The Man in Chamonix
It is a long time after dinner in our hotel
My father and his friends are in the billiard room, playing pool
My brother is learning
There are more children playing board games in the lounge
I have just finished scanning the bookshelves in the next room and I am staring out of the window at the snow burdening the trees in the blue moonlight, the thatched roofs, wondering if this is a place where people don’t lock their doors at night.
Why, are roofs always like that in the Alps?
But why, for the snow to drip easily once it melts, according to my book Houses of the World
I have been standing in a nook designed to catch the sun
But it is dark and a man comes over and talks to me
I reply politely in what I hope is correct French
I don’t know how old he is but I’ve never talked to an adult who is not a teacher, a doctor or a friend of my parents
He asks me how old I am and where I am from
He looks like a man who keeps his own counsel.
He asks if I like skiing, why I am standing all alone
And my head is starting to leak.
Almost everything happens in language
He wonders if I would like to join him for a walk
Life is accident and organic matter my father always said
And then suddenly there is an ache under my breastbone
And I feel something is ending right that minute.
This is the hurt which drives everyone mad in books and although I don’t feel it yet
I am being in the know
Life will be tenuous and always in faded pale blue—the color of ice.
Write down what you love.
I say goodnight in terror and run back to the other room
my father is putting an arm around my shoulders
his other hand gripping the billiard cue
and the pockets at the corners of the table
become a piece of the ocean
and there is glassware in my chest.
The air is full of tobacco and cognac
the room goes away and the room comes back.
My brother is keeping a keen eye on the white cue ball
He is determined to master the game
Everybody has a plan but if you want one thing too much, sometimes you end up with the opposite.
With nothing decided yet
With the love that I have got still in me
And because I am twelve, I know nothing of
The terrible isolation of the head, of
The burden of many waters.
Goodbye my love, someone will write on my chemistry book and I will read it before I go to bed and it will go straight on my solar plexus and stay there
Click … click
You give away your power too easily, someone will say under a corrugated pink sky, on a tiny island off the West Coast of Scotland and I will have nowhere to go
Click … click
I must not see you again under the circumstances, someone will say looking at the carpet and I will start bleeding into my own brain
Click … click
Come here, you
someone will say at a party
You and I robbed a bank together in another life
and like the growth rings on a tree, my adult life will begin without me knowing it and it will proceed in circles, from within outwards
But first I will have to find a voice.
Fani Papageorgiou was born in Athens in 1975. Her first book of poems, When You Said No, Did You Mean Never?, is forthcoming in 2013.
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