Conrad Kent Rivers (1933–1968) was a renowned black poet who won the Savannah State Poetry Prize for his poem Poor Peon while he was still in high school. His poem Four Sheets to the Wind And a One-Way Ticket to France was published in his posthumous collection of poetry written about or dedicated to Richard Wright, The Wright Poems (1972).
Four Sheets to the Wind
And a One Way Ticket to France
As a child
I bought a red scarf and women told me how beautiful it looked,
wandering through the sous-sols as France wandered through me.
In the evenings
I would watch the funny people make love the way Maupassant said,
my youth allowed me the opportunity to hear all those strange
verbs conjugated in erotic affirmations. I knew love at twelve.
When Salassie went before his peers and Dillinger goofed
I read in two languages, not really caring which one belonged to me.
My mother lit a candle for King George, my father went broke, we died.
When I felt blue the Champs understood, and when it was crowded
the alley behind Harry’s New York Bar soothed my restless spirit.
I liked to watch the nonconformists gaze at the paintings
along Gauguin’s bewildered paradise.
Braque once passed me in front of Café Misique.
I used to watch those sneaky professors examine the populace.
Americans never quite fitted in but they tried, so we smiled.
I guess the money was too much for my folks.
Hitler was such a prig and a scare. We caught the long boat.
Main Street was never the same. I read Gide and tried to
translate Proust. Now nothing is real except French wine.
For absurdity is reality, my loneliness unreal, my mind tired.
And I shall die an old Parisian.