William Robert Flowers
After van Gogh's “Terrace of the Café at Montmartre(La Guinguette)”
In the midmorning there are fewer customers,
and these sit idly as the sun warms their wine,
huddled close by the sparse trees,
murmuring over the mouths of their glasses.
Meanwhile sparrows pick at littered indulgences, nimble
pacing unnoticed among the ankles of gray women
bound in shawls. I can smell the sea, the odor of pickled herring
wafting from the cold kitchen, capers, sour wine, algae
on the stones of the canal. But here on my hands,
I smell the traces of lovemaking, traces of this morning,
when, late for work, I ran cold water in the chipped
sink basin and splashed handfuls on my face and the nape
of my neck, while you lay back in the early light
falling like snow through the curtain’s lace, and the scent
of your sex on my fingers ran with the water down
my chest. I left my hands unwashed so that, walking bright
streets to the café, I had you with me still.
So I could smell you when birds pepper the terrace,
when voices break my reverie to ask for lemons, or more wine.
So that during my long day’s work last night ripens
inside of me, like the spring, the birds in their chatter, the roses
making love across cities when the bees finish taking their fill.
At least our bellies are full
Sunday is the day I have chosen to die.
The end and beginning of the week,
when our bellies are at their fullest,
and our noses finally clear of workman’s dirt.
Boots polished, the milk almost done.
Sunday is the day I set aside to write,
a sabbath of longings I cannot name stir
deep in their ash.
It is common practice
in this region to cut the crape myrtles down
to a bare trunk, every year—the rough
spread reduced, but firm, like a crooked
walking stick driven fast in the dirt.
We find ways to keep beauty in check,
but the trash of our desires could cover
the sea. To believe that we die the way Sundays end,
opening onto Monday, everlasting return—
we are not perennials, we die the way trees die;
our bodies fall, those who lived in our shadow
cart us away to stoke private fires.
And if we last, it is not as an oak,
adding rings and strength, but as crape myrtles,
shorn bare so we keep inside our lots.