Four Postcards to Henry Miller, Who Accused Me of Being Insane After Having Seen a Photo of Me Sitting Alone on a Bench During a Paris Winter

Image by Stefan Schweihofer via Pixabay

Dear Henry,
I get it. My back is turned. It looks like I’m staring
at the Eiffel Tower, like it might be the only thing
keeping me from slumping off the bench (which
was green, by the way, and my suit wasn’t black.
It was blue). You called the Tower insane, Henry,
which is unfair (even if you found the symmetry
between the Tower and me to be poignant and
perhaps perversely charming). The Tower can’t be
insane. It’s just a tower. But I get what you mean.


Dear Henry,
The Tower wasn’t blurry like it is in the photo.
The Tower is never blurry. But it was as naked
as the winter trees lining the promenade. I feel
sorry for the trees, Henry. Each one is caged
in circles cut from chalky yellow earth. I asked
a man who works for the city why they do that.
He said it’s so that people can feel comforted
when something wild is made to seem tame.
I wish the picture would have shown the roots,
too. That would have driven the cagemakers
to despair.


Dear Henry,
I wasn’t looking at the Tower. I was remembering
Iowa. It was the smell of cigarette smoke that did it.
Not my smoke. I don’t smoke. The photographer
might have been smoking. I don’t know. But it made
me remember the feel of American paper money
between my fingers and my bare feet on concrete
as I walked to the corner store to buy cigarettes
for my uncle. He was back from the war and drunk,
Henry. He told me a story about running across
a beach, and about how a gun felt in his hands,
and about how it felt to fire a gun, and about how
killing people makes you want to drink every day.


Dear Henry,
Maybe you were right about me. Because after
I brought my uncle his cigarettes, I stepped into
a cloud of smoke in Iowa and ended up on this
bench in Paris where, according to you, I am
insane. Maybe a cigarette would make me right
again. I mean, it seems like everyone smokes
now. Even the Tower smokes when the sun
heats its cold metal bones. That’s what I was
looking at, Henry. Not the Tower. The smoke.
I was thinking about heat, and about how cold
it is to have just this one cotton suit, and about
what the war did to everyone who didn’t die.
Maybe I am insane. But the Tower isn’t.

Categories Poetry

Nathaniel Cairney is an American poet and novelist who lives in Belgium. His chapbook Singing Dangerously of Sinking was a finalist for the 2021 Saguaro Prize in Poetry, and his poems have been published in The Cardiff Review, Midwest Review, Broad River Review and others.

Creative Commons License
Except where otherwise noted, the content on this site is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.