Over from a Chinese coastal province,
A recent discovery has emboldened Kim.
We met on the train. Indistinguishable
In a knot of compatriots just arriving.
There was something attractive about them.
Their presentable and modest attire;
Their discreet anticipation of travel,
a mocking laughter at things unfamiliar.
They assail me with some queries;
assuming me to be the guard.
I agree that the ticketing’s not simple,
and deciphering the detail is hard.
To my delight one chose to sit next to me.
It so happens that the journey will traverse
a bank of the estuary, making it
a singular route for tours.
Though her accent is heavy,
She has a responsive desire to learn.
Any word of mine she couldn’t comprehend,
a nimble touch can discern
Upon a device. Consequently,
I found I was pointing out landmarks
That had passed, ere she looks,
From the animations in the glass.
Our acquaintance should ripen however,
for we are apt in our heart.
I invite her to a church service
the next day, and wave as we part.
There! in the congregation,
when, after the blessing at the end,
I lead the procession along the aisle,
“Je ne regarder pas fixement!”
Unto the exulted lauding of God,
she has come, and keeps to the back.
She humbly waits as I change,
and indulge in a little chat.
Neither is she voluble after
limited contribution made.
She invites me to her diggings,
where hospital wings are laid.
But I suffer from lassitude
whenever I enter someone’s home.
Besides, it is my custom to have
a glass of beer in the town.
I see her demur as she struggles
to mouth the word “alcohol.”
The day is bright beyond the porch,
so we assay to go for a stroll.
A pavement café presents
itself as a worthy compromise.
Once seated, she finds the reading
from the gospel which gives rise
to all manner of quickened thought.
The reading concerns the Lord’s saying,
That those who do the will of God
are regarded as His brethren in obeying.
As per the manners of her countrymen,
she lifts a spoonful to slurp,
her countenance is supple,
“Oh,” she gasps, “the coffee’s too showp!”
My rejoinder is corrective.
“You could say it’s ‘too bitter’.”
What charm a dauber methinks,
In this choice for a sitter.
I do not pry, but brethren
are uppermost in our minds now.
She is married to a doctor
An occurrence has darkened his brow.
“I am one month pregnant!” She explains.
Just then, as I am congratulating,
I notice the shadow of bent pinion,
and a draught is lifting the napkin.
A large scavenger-fowl,
with food in mind, is trying to land.
I wave my arm at it,
he measures from the stand.
She is not at all disconcerted,
indeed, she hardly notices him.
I see the transforming power of Christ.
Then I notice her confession
has had an effect on her:
I see her eyes are downcast.
“Aren’t many people born in sin?
I’m sure his temper won’t last.”
An inspiration flashes upon my mind,
I say: “there is a play we could view!”
I warn her the dialogue is Elizabethan.
(Devices shall have to be dormant too)
“Agnolotti!” the waitress calls
Through a communicating door.
It may be the only place in town,
(I saw lights where it was obscure).
Beyond the counter, a man
who shows them a film on a small screen,
in tones of the lifted diaphragm,
syllables sharp and keen.
She is from Bucaresti.
Attracted by the silence,
the silence of the Grain
that subdue the present tense,
and minimize the world of men.
They loom, and their forms propelled
Rocks, so as recumbent folds
emerge, cradling the snow in shelves.
She says, “Full three quarters
of the year – even unto June.”
At this, I thought of you,
On your pilgrimage to Rome.
Which led you to scale
those heights, until a blizzard
Barred your way. Or else
the rest you must hazard
in raiment of thin cloth;
handling a stick that has bark;
and a shoulder bag containing
the line and scale chart.
My meditations are interrupted.
She brings me e jug of tradizione,
del eighteen and fifty and nine,
I can but surmise thy way.
The badge depicts a man
in stiff hat and line of lapel.
Around him are stalks of barley,
as a poet’s head with laurel.
“Grazzi,” say I, in forgetting
her impeccable English,
I watch her pour from one
to the other at forty-five degrees.
She is not a young woman, and
should be past that egocentric age.
She tried to laugh over the screen,
glad to leave a captive gaze
places them on my table.
You came across charity at night,
sleeping in a barn of hay,
the Prince of life’s wayfaring light.
An intellectual at table observes
my notebook, having one of his own.
He has a dry cough. And I am
thinking of the rudiments of a town.
Arranged around a rapid stream;
The current of electricity that came
Early to the railway of the Nappes,
And all that this would fain
Bring, such as the inn
across the road from the stazione,
built for commercial travellers
who dealt in mineral and gemstone.
There are skeletal control houses
toppling in posture over the line,
windowless. Men stand outside the bar,
as their fathers of another time had.
They stare at a stranger.
Not with the stare as at a servizione,
of those traumatized with roads,
looking for consolation along the way.
These stare as ones who
watch a last swallow
that swoops in the clear air
among the anticline that shows
the property of sky is rearranged.
A warning that you would not heed;
a warning against following a climbing path.
But you insisted your guide proceed,
and offered him more money.
How admirably headstrong were you,
but conditions deteriorated.
“Please, allow me!” She is at my elbow,
having watched my glass.
I am taken by surprise –
however, I have erred,
showing the assumptions of townies.
In ordering a salad,
The bread is fresh though.
Sans ceremonie, the intellectual
pays his bill. Then others show.
A pair of hoyden who are
on familiar terms – the film folded away.
I contemplate a picture on a wall –
The solid houses on a winter’s day.
The town doesn’t fraternize
With tourists and skiers,
You attended Mass knowing Latin
those repeated lines on northern ears.
Two ladies are seated
across the line of my gaze.
“We have a stronger lager!”
She has my jug raised.
Wishes me addled? Is she dis-appointed
my eye hasn’t followed her?
That would make her wary!
Others turn in their chair.
Hours with the packing of torsos
so as a powder of stone clave,
like on a blackboard duster
loaded with sums of the previous day.
I couldn’t believe my ears,
when the ladies knock at my door.
I’d run one tap then the other
with no warm water that’d pour.
We three go out together,
calling over the shoulder “ciaou!”
Unto a glow adown the stair,
a voice responds from below.
In the darkness over a wall,
outside is a terrace of lights.
A Christmas display removed?
They flicker naked into the night.
They are tapers along the shelved
arrangement with names and dates,
And flowers at sepulchres:
Storeys high and straight.
O beloved the shape of the land!
Bamboo growing tall and still,
with Orion’s Belt hanging
above the outline of a hill.
They seem to be in a hurry
as we head into the town,
until we reach lighted windows
with wraps and glittering gowns.
They order cocktails under gas-stands,
overlooking the piazza.
Gone now are the tourists who
stroll around in straw hats.
In the high valley, erewhile,
my footfalls cracked over ice,
where the peaks turn roseate
over deepening, tardy nights.
Who serve as porter and owner,
a man for Firenze sighs,
keeps a door engraved with letters,
seventeen ninety and five.
In this equivalent of a rectory.
When you descend those flights,
it is to that dim room
where friends made first rites
of passage abroad. We
three with bulks at our backs,
hitch-hiking, and shoving
into a Citroën with no hatch.
Exhausted, and conveyed
to some lonely arbour,
then sitting around and smoking,
and hearing of some ardour
for fungi laid out to dry.
And we could rest with ease –
other than hard, station floors –
and I would hear you please
our host, with talk about
the films of Luc Godard.
I became the quiet poet
as joining in was hard.