Greenwood Encyclopedia of African American Literature

Friday, April 21, 2017

Balzac's Ghost and the Crucial Detail




She brought the wrong clothes to Paris,
which wasn’t as warm as imagination.
She borrowed a sweater and a coat
from me; also shoes, and the heavy socks
that made them fit.  My sweater, especially,
seemed to enjoy having her wear it
in cafes, brasseries, and markets. I

explained all this to Balzac’s ghost
at the writer’s home on Rue Raynouard.
Even though I wasn’t speaking French,
Balzac understood immediately. I went
on to observe that almost everyone
almost everywhere works hard and life
slips by so quickly and then all of a sudden

you’re a ghost listening to a tourist.
Yes, yes, said Balzac’s ghost, but
tell me, what color is the sweater she
borrowed from you? Green, I said.
That, he said, is today’s crucial detail.

Hans Ostrom

from The Coast Starlight: Collected Poems 1976-2006
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