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A poem by Nicholas Laughlin

Published in The Strange Years of My Life

Les Rendezvous

Inspector Slimane brings the newspapers himself.
We all know there is a spy in every café,
and an almost-safe house in the Rue de l’Hôtel du Miel.

You don’t like to boast. Thirty-three daylight robberies,
six blackmailings, one white glove of diamonds,
machine guns, a car chase, and two million gone.

Roubles, you mean. You change them with the tailleur
in the Rue de l’Impuissance.
You take your time.

Mirrors break. Guns go off by themselves.
Doors open and close, no one knows why,
or how the strychnine got in the Spaniard’s coffee.

You bring the newspapers yourself, Pierrot.
You wait in the third café on the Rue de l’Homme à la Perle,
your back to the door.

You feel quite at home. No one admits he knows your name.
The waiters are your friends, the police are your friends,
your enemies are your friends.

Even your friends are your friends
at the Café des Rendezvous.


Boldfacedly, I’ve lifted several phrases in this poem from the 1937 French gangster film Pépé le Moko, set in the Casbah of Algiers — specifically, from the dialogue of the opening scene: eg. “thirty-three daylight robberies,” “the machine guns, the car chase, and two million gone,” “doors open and close, and no one knows why.” I’ve also borrowed the wonderful street names, and Inspector Slimane himself. (His colleague Inspector Janvier, visiting from Paris, became the Dr. Janvier who turns up in a couple others of my poems.)  


Read more poems by Nicholas Laughlin