Sade at Vincennes

Si vous êtes Dieu, vengez-vous! —de Sade

On a good day, I could throw a chalice
from the skylight in my apartment here
across the avenue de Paris into the once
royal château that by some logic I can’t
quite follow became a prison and the place
they kept Sade after he paid a fanmaker
forty-eight livres to make blasphemy with him.


It was a short stay of just three weeks.
I imagine his taking leave finally
with a lascivious look at the heavenly
Sainte-Chapelle. His belle-mère
was to reform him then, but there was
the débauche sordide in Marseilles,
the chocolate aphrodisiacs and sodomy,


and Donatien found himself back
at Vincennes, though in a cell with a view.
I crossed over one day to take a tour
of the place, thinking it would help me
imagine what that might have been like
for the marquis, but the French are modest
people—as in fireworks, so with historical


curiosities: Sade’s ignominy is not on
display. But here I am just across the way
from that forbidding keep, and some things
could not have changed all that much.
In January, when the weather is grey as a nun
for weeks at a time, he would have watched
tuxedoed magpies carve sharp arcs against the sky.


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