“CAGNES SUR MER 1950” by Jorie Graham

Cagnes-sur-Mer. PHOTO CREDIT: Fredrik Enestad. This photo is licensed under the the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Cagnes-sur-Mer, located on the French Riveria, is the largest suburb of Nice. With Mediteranian beaches and temperate climate, it has long been a favorite destination of tourists, wintering aristocracy, and artists—Pierre-Auguste Renoir spent the final twelve years of his life there. Jorie Graham was born in New York, raised in Italy and educated in France. The speaker of “CAGNES SUR MER 1950” communicates what is presumably one of Graham’s first memories: watching from beneath a vaulted Roman archway as her mother approaches carrying a basket of lemons. “I am the only one who ever lived who remembers / my mother’s voice in the particular shadow” begins the poem, which is, at once, a meditation on place, motherhood, and cognition. To be so intimately included in Graham’s interiority is common in her poems, but such familial details are rare. The poem is an ontological review of a very young child (“It was before I knew walking”) coming to understand being in the world: “It was before I knew about knowing. / My mind ran everywhere and was completely still at the center. And that did not feel uncomfortable.” And the details of that running-everywhere mind are from the mid-twentieth century Cagnes-sur-Mer, which had a population of approximately 10,000 then: “a hilltop town in the south in summer,” “flowers and fruit and meat and live animals in small cages … below us, at the bottom of the village,” “many lemons entirely struck, entirely taken, by sunshine.” The mind and the world, inseparable.

Read more about Cagnes-sur-Mer on Wikipedia. Find Place at a local library, an independent bookstore, or on Amazon.

1Graham, Jorie. Place. New York: Ecco, 2012.

Christopher Nelson is the author of Blue House and the editor of Under A Warm Green Linden.

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