Jul/Aug 2007 Poetry

Anthropology in the Waking Night

by Oliver Rice

Photography by Kawika Chetron

Anthropology in the Waking Night

In Nice they take the lift up Chateau Hill,
         where there is no chateau,
         to look down on themselves
from the Terrasse Frederic Nietzsche,

on the clutter, the residue of their history,
         steeples and red-tiled roofs,
         the Promenade beside the bay
where Chekhov strolled, and Lenin and Matisse.

Here the air and the cheeses are famous,
         the beach chairs are blue,
         the shutters are pastel,
and the awnings of the flower stalls are striped.

Here the slots are in the basement of the casino,
         the souvenirs are tawdry,
         the pickpockets are expert,
and the airport runways project into the sea.


In the hills above Nice there are traces of man
         four hundred centuries old,
         of nomads from western Asia,
the first of our true ancestors in Europe,

who probably mingled with the Neanderthals,
         then obliterated them,
         and, belching, lusting,
began the trek toward civilization,

making a technology of flint and bone,
         of lessons from the boars,
         from their disasters,
from the infinite proclivities of things,

receiving inklings of the social virtues,
         the shapes of myth,
         the wiles of personality,
the credulities that loiter yet in the psyche.


Supposing that Earth is still habitable
         four hundred centuries
         in the future of Provence,
what can we imagine the human situation to be?

Does Nice exist? France? Do the governed consent?
         How are they attired?
         What are their perils?
What do high-minded parents wish for their young?

Do they acknowledge Freud, Kafka, Picasso?
         Is it a monoworld?
         How do they get the news?
Do they erupt with language, with metaphysics?

What is the state of biology, of cosmology?
         Are they robust?
         Humane? Meritorious?
How do they prove the existence of their gods?


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