by David Harsent
The skim on the surface of your soup, or the cut on your plate
in the Café des Anges, juices swamping the willow-pattern skiff
as she dabs her mouth with her napkin, your blind, blind date,
leaving a smudge, lipstick-and-gore, though there's still a worm
of gristle in the gap between her teeth.
Mood music, candlelight, wine, low voices in a world of harm,
the creature brought down, hindquarters heavy, hind legs
broken by the dogs, its head held up, eyes wide,
the tangle and drag as a gralloch knife unpegs
the bulk, all slippage and seepage, and the way she thumbs
a morsel into your mouth, or smiles your smile
back at you, lets you know that everything's just as it seems,
then back at the small hotel, she strips off quicker than you
might have hoped, pink as a new-skinned cat, all too
eager to have you by heart. Her cry tells you nothing new.
Surely, what first comes to mind is purpill and pall.
No? So is it what she is said to have said that night
when she breathed a secret and put the whole room on stall?
Not that? Then it must have something to do with the way,
in the fairy tale when the twins are lost in the wood,
daylight suddenly deepens and it's run or stay or pray.
Still wrong? Rain in the hanging gardens then? That bruise
you can't account for? The color of money, win or lose?
A Balkan liqueur that hits you where—Ah, yes, of course; the bruise.
You know the room, or think you do, half-dark
and windowless it seems, though maybe
the shutters are dropped against the day, loose talk
from women in veils and something like a pulse,
on the air when he opens the door and slips straight in.
The Loden coat, the old slouch hat, the harelip, so who else
could it be, right on time and keen to help? Think back
to those promises, all of them straight from the heart,
never asked for, never kept. The skin trade . . . there's a knack.
It's been a lifetime coming but now you understand,
or think you do, why what you wanted wasn't what you planned.
They bring a tray to your bedside. You eat from his hand.
It sings they say, and so it does: something like the note
that fractures glass or gets so far below
the range of human hearing that it jolts your heart;
and the glass it breaks is blue, and that's a blue note for sure
from the guy on the alto sax in the basement dive,
which is where they're bound to meet up in the classic noir,
the private eye, the girl with a shadowy past, the old-style cop,
and it's nigh-on certain she'll have to take a bullet
or we'll see her in prison blue as they lead her to the drop.
The fragments of glass were part of it too, that's plain,
though no one noticed, just as they failed to spot
how the crucifix in her bedroom made sense of the subtle stain
on her cocktail dress. And in this, the director's cut,
the dive is deeper, the saxophone sadder, the cop
bent as a dog's hind leg, the girl a scheming slut,
and the gumshoe comes in late with the one and only clue
that would finally set things straight, though its true
meaning is hidden from him, and lost on you.
That misericord with the ugly little fucker
at the moment in his dance when slap-and-tickle
has become a serious matter, and no one's quicker
in getting his hand up the skirt of some "ladye fayre,"
who returns to hearth and home with the rub of the green
on her back for all to see and devil-may-care,
his smell still on her, reek of the barley mow,
and hers on him, which could have been sloe
or sweat and sandalwood, but you'd be the one to know.