James Womack

Félix Faure, Man and Boat

 

Il voulait être César, il ne fut que Pompée

This year, 16 February (same procedure as every year, James),
I acknowledge the death of the President of France,
Félix Faure, in the year eighteen ninety-nine,
of a stiff apoplexy, while receiving oral gratification
from his mistress Marguerite Steinheil.

An appropriate and alternative festival:
orgasm/death, so close to Valentine’s Day.
A few years after Faure’s death, in nineteen
oh-eight, President Félix Faure, a French quatre-mâts,
was wrecked off the coast of New Zealand.

Faure sent out lifeboats and made it to land.
No one had died; the island was not a desert.
There was a hut, some short-lived provisions.
Soon they killed albatrosses (‘far from tasty’)
and after the albatrosses, the penguins.

The birds were quickly traumatised:
after four weeks they shunned les nouveaux Robinsons.
I doubt they thought about presidential fellatio
as they hid in the stunted trees
to avoid makeshift spears and nets.

Marguerite Steinheil survived, flourished.
Faure’s convulsed hands had tangled in her hair
at le moment suprême. At the time of the shipwreck
she was under arrest, accused of killing
her mother and her husband. She got off.

The birds learnt to mistrust mankind.
The sailors survived, were rescued.
Steinheil seduced King Sisowath of Cambodia,
and retired to England, and died in Hove.
Faure remained dead, and ridiculous.

So she died, they all died, man and boat,
and nobody talks about any of this now.
Even I am sorry to speak of such things:
I wear the English cloak of apology.
The English cloak, with a knife beneath the cloak.

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter