The bubbles streamed through the child’s wand while I was living
in Buenos Aires to remind myself of her. One or two of them
reflected the entire city and these were the hardest to catch.
I imagined that in the half century since I last saw her
she’d have stopped wearing falling down socks, grown up
and gone through a phase of fudgy lipstick. Would she be wearing
it in the breezeway now? Probably even if she stood up
in my soup I’d never recognise her skewed mouth today
that would still look right to those who knew her more recently.
Life seeps on, while memories lead back to a taped place.
Restraints didn’t necessarily mean restraint, and the whammy
of that faraway Ealing summer was that interpenetration meant
entrance to worlds of unforeseen sensibility and beauty.
ALMORA: THE MOVIE
A bill crumpled into a ball and left in the entrance hall
can remind you of some purchase to be made or a chore
to be done that has no relevance to this aide-mémoir.
Out and about in the Belgrano R district of the city
am I more likely to run into the woman I long to see in the crowds
strolling the boulevards or in some little-known garden
way off the beaten track? More likely she’d be in the crowds
but how to spot her among so many?, whereas in some little-
frequented garden where no one ever goes, if by chance she did
happen along I’d be sure to spot her but it’d be almost a miracle
if she should be there at the same time as me if at all.
These days I mentally shrink from encounters with the earlier me
and emphasise for the last time that the crumpled bill
doesn’t have to stand for what it stands for
and I’ll soon get the hang of the mnemonics, even when people
are still puzzling over words I left long behind me, sort of hanging
in the air, like a frozen tantrum.
ALMORA: THE MUMMY
Afterwards he checked into a four star hotel next door to a plastic
surgery facility in Buenos Aires. Half the guests had their faces
bandaged. He bandaged his own face and lived high
on his winnings. There was a woman working there, old, but still
beautiful. Her hair hung loose and disordered on her shoulders,
her unbandaged face looked sleepy and dark in the half-light.
Sometimes in the lift there was the cool damp smell
of the bathroom and of almond soap about her and, if more people
crowded in, their bodies touched. Other times he’d sit in the lobby
and watch for her coming and going through the slits
in his bandage.
He’d survived thus far on technique alone and the risks he’d taken
had seldom exposed him to the dangers of emotional compulsion.
But there was tango music in the hotel and he began to feel
a stone in his heart begin to dissolve. Focusing on memories
of other rooms carpeted with geometric designs and bars
of sunshine, the distant hushed roar of traffic and a vase
of Delphiniums supercoded up for other purposes unknown,
he waited for the cistern to fill up before he unwrapped.
Once he became visible she’d be unlikely to associate him
with himself. Liberties were there for the taking,
but could he believe she was the girl from half a century ago,
the mistress of whatever-may-happen?
WOMAN WITH NO NAME
Aroused by the aroma of boiled rice she drifted in
sure she’d find something astonishing and delirious.
Some instinct urged her to look carefully around the room
which she did with eye circuits alone as her neck
had suddenly gone stiff. She didn’t like the faces of the guys
reflected in the mirrors – they looked leering as if taking it
for granted she were available. Someone had painted the floor,
it was only half done, not swept up first and they’d painted over
cigarette butts, whatever there was. She liked the orange colour
and said as much to the bartender who, after he’d served her,
nodded once or twice across to her while she sat in a comer
sipping her coke and rum. After that the men in the mirrors turned
gravely away and left her alone. When her rice and peas arrived
she found her hand had gone all numb and she couldn’t pick up
her fork. But she could still get off on the smell of the rice,
its steamy aroma wafting up from her plate, so decided
there was no need to panic. All the same when one of the men
smiled at her in the mirror and mouthed was there anything wrong
she mouthed back he knew very well what was wrong.
One of the others smiled at her too, not in the mirror this time
but by twisting around on his stool, said “there’s a glorious sugar-
pink kitchen upstairs that soars high into the eaves, and a large
elegant bedroom – you can go up in the stair lift.”
She sniffed the rice and mused on this. Finally she said
“what’s your concept?”
Without hesitation a third guy replied in the mirror
“the concept? Lightness of touch, applying subtle but vivid
harmonies of colour.”
One of the many consequences of love
is that its story can be spelled out simply,
feverishly, without much nuance or honour.
The need was to filter the memory through
Beethoven, Chekhov, Rembrandt –
that sort of thing: substitute lakes
that would nourish and give courage.
Could he start again with her down some fresh breezeway?
That was another story he might tell
once he’d cherry-picked all the winning cards
from the table.
MOON IN THE MAN
I have a moon growing deep inside the centre
of my head, just under the brain.
I was bom with it. It’s a remnant of some long ago
extinct species and very rare.
I’ve lived all my life with it growing in the dark cave
of my skull. It’s now the size of a golf ball.
It can’t be removed or stopped,
but it grows slow as a stalagmite, and most like won’t kill me …. just yet.
But it exerts an awful lot of pressure
on my brain and pushes softer bits of me
aside which would best be left where they were.
Some reckon the existence of this rock
has affected me all my life, long before a head scan
revealed it was there: “it’s like the grit of sand in the shell
of an oyster that torments the creature into making a pearl”.
Jean reckons my novels, paintings, and poems
are my pearls. Funny the name of my publisher
is Oyster Press. Coincidence or what?
Maybe there’s enough time yet for my moon
to nudge some extra lyricism out of me,
but is it cool to have to cripple myself into beauty?
I might have preferred some other way –
drink or drugs (of which I’ve had a few) – to be creatively
fucked up. Maybe I should just quit, move into the woods,
live on ants, caterpillars and grubs, and in my next life
they could live on me.
He began to visit her most afternoons
at Riverside to act out whatever it was
he did or wished he’d done with his first love
fifty years ago.
The uniform was red.
Red was the colour of the single rose
he used to bring her coloured with the blood
from his heart.
But red was not the colour of her hair.
The Riverside girl enquired once as to what happened
to the distant lover whom she was meant to impersonate.
He told her that the girl he’d loved most,
who was most important to him was not gone,
she’d just never been.
Never been where?, the red-haired Riverside girl
persisted, cutting him a slice of the iced cake
she’d baked him as per.
He retraced his steps
for a moment, stood at the window to watch the St Johns river
flow by. Let’s go out he said, the visit queered, I think the true
blue moment is over or yet to come.
He realised that if she never grew old she couldn’t be
real, unless she was growing old and growing real
somewhere else, far away south on this continent.
In any case he didn’t want the Riverside girl
to impersonate her,
he wanted her to incarnate her.
He wanted her to be her.
Outside Valerios opposite Third & Main
street lamps like twin ice cream cones come on.
I reel at the richness of a remembered life
I never lived. A greyhound streaks south.
How far to Buenos Aires?
Lost love unknown sprayed onto a cheap canvas.
Butterflies look lost flying past you at night
and if a play was ever staged as a monument,
most of it’d be kept in the wings.
Maybe it could be done as a love story
in two movies running at the same time
and the viewer switches from screen to screen
to juxtapose the real with the imagined.
What if she isn’t around anymore?
For all I know she might’ve been extinguished
fifty years ago, not long after she left.
Maybe she never lived long enough
to have an adulthood at all,
except in my fevered brow where thoughts
roll over-and-over like rocks battered by the ocean.
I dreamt I googled you and found that the life
you’d made for yourself has a harmonious resonance.
I liked the picture of you sleeping,
your face freed from all its waking strictures,
while I am still trapped in the disordered dreaming
of about twenty pounds of letters
written over fifty years but never sent.
What if I scanned them in and emailed them
all to you now?
I could settle in some brooding old mansion
on leafy Pearl Street, call it Almora
and pretend that here was the setting
where it all began.