I half-expect a foreign voice
as you describe the New York heat,
how it blasts, cancerous,
the air thick as plum wine
causing a man to drift,
turning thoughts to wiles.
I only want trivial talk tonight
or I’ll get no sleep
you pass the transatlantic time
in tales of food —
your soft-shell crab supper
in the restaurant by the Brooklyn Bridge
a giant fairground ride;
the extravagance of the docks’ tall ships,
but you didn’t say you wished me there
to watch the margarital moon
rise above sea water
the colour of a Cormorant’s wings.
You are sipping a vodka martini,
I can taste the salt on the rim,
you’ve ordered key-lime pie,
we could always share a spoon,
and trade a joke or two. I will listen
for how long and how hard you laugh.
I thought of you today (I was making my will)
of the ifs and wherefores and whens
wondering how we’d have quarrelled
probably often, probably without compromise
but there’s also how you would have sunk
into my lap wanting to be kissed,
a grown woman and wanting to be kissed,
a weight and a challenge. You’d want to hear
about your birthday again, and I’d recount it —
how that deep pull inside began, vaguely sexual at first
until the real drama and there you were
how I was proud to eject you, to hold you aloft
wiggly and wet, slimy, like something primeval
out of the swamp, but this history never began.
Through the wide wet street we sped
past palm and scrub and banyan tree
the rush of it came back to me at home,
and in the quiet, out of the tunnel of street
and tree came a stillness – the moment
when I looked up as we passed
a local bus with glassless windows,
a young woman leaned out and her
shy smile centred me, but too fast
the moment hinged into another,
into something else, a different colour.
But I remember that smile,
the free and open give of it. Just like
a girl’s face pressed to a window
in a Belfast restaurant years ago —
the joy of connection, if fleeting.
Indian girl, Belfast girl, I wonder
if I am part of your imagination,
do you return to my face in the rest
of evening, in reverberations of home,
the cleaning of dishes, the writing of a lyric.
And the sun streams through at midnight,
they curl up against it; the curtains are sheer.
Everywhere, the curtains are sheer. Sleep
a question. Bodies curbed. How they stumble
as finally, dreams penetrate day.
The wooden triangles of houses on the wharf shine;
rain cases the streets in their waking stroll.
Lightweight feet. Eyes are hot coals. Raising their heads
it is hard to see, except for the plainness of things…
oily cobbles, a shop of umbrellas.
Shellfish stalls line the quay. Cups of boiled prawns.
Hunks of grey tissue on ice hills. A dead eye,
a gaping mouth. Mouth like a cave in the otherwise light.
Light as heavy water. Light twisting between
the stallholders. The relief of a corrugated roof.
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