Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Shattered Words

Yes, this is how I express myself. With words because I can't make you see the symbols in my head, because the deep structures of thought and soul cannot be drawn or modeled except by words. A pity they are such fragile things, but then so are our souls. They shatter and we pick them up and hand them to our Maker. "Reassemble?" we beg but we cannot be reassembled. Not quite.
But something better from the brokenness can be drawn. From a distance we appear whole, but move closer and you will see: a thousand shards, broken and beautiful, each one a word we lost and relearned, each one in its own place, though it may not have started there.
Yes this is the only way I know to let you read me, because only a book can be read and books are words and so I say so many of them hoping that somewhere in there you catch the thread of a theme, and tie it 'round your finger, a string to keep ahold of me, a thread to weave with your own, and these characters we are and have been will become, and the threads will twine together and grow strong, and bind us, and undo us.
And we shall lie beneath the rain and it shall wash over us, like God's own mercy it shall wash over us, and from the rain and the dew and the fog will burst forth flowers. And the birds shall sing to us in words we know not, and then, only then, will I know in the birds that you have read my heart.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Back Across the Prairie

Lily sat at the hotel bar and watched the clouds roll down off of the mountains. He would be up there in the thick of it now, under that makeshift tent with a bottle and a cigarette. She hoped he wasn't cold without her.

"I'm going back," she said.
He didn't say anything for a long time, just looked out across the mountains and took a pull on the bottle. She produced a pack of cigarettes from the folds of her blouse and offered him one. He shook his head and pulled a Marlboro from his shirt pocket and lit it.
"Ain't you gonna say anything?" she asked after a while.
He took a drag on the cigarette. "I'll drop you in the next town."
"You aren't coming back with me?"
He shook his head. "Goin' on. Got more road ahead."
They stood then and watched the sun sink into the mountains and disappear. They climbed onto the bike and road into the dusk.

The storm was raging now. She wanted to run into it with her arms open and her head to the sky. Better judgment reminded her she didn't have much to change into, so she lit a cigarette and drank her beer, contemplating the rain and the gray black sky.

On the road east of Denver Lily saw a car approaching. She hooked a thumb and smiled. The car slowed and the door opened.
"Goin' east?" Lily asked.
"All the way to New York," said the driver. She was a girl around Lily's age, with copper hair and a spray of freckles across her face. She said her name was Mary.
"I'll go as far toward Michigan as you'll take me."
"Hop in, you can help drive!" said Mary, smiling. Lily found she did a lot of that. She smiled slowly in reply, liking the feel of it on her face.
They drove east, away from the setting sun and the mountains and the cold. Mary was going to New York to "make it" she said. She didn't mean with a boy.
"Where you headed kid?" Mary asked.
Lily sighed. "Home," she said.
"Oh yeah? You go on the run?"
"Not exactly. Hopped on a bike and road west for a time."
Mary nodded.
The hours passed and the miles slipped by beneath them. The afternoon rains dissipated and the setting sun set fire to the broken cottony clouds in the west. Lily could see it all in the rearview mirror. Ah to turn and head back into that. She understood well what drove so many west, for the grandeur and the beauty and the ever striving to catch the setting sun were things she felt pulling her heart, too. They had pulled her west, but they could not pull her all the way. The promise of something eternal lying across those great vast prairies had not been really a lie, but it had not been quite true either. She believed that somewhere in the heart of those mountains he was still riding, still searching for it. She glanced at Mary, asleep in the passenger seat, and smiled. I hope they make it she thought.
The sun yielded to twilight, and the gray and the cool were a peaceful end to the grand display of dying light. The clouds blew she knew not where, and twilight turned to night. No moon brightened the sky. Only a field of stars and the two headlights of the old Chevy lit the way.
One step is enough she remember from somewhere.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Crescent City Sketches, II

Even the mornings are hot in the Crescent City. On Bourbon Street the humidity congeals into a thick stew of smells – piss and vomit and alcohol and the rot of the city, all stale and stinking. Through this stew he walks as the sun crests the buildings. Across the corner a man hoses the vile spillage of the night before from the stoop and the sidewalk and into the sewer. He smiles and waves at the man and walks on. Down the street, past cabarets and sports bars, all quiet in the morning light. The girls are gone, at home in their beds still asleep or bleary eyed as they search for their glasses, their hair tousled and their faces unpainted. Gone too are the men who stood in the streets hawking the lewdness and competing for a crown of unchastity in language as they sought to draw passersby in beyond the doors of the windowless buildings. No neon signs blaze out the promise of skin and cheap liquor. No street preachers stand in the way decrying the blackness of the sins the creep and crawl through the glow of the night lights. Only a few tourists wander onto and off of the street, peering at the strangeness of Bourbon street with no bourbon.

He walks on, past Toulouse Street, and then right on St. Peter's. Rainbow colored flags line the opposite side of the street. On his right Pat O'Brien's sleeps on. At length he emerges into Jackson square. The palmists and the readers of Tarot line the fence around the park, mingled with the street painters and jewelry stands. A few tourists climb the steps into St. Louis Cathedral. He joins them, working his way around the building carefully, taking in the art and stopping now and then to whisper a prayer to one of the saints. On the way out he slips a five dollar bill into the box and lights a few candles for his grandparents. Back in the sun he turns his feet back to the hotel, and the shuttle, and the airport, and home.

Friday, April 4, 2014

For Shannon

He wakes in the morning. He always wakes in the morning. He woke yesterday. He will wake tomorrow. The summer air had bled hot through the open windows and coated him with sweat all the night through. The dark gives no respite from the drenching. The others sleep on. In the silence of the morning he wanders to the computer room. To the book of faces, to the memory hole. There a face that is no longer a face – or that has gained its true face. A new angel in heaven, they say, but for her soul they pray not at all. Rest in peace, some say, praying it even if in praying they know not what they mean. "Fuck! Fuck fuck fuck," he says. And then, because he knows he must "Requiem aeternam dona ea Domine, et lux perpetua luceat ea. Requiescat in pace.." The contrast is not lost on him. The rage and the hate and the helplessness tangle inside him and his heart stumbles over it and, all unchecked, falls into the salt sea, and the sea bleeds from where his face would be, if he had a face. But he has forgotten his. He has forgotten hers, too. He sees her as she was, as he will always see her, as he will always see any of them – as they were in that hazy golden tint of youth, when they woke every day, because they awoke yesterday, so they shall awaken tomorrow. Except her. BANG! BANG BANG! And she will not awaken tomorrow.

The Dance

A single tears runs down a cheek that cannot yet bear a beard. The ghosts of autumn race across the hills, rattling the skeletons of a once beautiful forest, stirring the leaves from their slumber upon the eternal earth into a lifeless lively dance of death. Above the sky watches, man-like, not crying. Waiting, watching, waiting for the ghosts to pass and leave all in silence again, for the dance to be over and the trees to ossify or their once tender faces to rot upon the ground and be received into the earth. And so he walked, through the dying of the year, and he cried at the beauty, and at the feelings of loneliness that welled up inside him, and he wanted to love and be loved and know warmth and tenderness and joy and dancing, and to come at last to remember everything, each leaf that lay upon the ground, and the hope of memories made and yet to be came upon him, each leaf that danced was a face, and he would dance until he died. No one would ever take the dance away from him.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Prose Poem

Under the night sky he looks up and out into the infinite. Like Cantor he counts and counts and fails to count it all. And he longs to go there, to see the space beyond the stars in the vasty blackness. But his grasp on the longing slips from his hands and the little boy inside him recoils in fear at the deep, dark reaches of the ethereal sea. The sea on which float all the wonders he can imagine, and none of them. In the cold he feels it all barren and beyond ken, and the unkenned is uncanny and so he retreats into himself and the hole in his heart where it tore. "Love is longing for the infinite," he hears whispered in the back of his mind, and his skin prickles in the cold. But it is not so, for he cannot long for what he fears. He cannot long for that forever garden, because he sees only the stars, and tonight the stars are cold. He shivers. A hand brushes his arm then and the touch of it, as if one of the stars had given its warmth to him, thaws the iciness in him. His arm finds her waist, then, and she rests her head upon his shoulder. "Love is reaching," he hears in the night. So let him reach. Maybe, someday, he will touch a star, and the boy inside him will not fear.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

The First and Last to Leave

This is a draft and I confess I'm not really happy with it. It's not complete, it's not consistent, and it's missing so much, but there are things I like, so here it is.

The First and Last to Leave

For the second time that year, he woke before the dawn and rode to the end of something beautiful. For the second time that year he greeted the gray morning from the lonely seat of an airport terminal. This time he was alone, but he always was eventually: every flight was lonely in its own way, even with his brother beside him there had been a distance that was spanned by memory and held apart by the immeasurable gulf between two separate experiences, between two different souls.


"Wing it, you said. There are plenty of hostels, you said. You'll just take whatever comes, you said. Well, you got any ideas?"
"Calm down, it's early, you'll be all right."
"No I won't, I will not be f-"
"Hey hey hey, no swearing, not today. You know how this works, you keep walking."
"Do I get to keep talking to myself in public? We made fun of a kid in college who did that."
"We were asses in college."
"Changing the subject, you know there has to be an internet cafe somewhere. We passed one back near Puerta del Sol, we could try to find it again."
"Not now, I'd rather wallow."
"Oh come now, let's enjoy this. It's not often we get tossed into a city with nowhere to stay and no one to contact and no one to talk to. It's an adventure. He got you through worse than this. Wasn't this the whole point, trust God and see where you end up?"
"The plan was to trust God and end up back at the same hostel, preferably in the same room, less one drunk Canadian and his four a.m. hookup."
"You have an odd notion of trust."


He wished it would rain. This damned environment lacked empathy.
On the other side of the street a girl walked by wearing a black bra and gauzy, cream-colored top. Sheer, like this loneliness, he thought and turned his eyes to other things. He wondered if his soul was as clearly displayed as her undergarments. Did the passersby see him and read his story, see the outlines of the Galician hills and the prayers of thanks and desperation and exhaustion? Did the lights of a candellight procession shine out from a misty night in Fatima into the bright morning sun? He doubted it. Too much else to see and do and hear for those old sights and silences to mean anything. He was just another traveler. Where are you from? How long are you here? Where are you going?


Art heals a multitude of sorrows. How strange that it should do it with sorrow. He wandered the rooms of the Prado slowly, not as a critic, for his skill and knowledge was too little for that. Nor did he wander as he had so often before, checking off the famous paintings, nodding and pretending to appreciate while wishing only for a seat and a drink. No, he took his time and his care, and he drank. He did not drink them all. Some he tasted and liked not, others drained him as he drained them, returning again and again to the storms sweeping across the bay toward St. Jerome's cave, to the Holy Family resting on their flight to Egypt, surrounded by the greens and blues and grays of a countryside that had never harbored their journey except in the eye of a painter. An excellent draughtsman with a flight of beauty to quell the ache that had chased him through the day, he drank until he was full, and then drank some more. And then the waters rose from the canvas and carried him and filled him and took him until they spilled silently from the corners of his eyes, and he knew that in his loneliness he was not alone. He smiled.


The church of St. Michael proved elusive. He wandered in and out of Plaza Mayor with no luck, no forturne, and no success. At length he surrendered. Verdi's Requiem was sold out, and the church he had sought seemed to desire not to be found. His feet turned back toward the hostel. Perhaps he could pass the evening at the Flamenco class they were offering. He soon found himself walking down Calle de Toledo, with a church ahead on the left. San Isidro wasn't the one he'd been told to seek out, but he went in, thinking that he didn't need to return to the hostel at the moment anyway.
Inside he found a group of maybe ten women praying the rosary in a side chapel.
Might as well, he thought. He didn't know the prayers in Spanish, but that didn't matter. So he joined them, a young American, picking his way badly through the prayers, trying to pray in Spanish but switching to English most of the time, so he kept his prayers sotto voce. Eventually he learned the second part: Santa MarĂ­a Madre de Dios, ruega por nosotros pecadores, ahora y en la hora de nuestra muerte. He never figured out the first half of the prayer.
Where are you from? How long are you here? Where are you going?

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Crescent City Sketches

The magnolias were still in bloom, at least. The magnolias and the dresses, and that was enough of flowers for a lifetime of weekends, or at least for one weekend. For a lifetime, he thought, he would want the crepe myrtles, too. For a weekend, the dresses and the hats and the magnolias were enough. They blew down the streets in the gentle breeze (the dresses, not the magnolias).

Across the room sat a girl in a flower print dress, not blowing anywhere, but letting the smoke from her cigar float from her parted lips. He stole glances when he thought she wasn't looking, wishing that somehow she would notice and smile at him, and then he could smile back, and she would rouse herself from her soft leather chair and glide over to his table. Then she would ask him what he was reading, and he would show her a book of short stories by Faulkner, which would impress her greatly. She would sit beside him and laugh, and her lovely voice would quote her favorite passage, and they would talk of Faulkner and O'Connor and Hemingway, and he would always have a witty response with a drop of charm and a faint smell of wisdom, like honeysuckle on a warm spring afternoon. So they would pass the day in laughter and silence and companionship, in a miniature of life. Then the sun would dip toward it's resting place and they would stroll along the river, her arm in his, the wreath of white magnolia in her hair stirring in the breeze as she laid her head upon his shoulder, where it would fit perfectly. At the end of the river, or its bend, they would find a bench, and she would fall asleep with his jacket over her knees, resting in his arms...

His cigar had ashed itself on his book, and died out. She was gone. He hadn't even seen her go. "So it goes," he thought to himself. The cigar was not worth relighting, so he laid it on the ashtray, brushed the ash from his book as best he could, and walked out into the afternoon, never noticing that her cigar sat, still burning next to a half finished Pimm's cup.

When she returned she saw that he had gone. She sighed, sat, crossed her legs, and sipped at her drink, wondering who he was, and where he was going.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

A Wink and a Smile are Fleeting Things

The First Morning

He first saw her by the Fontana di Trevi during his third week in Rome. The fountains danced and sparkled in the April sunlight, and she smiled at the children as they chased each other through the spray.

He walked up next to her and introduced himself.

"A pleasure, Francisco" she gave him his Spanish name. She took a drink of wine and then said, "I am Maria." She extended a gloved hand, which he took with a slight bow.

"Pleased, my lady."

She laughed. "Oh, I am no lady," she said, "though I see I may pass for one outside of my own land. To you, I shall be Maria. It's so much nicer a name, don't you think?"

"It is indeed. Well, Maria, I hope I am not intruding. You seemed to be waiting for someone."

"I was, but am not."

"That is a relief to hear. Then I may join you?"

"If you like, my lord." She laughed, holding up a hand to stop his response. "No, but I know you are not a lord. I jest."

"What am I, then, if not a lord?"

She considered a moment, then said, "An artist I think. And a forward one, to address one you thought to be a lady."

"Or did I jest?"

"Perhaps, but I think not. I think lords pay you and ladies love you. Which must be a wonderful arrangement for you. So often one must pay a lady for her love."

"Ah, you think me a lech."

"Are you?"

He hesitated. She smiled and then began to laugh. "Well, I have guessed truly then. No, no, do not frown. Do you think I survive without wit? Do you think I pass for a lady without learning to read men?"

"Many ladies lack your wit, Maria, and are happier for it."

"So they are. Or so they think themselves. I could never abide such stuffiness. It's so boring. And their poor husbands. A good thing I am not a lord, else I should strangle my lady for sheer lack of anything else to do." She winked and took another drink of wine.

The First Night

Afternoon was fading to evening as he hurried back to his lodgings. He had spent the last several hours playing for his patron. The attentions of the ladies present: the looks, winks, sighs, and pouts had lost their appeal since meeting Maria that morning.

"So, artist Francisco, what do you paint?" She had asked.

"Dreams and dances," he said. He hadn't meant to. It was the same answer he had given to so many ladies, the same longing look and tone that had won him favor so often before. He knew it would not work on Maria.

"I should like to see them." She said, simply. "I've had too few of both." The smile that curved her mouth had a sadness to it, he thought. He was surprised, for he had expected another wink and a laugh, and a jab at his too obvious play.

"They cannot be seen, but if you come by this evening you shall hear them."

She had said she would.

His flat had just enough room for a bed, a desk, and a small upright piano. Blank sheets of music lay strewn across the desk and about the room. A single oil lamp sat on one end of the piano. He could have afforded a larger place but preferred the snug quarters and the close proximity to the Colosseum. Besides, it left him more money for wine and coffee, which were his primary forms of inspiration and sustenance.

He wanted to pace, but there wasn't enough room to do it satisfactorily. He let his fingers run over the keys instead, starting with various scales and then finding a melody. The piano was in fine voice when a knock came at his door.

She hesitated only for the briefest instant, then accepted his invitation to enter. He uncorked a bottle of wine that had been sitting on the desk, and pulled two glasses from under a pile of half-finished music.

"To life," he said. He thought he saw the same half-sad smile flicker across her face. Then she laughed and raised her glass.

"To life, then. And music." They drank.

He nodded. "These are my canvases," he said, indicating the papers lying about the room.

"Not much to look at."

"Oh, but they're something to hear," he said.

"Modesty's a virtue, you know," she said, laughing.

"I don't practice many of those. They are troublesome things. I think about them sometimes, and wish I practiced them, but..."

"But they don't win ladies into your arms, do they?"

"Something like that."

"So this is an artist's home."

"Or a shelter along the wayside. Nothing is home. Homes are burdensome. They hinder the flow of new ideas. Each new home becomes a bore when the well runs dry. Shall I play you something?"

"A dance?"

He played a few dances not his own: a Mazurka by Chopin, a few folk songs, and a few of Haydn's Walisische Lieder, which were not quite dances. She swayed gently to each one. Her glass of wine ran out and she forgot to fill it. His touch was masterful, perfect. The setting sun through the curtains cast an orange glow through the room. The orange faded into dusk, and he began to play one of his own works, one with spirit and home and life rising and falling throughout. When he finished it was dark.

Her hands fumbled for the bottle of wine and she filled her glass. Enough light remained to make out shapes, nothing more. "Brava," she said as she raised the glass to her lips. He looked toward her, seeing only a faint silhouette melting into the wall, just near enough to touch.

He put his hand on her waist and drew her towards him, standing as he did so.

"No," she said, placing a finger on his lips before he could kiss her. "Not tonight."

"Then I cannot play you into my arms?"

"I wouldn't say that," she said. "Here I am, with your arm around me."

He laughed. "Ah, my talent for nothing. You tease me too easily, Maria."

"I said I should like to listen. I did not say I would dance."

She took his hand from her waist, then. He made a move to light the lamp. "Wait," she said. "Let us walk a little. Have you another bottle?"

They left the room in darkness and emerged onto the gaslit street below. Walking arm in arm, they wandered down streets and alleyways. By the time they reached the Colosseum, the bottle of wine was empty.

"Poor planning," he said. "I should have brought two bottles."

"Or three," she said, laughing. "Well, it has been a lovely evening, my lord."

"So you say, m'lady."

"Oh, do not say that. It has! I got what I wanted, and don't pretend you're not up to the challenge I leave you."

"What is that?" he asked.

"Play me a dream tomorrow. Here, I leave you inspiration," and before he could react, she had kissed him and darted away. "Tomorrow!" she called over her shoulder.

Tomorrow he would play again, he thought, and smiled up at the Colosseum. It had been a good night.

The Second Day, Morning and Evening

Sunlight. Coffee. Food. Wine. He played with the keys, made them dance beneath his fingers, slowly building a scene in his mind, writing a story and knowing as he did so it was incomplete, but not knowing how or why. More food. More wine. A knock. More wine. A dream. "Not yet." A walk. More wine. A kiss. "Tomorrow, a poem." A laugh. Tomorrow, and tomorrow.

Days and Nights

The third night she did not remove his arm from around her waist. She did not stop his kiss with her finger. She did not say, "Tomorrow."

And so the days went from there, the story unfolding before him, differently than he had written it in his mind. He played. She played. They drank and danced and loved, or began to. It seemed the spring would never end.

They wandered the city, from the banks of the Tiber swelled with spring rains, to the Spanish Steps and back to the Colosseum, where stray cats darted in and out of the ruins, a pathetic shadow of the mighty animals that roamed the arena in the days of Rome's glory. The place was alive with its own jungle. Vines and bushes and flowers covered the broken stones, finding purchase wherever they could. A ring of fourteen stone monuments marked out the Via Crucis around the arena floor. A blood-red azalea had sprung from the ground directly in front of the twelfth station.

All around them the grasses and flowers were cool and inviting. His heart leapt as she drew him closer to her side. "Here," she whispered in his ear.

"No," it was his turn to pull away.

"What, is this your return for the way I made you wait?" She smiled, drank, and draped her arms around his neck.

"No, nothing like that," he said, leaning away from her attempts to kiss him.

"What's it like, then? Or... have you forgotten?" She asked, pressing closer.

He took her hands in his and held her back. "All this," he gestured toward the ring of stones that portrayed the Way of the Cross. "It seems wrong, here. It feels holy here, and I don't want to sully that."

"Isn't this – what we have – isn't this holy, too? Isn't this love?"

"Something like it, perhaps. But it's not holy, I don't think."

"Then what's the point of it all?"

He didn't know the answer to that. There was a question there, a question beyond the obvious. If this wasn't holy – and he was pretty sure it was the opposite – what was the point? Indeed, what was the point of all the wine and music? Joy, he thought, was a good thing, but difficult to capture.

"Happiness," he said at last. He meant to sound profound. Instead, the answer sounded hollow in the night air.

"I'm not happy," she said. She took another drink from the bottle and handed it to him, frowning as she did so.

"I'm sorry I stopped you. We can go back to my room."

"That's not what I meant," she said.

"You meant... with this? With me? With wine and music and laughter and love?"

"Or something like it, anyway," she said.

He thought about those glimpses he had seen before. The moments when her smile turned sad, when the twinkle in her eyes seemed about to sprout into tears. She tried to hide them, but he saw. Now, for the first time, he thought she might be about to explain. A little thrill coursed through him. To take pleasure in another's pain, he thought, is a bad thing, but to have the trust of another is good.

"Let's go home," she said, taking his hand.

He wished she would say more, that she would speak to him, but she had a magical ability to hide. Sometimes he thought she even hid herself from herself. She sang the whole walk home, a long Spanish saga of wine and rogues and lurid affairs. They slept. Waking early, they lay in bed, watching the daylight seep through the curtains. She smiled up at him. Her eyes shone beneath a tangle of black hair. "I'm happy," she said.


As the nights passed he felt a confusion, a quiet dread seeping into his gut. They were even closer to love, but there was a somber quality to it that he feared. He did not know that the somberness was an even greater gift than the gaiety of their first few nights and weeks.

His music suffered. Melodies came easily but they never finished. A song that ends only in the air is not a song at all, and the laughter that emanated from his piano and echoed down the halways of his building could not find its ending.

June came and she turned restless, awakening in the middle of the night to sit and stare out the window, or to walk the streets below. He tried to learn what troubled her, but she would not say. In the daylight she smiled, laughed, sang and drank. In the dark, something was haunting her, some memory or feeling or thought. He did not know.

His playing took a melancholy turn. He experimented with other scales and modes, sounds that evoked in his mind images of Maria leaning against the wall, her chemise waving slightly in the breeze that blew through the open window, the sadness in her eyes never quite brimming over.

The first indication she gave of what had been on her mind came one morning late in June. He was sitting at the piano, fiddling with some melody he had heard before.

"I have been thinking," she said, "of that night in the Colosseum."

He stopped playing.

"About happiness, and holiness, and love," she said.

"Those are elusive subjects," he said. "But they ought to be pleasant to think on. Have they been tormenting you?"

"Not tormenting. I don't think tormenting is the right word."

"Have you learned anything from your thinking?"

"I did not think one could learn from thinking," she said.

"Well, discovered then. Though, you could learn about yourself, if you are wise."

"You think me wise?"

"Wise enough not to desire to be a lady. Wise enough to think difficult thoughts. Yes, I think you are wise."

"I had always thought I was clever. Wisdom is for Saints and teachers, though I think teachers are often too conceited to be wise. But I do not think I am wise. Would a wise girl live this life? I don't mean with you, I mean everything. I mean hate and fear and uncertainty and regret and, yes, and love and even holiness. Is any of that wise, or is it just a... just a song that toys with us, makes us smile or cry and then ends, leaving only this lingering sense of... something... something we missed, perhaps. I don't know, maybe I am, but I don't feel wise."

"You think life is foolishness, all of it?"

"I don't know if I think that or not. I only wonder if all of the gaiety is just a front. At the end of each night, what do I have?"

"Me," he said. "You have me. Does that mean nothing?"

"It means so much, and yet not enough. You said happiness was the point of it all, but you meant something else when you said it. I think you meant music and wine and the warmth of me next to you."

"You said you were happy."

"I said I was happy."

"Have you ceased to love me?"

"Perhaps I have begun to love you."

"I don't understand."

"You think I do? You think I sit up at night, or wander the streets, because I understand myself and my love?"

"I thought... I knew something was troubling you, but I thought it was some past pain, some loss."

"Did you write yourself as my savior in your mind?" her voice was quiet, not accusatory but pleading.

"No, I..."

She smiled at him. "Oh, Francisco, I hear it in your playing. You are telling yourself a story and wishing it were true."

"How can you hear that in my music?"

"Because your music never ends. Because your playing is dark and brooding and you can't make it light, but I hear you trying. No, there is no dark past for you to know, no pain you can salve. I suppose there is only love and doubt."

He felt a slight twinge, for she spoke truly, but he feared what she might say next.

"All love is doubt," he said. "All love is uncertain. Life brings us things we do not understand and we embrace them..."

"And hold them tight, to crush them for fear we will lose them, or because we know we must lose them. They will be taken from us, if they are good, and if they are not good they will destroy us. You said what we have is not holy. You know this, and you do not care?"

"I never wanted to be holy. Well, that's not true, I did, I do, but I want love, and this is what I've found. Even if it's not holy, it's something like it."

"I thought it was, or at least I thought it could be. I think I was delirious with music and wine and Rome. This city..." she had taken up a bottle of wine while she was speaking and began to uncork it. "This city, it's a whirl of lovers and priests. Everything screams out to me to wrap myself around you and call passion holiness, because there must be passion, but there must also be holiness. My soul tells me what I need and everything else in me tells me what I can have is what I need."

She stopped and took a long drink from the bottle, until the red wine ran from the edges of her lips and down her throat, staining her dress. Like blood, he thought.

She wiped the back of her hand across her mouth. "But it's not is it?"

This was the blow. This was his fear. Something whispered to him that she was not wrong, but all he wanted to do was argue, to fight against what he knew was coming. He had no words to argue with, so he took the bottle from her, drank down a long draught, pulled her to him, and kissed her until his lips hurt. He thought of an argument then, but the time for words was past, for a while.

They continued for a time, never speaking of what they knew. On the outside, very little changed. They lay under the sun on the Capitoline; they hid beneath the Tarpeian Rock at night. Then one morning, without a word, she was gone.


The memories never really left. Skin doesn't forget. Eyes and lips do not forget. The day she left he finished a new piece of a dream – sad, beautiful, longing – a dream of love. The day he got the letter, he composed for her for the last time. His fingers slowly picked out the Dies Irae on the piano. Slowly, slowly the dirge turned into a dance, a mad fury, one final dance for her – The Final Dance. When it was over he played the old love dream once more. It was his last musical offering; almost a prayer, he thought, and the realization jarred him. Well, why not?

Years later, when he had taken the cloth, and the memories came to him, whispering saccharine words of longing, and his heart ached and he tasted the old familiar feelings, he would whisper the Requiescat and hope.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Word & Question, with Drinks

The girl across from me picks nervously at a coaster
Her short, red hair peeking out from under a stylish cap
"Have you been chewing on that?" asks the waiter
We laugh - deep, hearty laughs, and an embarrassed protest
Falls from her lips, too late to stop the uproar
The joke lives on, and many celebrations are marked
By cards of cardboard coasters signed with friendship

In another world, though they have crossed
A glazed, handcrafted mug sits upon Welsh slate
The sorrowful gray of the stone whispers
Of skies and mountains cold and swept by sad winds
But though a few stray tears slide down her cheek
She is happy, for in memory there is a peace
The peace of echoes, and hopes, and family