky of green birds around an
earth like a floating pearl in a giant oyster of blackness
nothing shook its calm and the sky extended for
light years before hitting another material body

My mother sat on a stone lion
and chose the sandwich of the day
green pepper on pumpernickel
soft cheese on hard tack
tuna fish with walnuts on white bread

and multitudes benefited from her choices
though she was fast asleep when their
haggard faces turned to her in gratitude
she was already elsewhere writing
checks to charities and sitting in on a
foursome for Bridge

Photographs show a slight woman with a
slightly ski nose and melancholy
eyebrows a dimpled chin and winsome smile

In the forties she wore odd hats with
little stiff veils in front and shoulder pads on her
suits dressed up to go nowhere
now she’s dressed the wild hills of Oakland themselves
with the fine lace of her ashes strewn
and the wind that may pick up a microscopic
flake or two will never
reconstitute her bodily form elsewhere
the island she inhabits now has never been
discovered and the two wingéd white horses she
looks after have no hooves that
reach the ground and the

seasons steadfastly refuse to change from
halcyon and bright where she is
and there is no chill and no heat wave
where she is

and her hand extended now from there to
where I am right now
has a ring with a tiny moon on it
silently winking its name
which I can just make out in its
bare rudiments from time to time
when I write out these poems
8/13/2002 (from Through Rose Colored Glasses, The Ecstatic Exchange, 2008)

Sunday, May 12, 2013 at 20:24 | Unregistered CommenterDaniel Abdal-Hayy Moore

This is a lovely poem and the photos are a beautiful addition, complimenting the text perfectly. Thank you for sharing these thoughts and feelings will all of us, they have hit the sweet spot.

Well wishes,

Sunday, May 12, 2013 at 23:42 | Unregistered CommenterCarole

What a gorgeous baby you were. I would expect nothing less. And I remember the poem! when you first wrote it.....it stayed with me....or did I dream it? All I ever say is 'beautiful." I need a fresh vocabulary.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013 at 5:24 | Unregistered CommenterAnna

So Daniel, you think that THOSE were our wilder days? I'll tell you what's really wild: living in a country not of your birth, where every ten-year-old speaks the language more fluently than you. But we do love the challenge and the adventure. Thank you for your appreciation of the poem. I've never heard that giraffe metaphor, but it's perfect.

And your poem: you have married the surreal with the real in a way that stays with me. I feel like I know your mother now. Knowing you, of course she would have been that compassionate, of course she would not have known what you were talking about half the time. (I laughed at that.) (She could have played bridge with mine if they'd lived in the same state.) Thank you for being the only poet I know who has written a poem on every single subject under the sun.

Much love,

Kaaren (& Richard)

Wednesday, May 15, 2013 at 23:15 | Unregistered CommenterKaaren Kitchell & Richard Beban

Thank you so much, Carole, we like it when we hit your sweet spot!

Much love,

Kaaren (& Richard)

Wednesday, May 15, 2013 at 23:18 | Unregistered CommenterKaaren Kitchell & Richard Beban

Hi Anna,

Aren't all babies beautiful? I think so. I'm glad you remember the poem. We welcome that adjective, there are worse ones you could use. Your vocabulary is rich and full, I've read your novel, I know.

Much love,

Kaaren (& Richard)

Wednesday, May 15, 2013 at 23:21 | Unregistered CommenterKaaren Kitchell & Richard Beban

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