The French Word for “Sky”


I’m tilting my head and looking up
at the Louvre’s ceilings, 
gazing at the work
of Louis Le Vau and Charles Le Brun, 
walking the palace’s rooms
and trying to decide which I love more,
Delacroix’s Apollo Slays the Python
or Georges Braques’ doves? 
In the Salle de Bronze, 
Cy Twombley’s sky is blue, 
a hue I’d never have imagined
for the Louvre. 
There are many blues, 
but this is Mediterranean blue—
eternal blue of the Greek gods
and light-drenched sea and sky. 
And there is a yellow sun
and red and green planets
that I’d like to think even I could have painted
and I am reminded how
when I was a young father
my little study
lined with tall bookshelves
became the baby’s crib room. 
I painted the ceiling blue—
the French word for “sky” is ciel
and pasted plastic stars there,
little stars that shone
when I turned out the lights
and kissed my child. 
Some nights I’d lie on the floor
next to my son in the dark, 
stargazing, thinking
about palaces and crib rooms
and how deeply we love
ceilings fretted with stars.
Lying on the floor
and listening to the baby babble and coo,
I felt like Napoleon in his palace bed, 
peering up at painted tempest clouds torn apart
and revealing the glory of heaven,
the gilded ceiling crowded
with cherubs and red-winged seraphim,
a host of golden angels
keeping watch over the household
while the tired emperor closed his eyes
and dreamt extravagant and marvelous dreams.