In the twilight of my own time
I venture forth from the suffocations of my Chesterfield.
Out into the streets I blunder, throwing caution asunder,
As the bleak municipal lamps of urban promise
Glow in a ghostly mockery of rarified life.
There, along the high road, I once chased hope—
Ran behind its unsteady course and sought to claim it,
Trap it soundly in the butterfly-net of loose ambition.
Tomorrow would come, it always comes,
And the words put down on pages fly their cages
While the sun burns the last lost boat from the horizon
And the waves foam like unfashionable lace
Billowing at the bosom of an aging vicar's wife.
I remember the blood-red victory parade roses
Clustered against the coffins of the fallen dead.
The moon edges out from behind the clouds
Over the avenue where I abandoned my youth.
Apart from the themes of turnstile dreams
And quick-footed commerce, I had no notion
Of the larger world of businessmen and bartenders,
Nor the galleries of splintered objets d'art
We would haunt in the belief that beauty still survived.
In the lightboxes of the soul,
Lie needful things all men should know.
Under the benediction of that golden gleam—
The moon's forgiveness for our hurried, haggard ways—
I see a woman once called Charlotte.
She will not notice me,
With my ancient skin withered apple-brown
And my wistful remnants of hair.
She was always a willow waiting to dance,
While I but rued my albatross grace.
In the passage under the stairs,
Others kept secrets I alone would never share.
My name rises like a whisper of smoke
Aloft on the drifting air (the soft, misted air).
I stand duly dumb,
Frozen in the lifelong habit of "Not me" (never me)
And certain time will unstick my ears and speak the truth.
I have listened long enough to odes for other men
While the meager poetry of limerick defines my fate.
I am the unbought rummage-sale painting,
never more than trash-heap bound.
Again I hear the sound, the syllables I own,
And Charlotte steps toward me as if I exist
(no mere myth). I smell the faintest hint of perfume.
"Charlotte, isn't it?" I say, with the false smoothness
Of one who could easily afford to forget.
"Is it you?" she asks, though who have I ever been
And what witnesses would remember?
We talk of acquaintances—Oh, lecture me not
Over substance and philosophies,
When the world is already dying!
I invite her to drinks at the Blue Café,
And we sit with the clank of dishes
Hovering close like unwanted relatives.
Outside the motorcars rumble to and fro,
Carrying their passengers to where they must go.
Here at a corner table, the candlelight tilts upward
To leave the soup-spattered tablecloth half-hidden.
We revisit the years that fell behind us,
My name uncurling from her tongue like a royal presentation,
No hesitation or sense of its bitter, pitiful past.
It was once accursed, afflicted with dull disregard
And offering only the cruel fruit of fractured laughter.
In the cobwebbed rafters of a history bereft of indiscretion,
I had schemed for just this moment
Before I realized it would never come.
Now the wondrous wreckage of those plans lies fallow,
Earthbound against the airy thrill of the gossamer tendrils
At the nape of Charlotte's neck, the level beauty of her eyes
As she overlooks the worn elbows of my jacket.
I have known the despair of fleeting faith, known it better
Than all the false minutes of misconceived Maybes
That sank like shipboard burial stones to the bottom of the sea.
I should have learned the art of cavalier courtship
Instead of clinging to the rude scraps lovers tossed beneath my feet.
But I am not so old as I once believed, nor so terrible,
And the Universe ticks onward despite my scratching at its door.
I bid Charlotte to my rooms, games of chance or even romance
Equally welcome in the mystery that is finally ready to unfold.
We walk out into the evening, her hand upon my arm
(Be silent, tremor!), until our leisured steps at last approach my gate.
Charlotte turns as I hold it open, words unspoken.
The pas de deux progresses with natural agility,
Her smile guiding us onward toward my doorstep
Ahead of the actual ascension of light.
------ fin ------