Elegy Four – For Lorna
A balcony, and twilight, and the noise
of night’s cicadas. My glass full of wine
and hers of vodka. There’s a ball of twine
upon the table, and a plate of cheese.
Some olives and some bread. Some sort of cake
red berries in it. Something she would bake
sometimes and sometimes buy it from the store.
We’d talk for hours, or sit and read. She’d drink
slowly and steadily. Make notes, then think.
You saw a smile growing behind her eyes
of something understood, something acquired
that was not thought of, not even desired
until she had it whole within her grasp.
Eyes that had mischief in them, sometimes rage,
then she’d look down, and turn her notebook page
and work on something else. Until she’d cough
those wrenching noises tearing from her core.
She’d look embarrassed. Worried that she’d bore
her friends and guests by being mortal sick.
A woman in a hurry, who found time
for friendship, food and joy, thought it a crime
to waste the years that she had left. She’d laugh
that throaty phlegmy laugh deep in her chest.
And plan your time. Being her friend and guest
meant you walked Florence for her. Climbed the hill
behind the house in the last hour of night
to see the city laid out grey and bright
washed clean by dawn. Walk paths through long wet grass
and tell her over breakfast. Find some trat
and eat bollito misto there and chat
in halting Tuscan with the owner. Walk
back through Oltrarno. Tell her over tea
the sights and tastes and sounds. And she’d tell me
the things half-seen half-tasted that I’d missed
but she remembered from her walking days.
I wish some image, half-remembered phrase
stuck from our talks, but words just evanesce.
A gossip, a tale-teller and a flirt,
who’d sit dishing French Theory with the dirt
on every poet, every novelist.
Pause, think, go back and mock the ones she’d missed.
But not for malice. Was the finest judge
because it was for Art she held a grudge
and never for herself. Those who let down
their own best work, she’d mock around the town
then over drinks would tell them what to do.
And all her caustic remedies were true.
She wrote her own great book just at her end
My teacher and my sister and my friend.