~~ for Marian ~~

Night after hideous night, underneath
some cruelly elegant bridge on the Seine,
sleeping on cobbles, rolled up in a coat,
he imagines how it would feel to float
face-down in the current, to sink beneath
the surface, to rise and to sink again.

He groans and waggles his head to dispel
the fog from his eyes and looks out upon
another disconsolate Paris dawn
casting a pall on the Seine ~ oh, to get
a swallow of coffee, a crumb of baguette,
an hour's parole from this homeless hell...

A discarded flyer blows up against
the toe of his boot; he unfolds and reads:
In Bohemia's Ninth Circle expect
all meaning eroded, all purpose wrecked,
all beauty reduced to embellishments…

He wads and tosses it into the weeds.

Metaphysics is all very well, he scoffs,
but let me have something to pawn or spend,
my stomach is bleeding.
He staggers off,
marring the fragile calm with his cough,
till he vanishes round the river's bend.
No obituary will mark his end,

or anthology hold in crypted print
his dark utterance, but this is the least
of his worries, with heaven clouding up
and a cold wind gnawing at every rent
in his ancient coat. He prowls like a beast,
dreaming of toast and a steaming cup.

At a busy spot he establishes
his post in a doorway, setting his hat
at his feet and, in a gratingly flat
monotone, punches out verse after verse
of poetry like an extended curse,
pounding fist into palm for emphasis

until a policeman, plainly annoyed,
prods him along. He recovers his hat
and, muttering imprecations, stomps off
along the storefronts, a scowling tough
whom two little boys, a matron, a cat,
veer quickly across the street to avoid.

After half a block he stalls . . . what to do?
His stomach gnaws on itself and his knees
begin to buckle ~ he shudders and breaks
a clammy sweat and his every joint aches ~
altogether such are his miseries
that he might attribute them to the flu

except they are too well-known to mistake
for anything other than what they are:
the ill effects of a catch-as-can diet,
with blood-sugar levels in full riot,
spiking and plunging ~ he shivers and shakes
and his breathing becomes irregular.

Unsteadily, slowly, he makes his way
to the harbor lights of a little park
in search of a nook; in the semi-dark
shade of a linden he stakes out a bench
where, hugging his knees, he attempts to staunch
a flood of old nauseau and dismay,

rocking himself like a dying child
keeping the dragons at bay... Pity's sake,
look at you sitting there, all in pieces!
(a smoke and tequila voice, with traces
of melancholy like a mortal ache).
He looks up to find a tall, disheveled,

ivory-throated siren of the streets
regarding him with concern. Hullo, Rose,
he says to her weakly, how have you been?
Jesus, she mutters, c'mon, on your feet.
Can you make it to my place, you suppose?
My god, you're a pitiful specimen.

Together they hobble across the park,
the press of her softness against his arm
compounding his sense of delirium
and causing him roughly to pull apart.
Do you find me so repellent, you bum?
She jabs at his rib. He is very warm

and notes how the trees have begun to sway
surreally around his head in middair.
Steady on, sailor, let's get you to shore.
They stumble along for a few blocks more,
slip through a door off an alleyway
and heavily slog up a winding stair

to a spartanly-furnished, dingy room
with a narrow bed, a table, a chair,
and little else . . . Have a seat anywhere,
she says with a nod, only keep off the bed.
He sidles up to the wall, hands to head,
and slides to the tiles, swallowed in gloom.

She regards him with frank astonishment.
For God's sake, Christian, what are you thinking?
Are you truly sick, or just been drinking?
Sit in the chair!
But he doesn't relent.
He just scowls and mutters something obscure
about dangerous heights and furniture.

All right then, she snarls, shaking her head,
have it your way, you can sleep on the rug.
At once he drops off like something half-dead,
ensconced in his greatcoat, huddled against
the wall like a heap of discarded rags
that the wind has blown up against a fence.

She sits and looks down at him from above,
looks down at him darkly until, at length,
suspicion alloyed with something like love
and a sinking hollowness at her core,
she drowns in the ebbing tide of her strength
and curls up beside him there on the floor.

Sunlight collects in a pool where they lay,
circling their heads in a warm radiance
till the halo dissolves, the sky goes gray
and a cold wind rattles the windowpanes –
Christian wakes to the rap of pelting sleet,
to the grind of muffled traffic in the street

and studies the slumbrous woman who lies
breathing beside him, a lock of her hair
haphazardly falling across her face.
He longs to smooth it aside, to trace
the curving hollow of her cheek, to bare
her temple and moisten it with a kiss...

he draws himself back... the faint bouquet
of violet lingering round her hair
and the sweet unguarded softness of her
eroding his will... he begins to sway,
undone by mingled love and desire
until, that is, he recalls her ire....

...an ongoing narrative, to be continued.
last stanza added 19 Sept 04.