Author's note (from Do You Fear No One? Pancake Press, 1982):
I first read Jean Follain in A World Rich In Anniversaries, prose
poems by Follain, translations by Mary Feeney and William Matthews. The
following poems respond directly to those translations.
Should the Poet Take a Matchbook Cover
Should the poet take a matchbook cover from his pocket, the
railroad official his accurate gold watch, or the flower
woman her niece's jump rope? For an instant such objects,
common though they be, might seem exceptional. A
universe rich in coincidence begins when the postman
carelessly dislodges the mailbox. Two letters, jammed
behind for how long no one knows! The envelopes are faded
and undecipherable. Inside one is a picture of a woman
dressed as Miss Liberty; in the other, a check for five
hundred francs! "Will the bank take it, Daddy?" the hollow-
eyed child asks. With the mailman's help the husband
replaces the mailbox, leaving it a little loose at the back.
"Let's go now, now!" says the husband, anxious for luck.
The mailman will visit this house until he retires, nine years
hence. He will bring bills and postcards, ads and magazines.
For a year or two, yet, the youngest child will read aloud to
the two dogs. Even so the dogs complain when their food is
late, or when someone forgets to include the table scraps.
The Black-and-White Cattle Prosper
The black-and-white cattle prosper even though the new
housing development takes almost half of their pasture. The
same kind of uncertainty overtakes two women who moved
to the city years earlier. The heavy-set one, five years and a
month, now, working in the bakery, often dreams of caves
brilliantly lighted by floating lamps like white balloons. That
this dreams wakes the frolicsome Alice is fine with
Katherine, who sleeps soundly so seldom she is gaunt and
distracted. Then they shout back and forth—I can't sleep.
Let's go for a walk. Are you sleeping? Do you feel like it?
Sometimes a carouser or a young policeman thinks these two
are ladies of the evening. That she has been taken for a
whore pleases Alice. But the uneasy Katherine turns the two
of them up a better-lighted street. What sense is there in
looking for trouble? Just past the school Alice complains her
feet are killing her; the two of them seem glum walking back
to their rumpled beds and to the 1978 calendar on the kitchen
wall showing sunrise over a beach smooth as salt.
Do You Fear No One
Do you fear no one will sing? That solemnity will settle its
weight over everyone? Even before the brilliant punch is
served, relatives on both sides, overcome by feeling, pat
each other's arms. Kisses are free as handbills along Rue
Riviera. Even the enthusiasm of the singing grows as Justin
and Earl, twin nephews of the bride, pass again and again
their trays of icy champagne punch. You can see that the
glasses are crystal, shining in the candlelight, delicate
rainbows bent toward heaven. Also present, in truth,
anxious unmarried lovers. "They hate us!" the groom says to
Elena, not yet convinced she loves him. Before she replies,
such a hubbub! At their supper of lasagna and wine, one old
hag imagines a slight. Who knows why, even now? This
crone gives another guest a good slap on the cheek, crowing
"Let that teach you." With curious volume the offended
woman yells, "You are a landlord! An evil curse on us all!
See! Nobody helps you!" In fact, the young couple comfort
the pugnacious old witch, perhaps the guest most completely
at ease. Such confusion! Lovers understand this is the
perfect moment for a squeeze.
Stephen Dunning writes in Ann Arbor, living
a retired life. He practices tenor banjo, tennis, and
reading poems aloud. He worries some about his old
dog Gus, who has just undergone light surgeries.