For Rosemary Lombard (and Paul Simon)
This girl and this man sing together.
They are sitting on these steps,
which for them, which for me,
must also in some way be a stage,
scrim set and defined by a door shut behind
the camera’s squint squiz,
the gap between her space and his
grouted and flat,
locked like a spine snapped
Complicating the exit.
It is early in the morning.
He has been asked to come and play music for,
no, with children. On television. On these stairs
which lead to the sort of porch (I write stoop)
that he has lately been avoiding.
But today he hovers near it, near her,
and says, and stops himself from saying,
that it was a brownstone (in my tongue,
a town house) like this where he’d first met his wife,
who tipped into him as stiff and iceless
as the drink he couldn’t buy her then.
He thought she would open up
as if an elevator in the building of conversation,
a device he could ride from across to sides
without ever having to construct a scaffold himself.
I’d say lift. He was wrong.
She divorced him a year before.
Now his problems are like his hair, parted.
He is 38.The girl is seven (or six).
They’ve asked her to come and sit,
to come and sing with him.
She says hello, ducks her head.
Small animal, small pump of blood
and possibility. She is made
of corduroy, he thinks, soft,
unmalleably furrowed. Without zip.
He can appreciate her wholeness,
he is weary of it.
He himself feels fetched,
feels stitched from thin material,
worrying at the connections.
You can see the marks of the alterations
he made, let others make, on his ancient guitar,
whose strings knot and flay where he has pulled at them.
This does not seem beautiful to him.
He won’t ever get another.
The song is about an event he refuses to explain
to the girl,
so he tries to only pronounce words like
“mamma” or “pyjama”,
leaving them placed sweet,
as if icing on a cake,
praying “Let her life lick past it”,
when, suddenly, she yells,
“Dance! Dance! Dance!”
The man is concerned, he interrupts her,
but she tries again, when the lenses turn,
this time pointing at him while humming,
“Look! I can see the bird!”
Two decades later, a friend will post this
link to my Facebook wall.
And I’ll think, “She wasn’t wrong at all!”
And I’ll think, “I’m nothing like you.”
This poem was first published on AERODROME. Thank you, Gen, for permission to post it on Fleurmach (and obviously for writing it! xx).