July and the sound of cicadas is unceasing
as doubt or death or dust’s bright splintering in the sun.
Along the Vieux Port, boats are raised on pulleys,
under which tanned men scrape down the hulls.
Urine drying on the hot sidewalk in the noon heat
mixes with the smell of fish, where the morning’s catch
is spread on tables under umbrellas for sale.
Thank you for not urinating on the ground
the sign entering the boulodrome reads
because it’s mostly men who play pétanque.
Often they stand so still with concentration
you can see the sun-bleached sand in their eyebrows,
sand a sirocco blew from Africa. Cigarette tucked
behind his ear, one player draws a circle in the dust
with his boot. Another swings a lead ball in one hand
and lets go. The smell of perspiration is holy, the sky
couldn’t be more blue. Everyone spends a long time
looking at the ground. Bare earth, but slight shifts
in topography to consider, calibrations of pebble,
bulging tree roots. Sunlight is everywhere at once.
Look at their shadows, said the man who brought me
to teach me how to tell which ball was closer
to the bouchon. I look at the ground the way
I stare at the sea when a great ship floats on the horizon
from a distance I could never swim alone
until I perceive it’s not fading away, it’s fading
into being, in the time it takes to write this, it’s here.