Helen M Williams


L'ankou. Image courtesy of flikr.

La Fête

for Claire Trevien



A frisson of mortality circles this village.

Death arrives with the bloodred emergency ambulance —

engine left ticking while two young paramedics run down the path.

Death circulates all night while anxious relatives wait in vain for the doctor

to come all the way from Draguignon for his meagre 30 euros fee.


Exorbitant death exacts his annual summer toll from forest fires —

last year the gorge, this year the coast is scorched to death.

Sudden death lurks in the fading bouquets of roadside shrines

a black accident waiting to happen again.

And maybe death sits quietly watching the bal musette

curious to see the revellers valiantly swaying to the predictable music

despite the book of condolences and tomorrow’s funeral procession.


Last year the little owls’ song circulated all night long

in the weeping willow trees: sweet shrill call and response

response and call in the clear spearmint-scented air,

a ground base accompaniment to the nocturnal spectacle of constellations

arranging their old patterns across the deep indigo of the night’s canvas.


Now the accordion bravely plays another cha-cha-cha

while the solitary couple in elegant white and black

pace unerringly through the Latinate dance, no step left to chance,

while the lonely Arab watches, discrete in his pensive dignity,

while the single, little owl sings out to the night sky:

call . . .  call . . . call . . . and a frisson shakes the butchered willow trees

Helen May Williams formerly taught at the Warwick University and, as Helen May Dennis, has written extensively on twentieth-century poetry. She is the author of Catstrawe (Cinnamon Press 2019) and The Princess of Vix (Three Drops Press 2017). Her parallel text translation of Michel Onfray’s Before Silence is published by The High Window Press (2020). ). Her debut novel, June, is published by Cinnamon Press imprint, Leaf by Leaf. She is a Cinnamon Pencil mentor.