The basso was Hungarian, the tenor, Greek,
the pianist was Roma, a Rumanian or Turk.
While the basso bowed, and passed his beret around,
a horn and piano played Romance by Adolphe Blanc.
Grog the drink, low the lights, the evening was enhanced
by mystery and music to intensify a dangerous romance:
who might hide behind the drapes, maroon velour,
what listening devices nestle among the petit-fours?
Mornings downstairs while the café still was shut, I’ve spied
the concierge untangling wires, sprinkling pots, hiding wires.
Tonight we pour our dregs of grog into the pot. Might
any bugs short-circuit? But no sizzle, no flash of light.
Next table over, two men in dark hats, dark overcoats,
check their watches, sip their grog, and scribble notes.
Hence my guest discusses weather and an antique balladeer
centuries ago who seldom dared to sing his own songs
My guest stands, gives me a mournful kiss. The men
at the next table stand, herd him out the door. Then
the basso bows, thrusts forth his beret and steps up his rounds.
To mask sounds, musicians bang out waltzes, Strauss, Johann.
For X & X & X
We first must be approved,
then tip guards
to send a parcel to an innocent or wayward
locked-up child—Could we have rescued…
Yet in another century and land,
Akhmatova lined up beyond
Kresty jail in Leningrad
through that window hatch—
essential bribes for guards—
a parcel for
her dissident son, detained.
wrinkled woman recognized
the poet, in a whisper asked,
“And this, can you describe?”
“I can,” Akhmatova replied,
and wrote her epic cycle Requiem.
We too compose our
an uncertain solace in our sisterhood.
IN UNACCUSTOMED SOLITUDE
Time alone! But no paper or pen.
Only my trickster mind, again…
Yet Indonesia’s rebel poets, exiled,
without paper or
pen to desert isles
did they write with twigs at
on sand till surf censored their lines?
In jungles, might captives
slip off to write
on mud in monsoons on a moonless night,
in Siberian jails, ink on snow
Solzhenitsyn: “Toilet paper sufficed.”
Mandelstam’s jail mates
learned his lines
and men who survived their confinement
his poems out in their heads,
work alive after he was dead…
Are my lazy mind, seeming liberty,
pencils, laptops, forms of captivity?
Must not give in, admit my own defeat…
Cracked pen works on a ripped receipt…
No matter if later
I cannot decipher.
THE TRAVELOR STOPS IN
A HAMLET AT DUSK AND THE HEADMAN ANSWERS HIS QUESTIONS
No, the mountains between our clans
are not tall or rugged or sharp
as mountains are meant to be.
Their language rougher than ours,
they mispronounce our words,
malign our gods. Like their dogs,
they slink around, sully our land
steal our fowl, our sheep, our goats,
and worst of all, our girls—
Our mothers seldom know from which clan
is their baby, the father one of us or of them?
The children unsure of provenance,
our villagers all become mothers, fathers,
our elders grandparents. Every table holds
an extra bowl, each house has an extra cot.
So it has always been, my friend, so
it may always be. You will find the hay
in our stable dry, soft enough for a bed.
(credit: above poems from Guy Wires, Poets’
Elisavietta Ritchie, Broomes Island, Maryland