A face glimpsed as if framed through a space between the lattice-work of a bench, a day-drinking bar on a shade-lined street of turn-of-the-century buildings, Mediterranean maybe, looking for what, lower lip pinned to upper, unsure, a question: a face glimpsed as if framed through a space between the lattice-work of a bench upon which one word was seen: nostalgie.
But back at the beginning: the station was blue. His face a ruin. Rain.
Someone had disappeared.
The streets they’d found in that lower, slightly modern town not unlike a nondescript one to the south: a quiet, latent fascism and empty cafés. Cold plazas. More plane trees with their heavy leaves and dark. In the distance a muffled sound of fireworks. Winding upwards here and there the giddy cry of children.
Dozing on a regional train then he was (when on a train he was), hatted head on window, a blur. Two of wealth’s greatest gifts: undrugged sleep and silence.
One day early on he opened his eyes and understood that the world, that world (which, in the end, perhaps had never even existed), had utterly disappeared. Nothing left to do but scour the streets for those who were no longer there.
Elegy unending. And empty hands.
An incredible wind those days. Jersey barriers and more arrests (but as to any particular anxiety). Police in twos; shotguns unslung.
Loneliness and monotony: the curse.
Around the corner from the station a hostel named Terminus.
One day early on he opened his eyes and the world he’d known had disappeared as if it had never been. A sense of certain lobotomy, and that no one even cared.
So, you like to live in the past, the official said. I used to do that, until I simply couldn’t.
Something of a whimper at the end of the concrete mole, the land’s end jutting out into sea. A clinging, cloying heat, summer’s refusal to end a thin skim across the skin. Salt, cypress hazy back to town; at the opposite end, the tang of urine and defeat. Gulls, a plane, then a faint boat-motor outward. What’s on, what’s in, the wake.
The floor’s tiled patchwork in another abandoned room. A wooden chair. Cracked wardrobe. Dust motes ambered along morning’s burnished boughs; pigeons up on the roof. Downstairs, wind sticking to stone. Sand, maybe sirocco. Little mounds for just one moment then: a wrapper, a straw, a cigarette, a lip-smudged napkin.
Your tears, so the old one said, are part of the earth’s continuum. And where they stop, another’s begin. But so it goes with laughter too, he added.
The others said, Ah, here we go again, the good old martyr game. Shut your fucking mouth. They said, Not here you don’t. They said, We’ve got other ideas. They said, That’s not up to you. They said, Enough. We’re done.
Another plane rumbles overhead. Glares against the sun.
Try to remember what for you was new: chipped light, an unadressable landscape. Fingers bent and a broken body. A lidless horizon on an abandoned road at night’s last linger, the seemingly requisite scrub and litter. A jumble of seasons behind you on the strangest of hillsides withhieroglyphs off in the thistle.
Leave him alone. He’s not going anywhere. Let’s go get a beer.
There in his place on the pavement all his faces frozen in the back there begin to come, in the last golden light between andante and adagio, on ladders, on streams of sun, he sees them all, with those just leaving, with those just arriving, to this, the world, and though impossible, the world, this world, it’s always been so beautiful, let no one say he never loved it, even now, when up from his place on the pavement he hears those distant songs and hum, hears night being stitched to night…
…I woke up yesterday. The war was still not over. My mother asked, What’s wrong with you? My brother simply, You’re a fuck up. My father said nothing. He was dead.
Something, somewhere, had been pulverized. The wake long
& the story would be one of
of eternal, an
The story would be one of escape
The ghost of a surname’s syllables ghosted, whispered across the lanes. Yours. Or maybe time. The memories are vague. But it’s always summer. Brown, and darker reds. Narrow streets. And at the edge a room, trapped forever in the season. Heat. A voice, an image. Hallucinations of Cervantes. Sex, silence, desert and swoon.
Now it’s rain and wind in the last hour of darkness, window already starting to gray, that’s: day. Caught in the strange space between these plastered walls. And what’s left. The old town shuttered. Finger-ends yellowed. Night’s stains and strains. The thinnest of gold necklaces, pearling apart on the ground.
He was sat in a corner of the cafeteria, with its tiled walls and tables, the floor, noon’s drinkers, the light, thinking about a painter’s shadows and useless things.
He was sat in a corner of the city, thinking about the man who’d made its bells.
He was sat in a corner of the day, thinking about the greatest of human architectures.
The streets off the square as if it had rained. Trying to keep the gold of day’s dome, its cupped hands, a whole. A station. A step. A day in spring. The look on a face as it ran up the stairs, not yet late. But then as always the violet rush, the whine, night ripped before it burst: fluorescent blooms: over and over
again the sear the surge and we’re running
out into dawn’s metallic glare
This is a story of obsession, he said. Of shadow. Of a necklace, pearling apart on the ground. Like most, he said, this story is one of escape.
Author illustration and header image by Beatriz Crespo
Alexander Booth is a poet and literary translator. He is the author of chapbook, Roman Hours (2017). The recipient of a PEN / Heim Translation Fund grant for his translations of the poetry of Lutz Seiler (in field latin, Seagull Books, 2016), his work has appeared in numerous print and online journals. After many years in Rome, he currently lives in Berlin. More information can be found at Wordkunst.