Elegy For A Lady

quiet-afternoon

She sat near the window of the sidewalk café, silent, poised, and relaxed, smilingly sad, and alone. She was aged and yet ageless, gracefully old, with skin of fine parchment etched with fine lines, and she dressed with bold elegance, yet never the same; a splash of blue there, a dash of white there, a diamond worn there, a pearl displayed there, a show of small riches on the stage of despair; and she was so slight of frame she sometimes appeared just a shimmer of air, except when her jewellery glinted and shone, or her eyes glanced round with a dare.

She turned from the window, and looked towards me, as the young waiter brought her a bright silver tray with a white cup of coffee on a white linen cloth, a single biscotti and a single white rose, and her silver hair caught the sun’s cascading light and her eyes burst into sparkle, like turquoise alight. And that’s how we met, that warm summer’s day in a midtown café, me drenched in self-pity, in drunken despair, while she, ever tranquil, soft lips to her cup, caught my eyes with hers, to turn quickly away.

She appeared to me first on a June afternoon. The rain had just stopped as a rainbow appeared, and there she was standing, while gazing around, as if searching for someone who could never be found. She then took a table facing the door, near the large window, as if hoping for more. Just who she was, or was there to see, heightened the allure and the mystery for me. There was something about her, as if out of time, and when she walked in with a soft gentle air, I soon felt the presence of someone quite rare.

You may well ask my interest in someone like her so different from others, so different from me, but that was the thing that intrigued me you see. She seemed to be searching but calmly, assured, whereas I was just groping to somehow be cured.

So after three weeks exchanging looks or a smile, one day, as she sat there with coffee, biscotti, her single white rose, I took courage in hand and rose from my chair to ask if she’d like a conversation to share. As I stood there before her, in hope of reply, I felt transported by eyes that softly scanned mine and offered my hand she took gently in hers.

She replied, “A kind offer, but perhaps you would, instead, join me. I’ve my reasons to sit here, and, when known, you’ll agree.”

Intrigued, I accepted, and with bottle of wine, a half empty glass, my notebook in hand, I sat down before here as she gave me a sign. Once we were settled I offered my name but she asked why should we bother, to which I agreed. I called for more wine and offered a glass. She accepted with grace but while watching me pour asked just what my black notebook was for, and seemed pleased when I said, it held notes to myself that seemed once to make sense, but not anymore.

One question became many, one glass became three and through lunch and desert and a dinner on me, she related long stories of the world of her youth. She spoke with an accent, of Vienna, she said, of a family of wealth and prestige. Prized pupil, prized teacher, a prized governess, she taught manners and music, played piano for ease. She regaled me with stories of Viennese nights that portrayed vividly things that made up her life; of dancing one night at a splendid state ball, in a palace, in summer, just before the Great War; of the troubles, defeats, the abdication and fall, of carriages, horses, and brass bands in parks, but mostly of her young woman’s dreams, and only then did I realise how old that she was. I listened for hours, while sipping on wine, enchanted with a world so far from this. Her memories stirred me. Her voice was my bliss.

The tragedy of love composed her last tale and revealed the reason she’d come, so gentle and fair, to sit in the window of the Café Bellaire. In her days in Vienna, just by the grand square, near the cathedral where she once offered prayer, there stood an old building in one corner of which was the best place for coffee, for pastries, for and music and life, where violins played sweet-singing airs, and so bore the name, The Café Bellaire. It was there she’d last been with the man that she loved, a young composer of music, with musical styles that he boldly arranged for the fast modern age, but were rejected by critics and friends except her, for she played well the piano and played well what he wrote, even his most daring and difficult note.

They met at a dance in a working class hall, his spirit moody, hers happy and fair, but he softened with time, while she grew intense, as love’s mirror reflected their love that smouldered then burned. She inspired him to heights he never could dream and wrote page upon page of sounds never since heard. He played them to her, she played back to him, on the old piano he had, where he paid room and board. The music flowed fast from him to the page while her hands flew on the keys as if in a rage. His professor soon damned him for breaking the rules. The critics condemned him, but they were all fools. Still, they had their effect. His spirit was broken. He once spoke of death, but she begged him to live and played, as her plea, the music she loved and knew the world would. So he continued to write down note after note while she shared his creation as only she could.

Then came the war, and he was called up. The music he heard was the sound of the guns. His battalion was ready and soon called for the front. He begged and he pleaded for a last evening pass, and when it was granted, from his cold barrack bed, sent her a note, stained with hot tears as though with his blood. His regiment was leaving for the harsh mountain front to face the Italians whose people he loved. He had one chance to see her to say a farewell, and so asked to meet at The Café Bellaire. She dressed in the coat that he especially loved, the perfume, her favourite blue hat, and walked through the streets as fast as she could. But he arrived first, all dressed in field grey, boots pacing the stones as snow fell on his cap, anxious, tormented; his leave was soon up.

She saw his cold form as he walked up and down, as the lights on the street cast shadows around. She ran to embrace him and he embraced her. They kissed and they hugged, ‘til their bodies seemed one as over and over she begged him to stay, cried nothing made sense, begged him please run away; but he talked of his duty, and what could be done, orders were orders, and this was his fate; he had to leave soon, he couldn’t be late. They stood there, snow covered, ‘til his last words of farewell; that the war could not part them and nothing else will.

He said he’d return, and that without fail, but if for some reason she heard no news how he was, or answers to where, she must wait for him there at The Café Bellaire. He kissed her once more, with no more to say, then turned on his heels to walk quickly away. She stood there a long time in deepening cold, then slowly walked home past lights and the shows in sadness, alone, as if she were old.

He never came back. She never heard news and his name was not mentioned in the casualty lists. Inquiries led nowhere as long years went by but still she returned to The Café Bellaire, week after week, and year after year, hoping her love would make him appear. Her vigil was lonely and time became swift, then came a new war which caused her to flee, to Paris, to London, and finally here. She’d never been married. She was waiting for him. So when, on that day, three weeks ago, she again saw the sign of the Café Bellaire, she had no choice but to enter in and continue her wait for she believed what he said and this was her fate.

When she finished her story, I sat silent and troubled, and knew not what to say. But she read my thoughts quickly and quietly said, “My life has been long and I am content. Love’s what’s important. There is nothing else. I wait in a dream but a dream is enough.”

She then said she felt tired, and gracefully rose and I helped, with affection, to walk her outside, where she smiled at me once and kissed me goodbye, then let my go my hand and passed from my view. I went back inside to write it all down hoping see her the very next day but she never returned nor has ever since. I asked all the waiters if they’d heard any news, but none of them had and none of them knew. She was old, one suggested, and so very frail. It’s sad, but really, how long could she last, and maybe that’s true. But still I am sitting, in that lonely café, waiting, and hoping, as she used to do, for something to happen, for a dream to come true.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Love On A Park Bench

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(Lights go up to reveal two old men sitting on a bench, both with their hands resting on their canes, looking into the distance, at a pond, at ducks, at women passing by)

First man: Beautiful day today, don’t you think, the pond, the ducks, and some fine ladies passing by.

Second man: I try not to think about them.

First man: The ducks?

Second man: Hah, a comedian, you never were.

First man: I was trying to avoid the subject.

Second man: No need, they avoid us.

First man: Oh, I have my hopes.

Second man: Hopes? Who’ve you got the hopes for?

First man: The love of my life.

Second man: This love of yours have a name?

First man: I see her in my dreams. Like Dante’s Beatrice, she appears and smiles at me. Each night she appears. Wearing a long white dress. Beckoning me.

Second man: Then you’re stealing my dreams, because she visits me at night too.

First man: I’m betrayed!. Though what she sees in you I have no idea.

Second man: We all have our illusions.

First man: But the same one?

Second man. Of course,

First man (gazing up): That’s an interesting cloud, like a ship in sail.

Second man: A sea voyage, nothing like it to appreciate how insignificant we are.

First man: Maybe in the old days. Now the sea’s dying faster than we are.

[A beat]

Second man: (a sigh then), Yes, what we’ve done. Terrible things. But the park’s still beautiful.

First man: Yes, there are still beautiful things.

Second man: Wondrous things

First man: Which makes me wonder, would you lend me 50 bucks?

Second man: Are you kidding me-what do you need 50 bucks for? If it’s for a filly you can forget it. Last time you bet on a race with my money you lost it all.

First man: This filly is no horse I can tell you. Just thought I’d ask Diana out for dinner and my pension hasn’t come in yet.

Second man: Diana? Our Diana? The physiotherapist? Why would she be interested in you, especially when she’s made it clear she is interested in me?

First man: She loves me.

Second man: Impossible, she loves me.

First man: Has she said so?

Second man: Not in so many words but there is no doubt. Women can’t resist my charms.

First mans: Then why are you alone at your age?

Second man: My charms become the problem. First they love me, then they hate me.

First man: There you go, so why bother with Diana, The same thing will happen. She’s better off with me, then you can avoid all the trouble.

Second man. Love is always trouble. You can’t talk your way out of this.

First man: Well, one of us has to surrender the field. And it’s not going to be me. And she’s half your age.

Second man: And you-but she’s an angel- age means nothing to her-she sees into my depths, into my soul, and what she sees touches her.

First man: (laughing,) I don’t know what they put you on, but you can forget it. You’re deluded. She loves me and I’d advise you to keep your distance.

Second man: if that’s how you see things then you can forget the 50 dollars. I’m not lending you money so you can steal my woman. In fact, I’m warning you stay away or things can get violent. (raising his cane in one hand in a threatening manner.)

First man: (standing up and raising his cane in defence) Who do you think you are? Some friend you turned out to be. You’re a thief, a common thief. I’ll have you kicked out of the home. You just watch, I’ll fix you, I will.

Second man: (Standing in a fighting stance, cane at the ready)

If anyone is leaving the home, it’s going to be you. In fact if you keep this up you won’t arrive there again.

(raises his cane over his head)

First man: If this were a different time I’d challenge you to a duel and shoot you dead.

Second man: For love I’d willingly die, but you couldn’t shoot a barn door if you were in front of it-It’s you that would die and good riddance too.

First man (approaching and getting in his face) I used to think of you as my friend, my best friend.

Second man: You don’t know what the word means.

First man: It means someone who loves you, who is loyal, someone you can trust, but you-you-you cant be trusted. You only care for yourself, I’ve seen it before but kept quiet, but you know what-really, I hate you. I wish you were dead. (he again raises his cane to strike)

Second man: You phony, you hypocrite, just try me, just try me , My love is my life, take the one, you take the other (he raises his cane to strike back)

First man: Love, hah, Then for love you will die or I will. So prepare-so my anger can be satisfied, so I can love. Prepare to die.

Second man: (raising his cane and hand to block a blow from the other)

Stop, stop. Just stop, my god, what are we doing?

First man: Fighting for love, man, raise your cane.

Second man: Fighting for love, that’s what I mean, it’s absurd.

First man: Not to me it isn’t.

Second man: War never solved anything-or murder, are we going to kill ourselves over this, and my heart (grabbing his chest) my heart -this is madness.

First man: Life is madness.

Second man: It’s made us what we are. Look at us.

First man: (lowering his cane) It’s the loneliness.

Second man: The regrets.

First man: I’m regretting we came to the park today

Second man: We’ve always come here. you and me, together.

First man: Diana probably won’t like that. Women get jealous, you know. Not like us.

Second man: You’re right. And she’d take up all our time.

First man: Well, my time

Second man: You mean mine.

First man: (another sigh as he sits down on the bench and the second man follows him to sit once again next to each other, hands on their canes, looking into the distance)

I’d miss sitting here with you.

Second man: And I with you. Our conversations. Just sitting alone, together, being in the moment. What else is there?

First man; Love isn’t what it’s cracked up to be, not that kind of love.

Second man: Look what it’s done. I was close to killing you.

First man: You wouldn’t have succeeded, but I might have. Love. Hate. So close in our hearts. Killing for love. Look what it reduced us to.

Second man: On second thought, if you still want the 50 bucks, it’s ok, you can go out with Diana, I was just thinking about the nurse on the morning shift, maybe…

First man: You know what, I’ve changed my mind. Why spend all that money on a love I’m not sure of when I’ve got all I need sitting here with you.

Second man: Yeh, you’re right, what can be better than this.

[A beat]

First man: It’s a beautiful day, don’t you think? Sure makes you appreciate life.

Second man: Yeh, it’s a beautiful day, my friend, a beautiful day.

End

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To A Friend

Old_guitarist_chicago

You walked in flowered fields with me

and talked of music, sex, philosophy,

of women, men, their loves and friends,

the fools who taught, our fated ends,

for we had read the strange Camus,

and even Dostoevsky knew,

but Kurosawa was our rage,

and Bergman was to us a sage,

as Ho Chi Minh fought our endless fight,

Guevara murdered was by night,

but while we wondered of our role

we found ourselves in Rubber Soul,

in Kerouac, Marx, and LSD,

for we were seventeen and free,

so road the rails, spent time in jail

wrote howling lines in one long wail,

drifting on a lonely sea,

of younger thoughts, of possibility,

but now you’re dead, some say it’s true,

or did you make it to Peru,

where once you promised me you’d go,

on reading lines from old Thoreau.

 

 

Paris Interlude

 

Pablo Picasso - Seated Woman, 1927 at Art Gallery of Ontario - Toronto Canada

 

She sat quite alone at a sidewalk café,

on a street near the Seine and the Musee D’Orsay,

silver hair shining through the shadows of leaves,

trembling above her, caressed by the breeze,

loves past and lost years, were those tears in her eyes,

when softly she smiled, as one who soon cries,

then picked up her glass of red tinctured wine,

with an elegant hand I wished could touch mine,

and drank again memories of rebellions and art,

As we sat there united, at tables apart.

 

Revelations of the Night

mystic night, image

Beyond the wind, beyond the seas, beyond the dawn, they went,

by land and sail, by horse, by ship, the open sky their tent,

always east they journeyed on, this caravan of eight,

two by two, or four by four, towards their common fate,

through ocean storms, through desert winds,

through hunger’s grip, they passed,

and always had the same reply for those who sometimes asked,

the reasons for their travel, the meaning of their path,

to illuminate their ignorance or flee a tyrant’s wrath,

‘we’ve heard a tale of lands far-off where peace and justice reign,

it’s that we’ve searched for far and wide but fear we search in vain,

for all we’ve found is misery, leavened with despair,

and among the dispossessed are few who dare,

to see what’s right before their eyes,

or defy with angry questions the lies that swarm like flies,’

and so they passed, in times of old, hunter, farmer, engineer,

the weaver, and the poet, with songs of woe and cheer,

the doctor and the star-man, round the world they went,

learning all they ever could, how flowers made their scent,

until one day they found a place that filled their very need,

a land where people led themselves and all had time to read,

where wars were long forgotten, for they had the best defence,

walls of wisdom, moats of tears, and arms of common sense,

where making love was still an art, and art exposed their soul,

where learning, and not riches was the only worthy goal,

and so astonished were they, at all they witnessed there,

that soon they spoke of passage home for this they had to share,

but just before the dawn appeared, in gown of rosy sky,

they all awoke from deep in sleep, and began to wonder why,

the things they’d seen were nowhere round their dying fire’s light,

and wondered who would listen to revelations of the night.

 

 

 

 

 

The World The Right Way Up

 

foodsofengland 1647upsidedown

It was a day ago, a week, perhaps,

while strolling past a market stall,

there stepped out to the front of me,

a brazen looking boy,

who in a strangely whispered voice

did shyly ask my name

and with his blue eyes locked on mine

calmly blocked my way

to ask me where I journeyed,

and what I had to say,

but while searching for the answers,

in thoughts so strange to me,

I heard an old and damning voice

speak ghostly in my ear,

‘leave him and his sinning,

the dead have had their say,’

as somewhere in the distance

old priests began to wail,

for gods long gone forever

their wailing all in vain,

so on I went past whispers,

past shabby streets and shops,

past all the bourgeois hopes they sell,

wrapped up with despair,

and found myself on boulevards

like a well-off, well-to-do,

but when the pocket’s empty,

desire’s a heavy chain,

so burdened, bitter, broken,

lost in lonely gloom,

I wandered sordid saddened streets

until I saw a shadowed door,

in an alley in a quarter

where kings are still unknown,

on which in glowing letters gold,

were writ three words,

“the common right,’

that made me open wide the door

to find within a place of light

where Justice was by Peace embraced,

while Reason played guitar,

that truly seemed a world apart,

a world turned upside down,

and so I came to tell you,

a message old yet strong,

the door’s not locked, it’s open,

and we only have to dare,

to turn the world the right way up,

and bring the wrong side down.

 

 

They Cut Down The Trees

trees sad

 

They cut down the trees,

one hot summer’s day,

to save us from squirrels

or maybe the snow,

or was it to widen

those old fashioned paths,

for questions drew silence,

and they never were clear,

they marked them with red,

with their crosses of blood,

then cut down the beauty,

and destroyed all the shade,

and left us a wasteland

they thought rather grand.