Poetry and Penitence

I attended today a panel on poetry reflecting on incarceration.

From inside the wall, convicts write poems to breathe, they write for oxygen. Some are twenty years old and had been sentencing for life or more than twenty years. Some will never get out. Here are the words of Ben, James and others. From outside the wall, I share their struggles and suffering. The followings are their words. I share them in freedom and hope. I feel like a duty to do so.

Regrets from James:

Hopes dwindle, dreams fade

Attitudes flare,

Pain inflicted, no one listens

Just icy stares.

No mercy, no forgiveness

No second chance, 

Walks alone, dials but no one’s home

A prisoner’s stance

If Shoes Can Feel Shame from Ben:

Often when we feel shame, up is the last place we want to look. My shoulders, they slump, tilting my head and my gaze locking on my shoes. I don’t know if a pair of shoes can feel shame, if so mine have bore the brunt of it. I fear one day I will be a hunchback…

Vulnerability from Ben:

My heart is not bitter

In fact it’s broken

But I know what it means to be a man

Gentleness, integrity and love

Quiet strength, a father a husband a friend

These things make me a man

And I am no longer afraid

I am a fighter

6am in the morning. Light enters the room. I open my eyes. The pain wakes up too. The pain that broke me already into pieces. The brain wakes up. It starts the thinking. Choices to make. In a second either I let the pain eating me up, either I push myself out of bed.

Choice made: in one second I get out of bed. Boil water and make a coffee. Choose the best summer dress. I am still tanned. Remember Barneys Stinson in “How I met your mother”. His motto:  “Always look awesome”. The guy always wears suits and it works.

The day starts well. A long mail from a dear friend from Berlin. Some nice words from my little cousin. They are checking on me as the last post yesterday on Facebook was filled with despair and sadness. People care about me.

Walk to the tram listening to “The Road to hell” by Bruce Springsteen. Get in the tram. Run into an ex-lover who happens to live in the same neighborhood. He says “Good morning you” with a huge hug and a big smile.  Small talk a few minutes to him. Continue to listen to the same song. Good rhythm so as my steps to the office.

Messages of a friend from Tokyo and another dear one on vacations in Koh Samui right now. People really care about me.

Feel like a fighter.

Say hello on the blog.

Start the redaction of a report.

Prepare a presentation for a conference in three weeks.

During the whole time, the pain tries to attack me and to win some place. No, not now. Maybe during the night, but during the day, nasty pain, you can’t be there.

Because I am a fighter during the day.

For my cousin Alex (1)

I took a day trip to visit you at the hospital today. Visiting you was the least I can do right now.

When I arrived you were watching a movie on YouTube. You looked a bit better than the last time I had seen you. They took off the bandage of your left eye. You asked if I had seen the movie “The debt” with the actor of “Avatar”. I said yes and we both agreed  that the love story between the young spies was quite nice. On your bare chest, I could see a tattoo with the first name of your father (who is also my uncle). I had never noticed it before. You said you had it done in Vietnam a few years ago.

You started to eat the rest of the pasta “a la carbonara” prepared yesterday by your girlfriend. You talked to me about her for the first time. You said she was much older than you and she wanted kids. You asked for my opinion on love and relationship between young men and older women. You wanted to know if I was against it or not. I did not have time to answer your question because a nurse came by at that moment to check on you.

You told me there were moments you went nuts in the hospital and just wanted to escape. When you get better, you probably will go back to Thailand for holidays – a country which you adore for the relaxing lifestyle and the beautiful beaches, but more because of the easygoing Thai people – you told me. You said you dreamt to relax by the beach, watching the sunset and the sunrise and not thinking about anything at all. You had so much fun the last time you were there, alone with your father – you said. This time with your girlfriend if you plan to go, it will be even better, more relaxing, quiet. You would appreciate even more the sunshine – you added.

It was good to hear you making plans and most of all having dreams. While plans can change because of the unpredictable in life, dreams are necessary to escape sometimes from life and routine.

Listening to you talking about plans and dreams, I suddenly remembered what I had always remembered. Our grand-father, when still alive, used to share with me one of his dearest dreams. He had always dreamt to walk with me down the long Champs-Elysées Avenue in Paris and to stop somewhere for ice cream where we could sit facing the “Arc de Triomphe” and enjoy the view. His dream had never come true because grand-father passed away before we could make it to Paris. But I could tell you something. Each time I walk down the Champs-Elysées Avenue, I always think of our grand-father and his dream. And this thought had been enough for me to feel instantly a breeze of happiness and a profound certainty that I was born and raised in a great family.

This is to say that the next time I come to visit you, I will tell you about some of my dreams. It is our family tradition: sharing our dreams.

In the meantime, I wish you some good night sleeps with less pain and above all, don’t forget to DREAM !


So far she was convinced that rain brings sorrows

And cold amplifies the darkness inside her.

But when she looks at the bright sun,

And even when the summer heat invades her skin

She still feels nothing else than a wave of sadness.

She guesses sorrows have no seasons

And her soul knows no other light

Than the glimmer of hope

She desperately cherishes

Through years and time.

My magnificent crook

We can invest enormous time and energy in serious efforts to know another person, but in the end, how close are we able to come to that person’s essence? We convince ourselves that we know the other person well, but do we really know anything important about anyone. (The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle- Haruki Murakami)

You kept on telling me that the day I discovered your real essence I would be very disappointed.

You kept on telling me that I was in love with an “impression” and not the “essence” of you.

You said you felt like a crook of my love and feelings. Even more when I said it was not true.

You said the day I accepted that reality and ceased to look for the best of you, it would be a bad day. For both of us.

Here is my answer to your concerns:

“The day I realized you were a crook, if that ever happened, I would tell you, thanks for having given me hope, thanks for having made me believe in you, in us. For what it’s worth and for all these beautiful illusions, a big thanks.”

Sometimes “impression” is just as important as “essence”. So please don’t worry, dearest!

Plan B

“Find me now. Before someone else does.” (IQ84 – Haruki Murakami)

Some of us like to live a well-planned life. Some of us just go with the flow. But even for the most easygoing ones, to some extent, we still need to know where we are going, to which horizons we are heading. Sometimes we still need a minimum of planning and organization for our lives. Maybe not for the whole future ahead of us. But a few next steps for the next few months or years could be appreciable. Plans are reassuring: “After high school, I will attend to college” or, “I want to travel a bit” or “Five years from now, I want to change my job. I want to get married, to have kids…” Pretty sure all of us once have had that kind of plan. Or had tried to have it.

When it comes to love, do we have a plan too?

Which is your plan A? And do you have a plan B in case? Which one is your exit door?

Tricky question, right?

I have asked myself the same question. I have never thought of this.

I think I have only got a plan A for love. Love no matter what. Love to death. Crazy and stubborn idea of loving. Stupid kind of love which turns numb your brain and makes you lose your mind.

No matter how many weighty disappointments or disillusionments I might have to overcome, I would never arrange myself for a plan B. An emergency exit for love. No way. I know I always got a bit of a risky behavior as for love. Not always it’s worth a try. I am conscious. More than once I had failed the plan A with no plan B.

But a plan B seems small, despicable and unromantic. And especially sad.

How does this sound to you:” Hey, I love you, I will wait for you. But if this is too much for me, I will look for another person and try with someone else.”

So, no plan B for me for the moment. My only eventual emergency exit is hoping that the plan A works a bit.

Summer and balcony

That summer never came. For some reasons. All these water pouring down from the sky. The temperature hardly went beyond 15 degrees Celsius. She got used to it and she imagined people in her village as well. When there is no more hope, it’s just a matter of time when to get used to a perpetual unchanged situation.

She looked out onto her small balcony. She moved to this apartment two years ago and had never decided to buy a table and chairs for the balcony. She had always known about the kind of summer over here, in her country.  A great summer lasted usually three weeks. She thought it was unnecessary. Then a few weeks ago she finally decided to do like everybody else who has a balcony. She went to a big furniture store and brought back a simple table and two chairs, metallic of course. She could never forget the rain.

There they were. Posed quietly. Plain and simple. Since the day she had brought them home, there had never been one dry day or evening.

First thing in the morning, she glanced at them from the windows. Puddles of water here and there, all over the table. She remembered the eve. She had tried to clean the table, knowing that it could be in vain, but still felt the need to do it.

She looked at them. She might have given them all a name. She had thought of Johann, Carl, Wilhelm, thinking of Bach and his sons. She loved Bach but had never been a fan of Germanic-sound first names. She went for Juan, Philipe, and Carlos instead. She was happy she had personified them.

Her attempt to be a normal woman like anyone else all these years was similar to her attempt to furnish her balcony. Similar to that summer trying to stop the rain like a will of surviving a battle.

That summer never came. She had not been once outside. Juan, Philipe and Carlos had never gotten a chance to dry up. They stayed the whole summer outside in emptiness.


I live in a small and rich country where we can still afford to refuse a job when it is not in the city where we live and study. It is a luxury to be able to say no because you don’t want to commute one hour for your job. In my country people don’t move around a lot. They live an easy life, have a nice job, and are able to afford a comfortable standard of living. Things have changed a little bit lately but it is still a very comfortable country. When I was in the US, I met a lot of young American who had been living far from home usually right after high school. American people don’t see a problem in moving to another city for college or for work. We don’t have this mentality  in Europe in general, let alone in my country. Of course there are always exceptions.

Tonight at a dinner, I met a French young man. I don’t know why I was particularly touched by his story and background. He is 25 years old. He came from a very small town in the North of France, the kind of town with no charm and no particular interests for tourists and for the rest of the world. It is hard to say things like that, he said. But it is the truth according to him. His hometown is an industrial town where the inhabitants either work in the construction or are truck drivers. The kind of town in the middle of nowhere, not by the seaside, no mountains around. Nothing. No one wants to stop by and have a look at his town, he said twice. Young people grow up and as soon as they finish high school, they get out of there, trying to get a job in Paris if lucky or in the closest bigger town nearby (not especially better either). He told me the story of his town as if he was a history or geography teacher, giving me a private lesson. He added that groups of young people used to date one among another, girls want to get married by the age of 22 in average. Shortage of potential young guys. No particular nice perspective for the future. France doesn’t seem to be a dream country for him.

Unlike the other young kids, he did not only dream about new horizons, he left his hometown at the age of 18. He had lived here and there in France, got a Bachelor in literature and a computer degree. Then went to Berlin and stayed there for two years. His parents are teachers and he is the only child. When he told his story, he talked with a monotonous voice, as if it was nothing particular. His parents do not want to help him financially, he is completely on his own since he reached 18. He arrived a month ago in my city, the third most expensive one in the world. He was trying to look for a job.

The story is at first sight nothing extraordinary, not sadder than other ones, not very joyful either. But I don’t know why, I just perceived a sad struggle in him. Something more profound is hidden in his voice. Not a desperation but a kind of loneliness emanating from him. And it strangely stroke me.

I left the dinner and thought about how lonely we could be at the end of the day. He seems to carry it not only at the end of the day but all the day long, maybe during years already. And now in this new city. On my way back, in the bus, I could not stop thinking about loneliness, young, old, small city, big city, it is just something so universal and we cannot avoid it. “We will all die one day and alone”. A cliché but still true.

This encounter definitely made me sad. This young person embodies loneliness and the weight of uncertainty, so deeply and so heavily.



Receiving his mail telling that he is coming home soon after 4 months of absence, but he is sad to leave the other country. You read once again the mail trying to see if you have missed something, not a hint of “I look forward to being home and seeing you soon”. He can be reserved and discreet, but this is a bit uncalled. You don’t feel sad. You are disappointed. There is no excuse. You don’t like this last mail. You are sure it will have a bad effect on the next time you meet him again.


You stay in silence. It takes you three days to write back. You did not know what to say after his last mail. You casually write back something like: “Why are you sad then?”


You withdraw yourself almost completely.


You try to understand his state of mind and put yourself in his shoes. You try to forget his tactlessness. You say to yourself that things are gonna be fine again in a few days and you try to feel your love for him.


Thinking that nothing is gonna change between you two, after that mail. You cross the fingers.


You think of how brave you were, how deep your love once was, when you had asked him to spend a few days with you in the most romantic spot in the world, after a few weeks of dating, and after your best friend had told you, with his eyes wide open: “You did that ? You asked him to go there with you ? Why don’t you ask him to marry you directly instead?”.

Now you are sure that everything will be fine when he is back.