Woman at the Café du Tambourin
All the while I worked,
you never once said my name, “Vincent.”
I still wonder about your hands,
where they’ve been, what they’ve done,
the lines they might have traced
on tired, aching flesh, some poor soul’s
broken peasant back, or your own,
trying to support the cumbersome weight
of an approaching unwanted child,
half a stranger, the other half mad.
Where is she now? Or was it a son?
The father has long been dead.
He was beaten behind the cathedral
and thrown in the river, they think
for some inconsequential crime,
but we both know better.
He had to pay, one way or the other.
In these matters, life has a grand
and tragic sense of humor.
No. Please. Don’t move.
I want to remember you this way.
Just so, with the smoke rising from your
cigarette like an unconscious prayer,
“Agostina Segatori.” I know who
you think you are, a professional model
and the owner of this quaint café.
Believe it if you must, if it is convenient for you.
I don’t mind. But please stay where you are.
If you move now, the pool of paint
that is the surface of your table
will run onto the floor.
Let me begin again. It was so long ago.
Do you know, it required great labor
to hide you in such a costume.
But regardless of how well he knows her,
an artist does not paint a woman
sitting nude at a table in her own café.
I wished now I had,
for all the good it’s done.
You might remember me differently,
and understand how awkward was
my situation then. The sad truth is,
I wrote you many letters on the subject,
but I tore them up, then burnt them.
How do you like your drink?
You seem to have forgotten it’s there.
Or is one drink like any other,
an alluring concoction
of disappointment and lies?
You, of all people, should know.
I gave you four buttons: one glowing,
one unraveling like a spring,
the others mute and apologetic,
tricked out of their destinies by the light.
What if I had left a novel lying on the table?
What then? Or the ledger for your accounts?
You have never thanked me
for clearing them away, or for scrubbing
the floor, or for sending those noisy fools
behind you on an errand. I remember
how you jumped when they slammed the door,
and wondered if they were coming or going.
I remember this and more, Agostina Segatori,
the pale moon on your back,
the lilac riddle rising from your skin.
To keep the world from going mad,
I gave only your face, your hands.
To this day, it is more than I can stand.
April 18, 2005
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