Maybe This Happens to Everyone

When I woke, Paris was in flames.

I spent the day in bed while a man I loved

kissed my ankles, the white arches

of my feet, asked what made them,

and I told him it was the Sacre Cœur--

when a city is burning like that there’s no time

for lies. At night the flames were in my hair,

the flames were in his mouth and each street

unrolled like a long tongue that gave

us what we couldn’t understand,

only if we’d dance on the cobbles

they’d light up like the disco floors

of les Grands Boulevards, like the smooth-trodden

gravestones of popes inside the cathedral,

the martyrs emblazoned on the Bastille.

I don’t remember the Bastille.

It is impossible to remember the Bastille

when his hand is up my dress on the metro

and Paris is in flames.  The trains

brought us in through a tunnel underwater:

the Chunnel was made of glass,

the train like a chain of dolphins linked end to end,

arching silver with the currents,

and we saw Humpbacks, eyes big as our train car,

slow and bovine—it took minutes to pass them.

Their whale eyes were looking at us—

everyone in Paris was looking at us.

We weren’t looking at anyone, and when we did

their faces were like mirrors and I loved

his strange watery reflection but kissed only him.

The trains came. The trains moved out

of the blue-glass station while we ate crepes Nutella

and called them crapes because we were Americans. 

The trains came. The trains moved out.

Our train moved out.

We stayed. Paris lit and smoldered.

Maybe this was the beginning of the world again, maybe

it was the end—maybe this happens to everyone

in every city, even in small towns, where corn fields

catch fire at the end of summer

and teenagers tear off their clothes

and run naked through them, tempting

the flames with their flawless skin,

but it won’t brand them, won’t even singe,

no matter how hard they run.

Postcards, Bulgaria



 Dear C—We followed a Fiat’s dust

for hours the mountains repeated

in worn lines I write the same

chicken coops and onion dome

rooftops carry the weight of centuries

of what is stifled beneath

what beckons above

it reminds me of D—

at her funeral looking

up inside the copula

built in memory of these

how the faces of the holy

were chipped away



C—we took a cab it was so cold

cabbie smoking shouted American

you hear this  It came from

where you are    you hear this

in your country it’s bigger it’s badder

your president isn’t afraid

to show them who’s boss I had to laugh

radio beat what goes around comes around

goes around the young pop star

through the static intermittent violin

from another channel in the dank

cab we opened our ears looked

outside snow and children sniffing glue



drunken street dancers whirl their children

spin shoeless on snow but they have

hats C—hats red as stars

they open their eyes see

peasant wants worker wants

grain and steel the gaping mouth is home

is a bed is a street is a lie is

a country we’ve been told dear C—

I’ll never know but I send this anyway


Mary Kovaleski Byrnes received her MFA in poetry from Emerson College. Her poems have appeared in The Squaw Valley Review, The Minnetonka Review, Ocean, and her travel writing has been featured in the Boston Globe. She is currently living abroad in Sevilla with her husband, Corey. You can visit her at