Robert Brickhouse has contributed poems and stories to many U.S. magazines and journals, among them the Virginia Quarterly Review, the Southern Poetry Review, the American Journal of Poetry, Poet Lore, Louisiana Literature, the Texas Review, Hollins Critic, Atlanta Review, Pleiades, and Light Quarterly. He worked for many years as a reporter for Virginia newspapers and as a writer and editor for publications at the University of Virginia.
Third of a century, I’m back.
Same person as that college kid?
Thirty-odd years mean nothing
to these fortress walls guarding the hills.
Soaked in cheap poncho, three days storms,
climb from mists on the Canal du Midi:
schoolchildren roaming the alleys,
banging on pans and pots they cheer
the true and ancient langue d’oc,
troubadours’ tongue by the souvenir shops.
Under the roof of a merry-go-round
a brass band strikes up, and the beautiful
Occitan teachers clap, dance,
pour lemonade, slice cake in the rain.
Two young flics enjoying the fête
greeted by friends all shake hands
as a line of blackbirds dives crying
into high narrow bow-slots,
A busload of Japanese tourists looks up
from umbrellas under the Porte Narbonnaise.
—originally published in Chattahoochee Review
–Ford Madox Ford
Only other diners are the man and woman across the room. Pink table cloths, pink roses. The patron, solicitous, recommends the guinea hen, specialty of the day. He pencils a note on a smudged pad. You are pleased to have found this little place: today you have walked by the “urgent, muddy Rhone,” photographed around the great castle. Through the swinging doors to the kitchen you glimpse the chef breeze past all in white.
The man and woman are in intense discussion. A businessman maybe, well dressed, gray at temples, the woman attractive, petite, with an orange scarf draped at her neck. They are clearly arguing, deciding something important. They are either husband and wife or lovers, their eyes locked over the flowers, the bottle of red wine. They do not smile. A long relationship dissolving? Tonight could change them forever. They fascinate, they are so serious: how they also attend to the food, pausing to concentrate on each lifted fork. Then they resume, leaning forward, one wagging a finger, the other touching a hand. Between courses they smoke.
The patron presents your volaille with a flourish. Voi-la. He is middle-aged, sallow, a mouse in gold-rimmed glasses. Darkness fallen, the young chef idles with him later by the kitchen. Again you hear only their murmurs. They too are in earnest, at odds. Arguing over some fault in the menu, or money, lack of business on this spring night. Or, you think, another lovers’ quarrel. To your left and to your right now, two couples, fingers tapped, heads shaken, frowns. Arms folded across chests, mutterings of absolument, bien sûr. Such passion. Life-wrenching decisions. You are witness. You try not to stare.
On and on it goes, no one once glancing your way. You have long finished your dinner, coffee, drunk too much wine. The air has become heavy, pressing. The café is over-warm. Will they never stop? To what crucial point has your own life come, right here, right now, in Tarascon in May? In the window, reflected, your face.
Poetry in this post: © Robert Brickhouse
Published with the permission of Robert Brickhouse