Four Sheets to the Wind And a One Way Ticket to France




June 30, 2020


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).

Conrad Kent River’s The Wright Poems. Issued as Volume Eighteen in Paul Breman’s “Heritage Series” of African-American poetry chapbooks.

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.
I stayed.

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.