Shorts



Flutes

Beneath a sky silky gray with sparkles

Somewhere a child discovers a flute

Bathed in moon's milky wash.


Before the child, civilizations trembled

                                                                               Then paused

                                                                               Cirrostrata formed giant datura

                                                                               Industry made churning noise.

A cricket pauses to listen

Yet the vast expanse is impenetrable

Our world sighs

A pauper wins the lottery.


There was a moment

Only that moment held joy

Hearing a child play a flute

To cricket accompaniment.



Liljan - A Poem

Across the lake near his lair

Some moss and wild strawberries there

And pangs of sweet despair

As the bruin caresses her hair.


Liljan pulls at the oars

Brushing a leaf from her pinafore

Swearing she'll go back no more

As she's done so often before


It's nettles that make her cheeks so flush

Not his brutish headstrong rush

Yet under that poingnant sylvan touch

Her sweet imperfect truth lies crushed.


Neil Armstrong under a Blue Moon

Imagine walking up there

And then to nothingness

So sudden beginnings and endings

Neither lasts long enough

Only this silvered disc

That saw Persephone walk

And spoke a thousand tongues

None of which Babel knows…nor I

Although I hear a word

Eternally.

 

 

Imagine knowing that light

Will make us write poetry

In rare moonlight

Then language is always heard

And we have all become sages

Christened by the fullness of time

In hammocks, in contemplation

Robed in grief and growth

In time all so inconsequential

To this light.

 


A Novella in Correspondence

Washington, D.C.

August 12, 1999

Dear Paul,

It pains me greatly to hear that your mother has been convicted.  I knew her as a kind person, a caring parent and gracious hostess to even the most casual of visitors, such as I was during those steamy months in Montserrat, a time which seems so distant now.

Especially grievous was the news that she would have to atone for her transgressions far from the loving support of her family.  Just living in Newark seems punishment enough, not to mention being incarcerated there.

Why is it our judges insist on exacting their pound of flesh from the least insidious of us while the monsters of humanity go free?

I hope at least you’ll get a chance to see her on your occasional business trips to the coast, and maybe for the holidays as well.  I hear the keepers of the lock-ups aren’t too squeamish about short furloughs to shore up the welfare of so-called “decent” citizens, a moniker for which your Mom surely deserves consideration.  Of course, I’ll also make an effort to stop by, too, if ever I near those somber walls, although you know I can’t stand the climate of the Jersey plains nor the ubiquitous hint of diesel fuel.

Compared to your troubles, mine seem quite trivial.  The angina acts up from time to time and dunning letters pile high.  But I shall seek to suffer these trials serenely and buoy my spirits with thoughts of the bistro off the Rue de la Paix, with its old accordion player and flans swimming in anise.  That’s where we discovered that pride has no prerequisites, and where we learned to wear our patina “declassέ” and bellow bawdy ballads with an air of authority.

We surely proved the maxim that if you’re obnoxious enough, people think you’re privileged.  Lord only knows why the proprietor put up with us for so many months.  He must have though we were trust fund brats with too little time to spend it all.  Or maybe he saw through us.  Maybe he saw us for who we were: kindred spirits in the long dark battle against pretension, allies in the campaign to get even with the many pompous asses that darken our convivial door.

I often wonder whatever happened to the accordion player, a deaf musician if ever there was one.  Who else could have withstood our cacophonous onslaught.  He wasn’t quite a fossil back then -- what is it?, scarcely a decade ago -- back when we were but callow youths, unburdened by such concerns as larceny, vascular tics, or conspiracy to commit inanity.  The old tune maker should still be among us, still among the quick, maybe still pumping air through  stops and stomping the sticky hardwood of some Caribbean tavern.

I wonder, too, what happened to the ebon barmaid who swore she had a circus poster tattooed the length of her nubile spine.  “Such splendor to imagine,” I remember you saying.  “Reality could never compare to this image my mind has conjured.”  Alas, we never contrived to verify the subspecie of the matter, to peek under the coarse chemises she always wore, nor to divine the truth from her more intimate intimates.  Some things truly are better left to the imagination.

I’m so glad that we’ve reestablished contact after all this time, and I hope we can stay in touch.  I derive some not inconsiderable solace in communicating with someone who was present during the insanity of our youth.  Just thinking about it makes me shiver, with both dread and excitement.

Send my best wishes to your mother, and when you write back, tell me all about your new restaurant.  I want sufficient detail to feed my anticipation of a divinely memorable visit in the not-too-distant future.

Your atoning friend,

George



Fort-du-France

August 28, 1999

Dear George,

It is not easy to write these days.  The sun comes out, but does not glow.  The waves on the beach are sharp, quarrelsome.  There is no wind to stir the palm fronds, just as there is no respite from the bad news to lift my spirits.  As you know, Marie has left me for good.  She and her Portuguese banker vacated the island last month.  I knew it was coming, of course.  When she packed up her brushes and easel and paints last month, I knew something was wrong.  And when she jetted off to visit her sister – you remember Nicole?  She’s a barrister now with the UN refugee agency in Geneva – it seemed strange, abrupt.  I wonder now if Marie even made it to Switzerland, or if her true errand was to inspect her prospective lodging in Oporto?

No matter.  After four years, we had reached an impasse.  My carefree, vagabond ways – not to mention my paltry earnings – no longer held sufficient charm for her.  She, so glittering herself, always had a penchant for shinier things.

Did I tell you she wore a string of black pearls the day she came to pick up her belongings?  I had never seen them before.  I was glad she had them on; staring at them spared me the pain of looking her in the eye.

But you ask about the café.  It is the one bright spot in my life.  It is my refuge.  Business is very good.  Even as the hurricane season approaches and the tourists thin out, my tables are always occupied.  I think we have created a safe place on the island, a haven, perhaps a – what is the word – a throwback to more pleasant times.  You mentioned the bistro on Montserrat, and in some ways I feel indebted to that place and its maitre.  At Reve Gauche I have sought to recreate some of the same atmosphere, an open, bright and inviting ambiance where one can enjoy a simple café au lait or a tantalizing coquilles St. Jacques or an exquisite sole meuniere.

The customers seem pleased, and at the end of the evening, I know I will manage a small smile of satisfaction.  This is what I have now, a meager reward that carries me from day to day.

But enough of my whining.  You mention dunning letters.  I thought you were well settled, with a good job and everything.  And what about that interior designer you were dating?  The freckled redhead, I think you called her?  Tell me more, and, yes, do come visit soon.  I will keep a bottle of Perrier Jouet chilled until your arrival!

Your friend,

Paul


Nashville, TN

September 29, 1999

Dear Paul,

To call it work seems inappropriate.  I go in most days.  They hook me up to a kind of intellectual vacuum pump, and suck what they need out of me.  Then I spend the rest of my time quietly observing the arcane peculiarities of the American political process.  My title is special assistant to the governor, but I think of myself more as a word slave.  When the governor needs to say something, she calls on me.  I write a speech, she gets the applause.  I write an article, she gets the by-line.  I draft a policy proposal, she goes on evening news.  I am the emperor’s clothes, though I remain unobtrusively in the closet.

To be fair, working with Gov. Mullins is pleasant enough.  She is generally all smiles, one of those endlessly perky and eternally optimistic sorts whose only real purpose in life is to be the center of attention.  She is everyone’s best friend, every legislator’s intimate confidante, and every constituent’s champion.  Her favorite line is, “We’ll take care of it,” and with a deft wave of her hand, each and every problem is relegated to the limbo of long-range study or regulatory revision.  She commands the stage, oozing sincerity, and every supplicant departs satisfied.

I shall not dissemble.  They pay me well.  Too well, probably, considering my primary skills are a simple appreciation of the nuances of vocabulary and a basic understanding of the proper structure of a declaratory sentence.  Had I marshaled my resources conscientiously, I would have been, as they say, quite “comfortable.”  Sadly, I have suffered some rather prickly setbacks.  I won’t bore you with the details, but a real estate deal I foolishly entered into a couple of years ago has become a tax and litigation nightmare.  Then, to my eternal discredit, I compounded the insult with an ill-advised journey to Sin City, where my attempts to recoup losses accomplished quite the opposite.  (A quick word of advice: Craps is not a game for neophytes.)

I am pleased to report, however, that some light seems to be gleaming at the end of this tunnel.  My share of attorneys fees should be paid off in a few months, and by spring, my accounts should be returning to a semblance of normalcy.  I’ll keep you posted, but in the meantime, don’t waste any sympathy on me.  I have reaped what I have sown, and in the true spirit of our shared existentialism, I shall take full responsibility for my actions and honor my commitments.  Which is a hell of a lot more than I can say for most of those around me.

You would, of course, ask about Ginger, mon papillon rouge.  Our relationship is as stormy as ever, as fraught with peril as a caterpillar’s journey across the freeway.  Only last week, as we were enjoying what I thought was a perfectly delightful dinner of braised lamb and cous-cous, she declared me “the most insufferable, pompous, self-involved jerk” she had ever met.  Don’t you just love it!  I can’t get enough of her.

Unfortunately, time spent with me falls fairly low on her list of priorities.  She is at present in Italy with a team of automotive design engineers from her company, ostensibly working on the interior of a new concept car.  I suspect, however, that at this moment she’s in the arms of some Latin casanova, dancing in moonlight as the waves of the Ligurian Sea caress the beach.  Except Turin isn’t on the coast, is it?  Jealousy seems to have derailed my imagination.

Ah, Paul, my once inseparable companion.  It is so good to be in regular contact with you again and to disencumber myself of my ultimately trivial concerns.  I feel almost as if the carefree days of our youth are returning, as if they will wash away today’s troubles and usher in a new dawn of excitement, abandon and joy.

I wish you well.  Write again soon!

Yours fondly,

George


Olveston

October 10, 1999

Dear George,

As always, you seek to minimize your troubles.  With customary panache, you sweep all concerns under a carpet of bonhomie and imagination.  You must know, however, that your friends see through this charade, worry about you, and hope your fortunes will soon improve.  I take your assurances to heart, and trust that all solicitors’ bills will in fact soon be paid, that your papillon rouge will soon wing her way back to your embrace, and that your efforts on behalf of the governor will ultimately meet with deserved praise.

To be sure, I envy your ability to approach life with such a devil-may-care attitude.  I sorely wish I could do the same, although I fear I am burdened with a more morose disposition and will forever appear to the world as – what is the English phrase – as a sad-sack.

Yet I am determined to combat this label, and as part of my campaign to do so, I want to relate two minor, but pleasant episodes that have made this past week not only bearable, but quite entertaining.

I was walking out by Cudjoe Bay earlier in the week, enjoying the fresh morning air and the quiet rustle of waves at neap tide, when a lone rider came cantering down the beach.  Just as the equipage was about to pass me, a rather large gull came diving out of the sky, squawking noisily.  This assault from above spooked the animal.  It shied to one side – towards me – and I was forced to dive out of the way.  Well, needless to say, the rider was quite embarrassed by this incident.  He immediately dismounted, and apologizing profusely, came over to check on my condition.  Fortunately, I was none the worse for wear, merely a bit startled myself.  But the gentleman – an  Englishman, I would guess in his mid-sixties, who owns a villa on the island – was mortified, and after an extended dialogue of “I’m so terribly sorry,” and “No harm done,” he insisted that he make up for the accident and invited me to his villa for dinner.  It turns out he was really quite a pleasant chap, very urbane and poised, clearly a man of some means and education, and I now look forward to joining him at his home in Woodlands on Saturday next.

The week has also brought a bit of a triumph at Reve Gauche.  I’ve been pondering for weeks how to make our “mountain goat” (you know, the native frogs legs) stand out from other eateries in town, and I’ve done some experimenting with different sauces.  I finally hit upon a concoction that is reminiscent of American barbecue sauce.  I stir some bourbon and soy sauce into a puree of plantain and banana and add some brown sugar, heating the mixture in a sauce pan and then basting the mountain goat before it goes into the oven.  The results have been spectacular.  My regular diners are full of praise, and word-of-mouth has almost doubled business the past few days.  I can scarcely keep enough mountain goat in stock.

As you see, these are minor triumphs, but they have kept me in relatively good spirits.  Perhaps they are harbingers of better days ahead.

I wish I could say the same for my mother, who writes frequently and calls once a week.  As you can imagine, she finds her current situation quite depressing, isolated as she is from family and friends.  She does say, however, that the matrons at the facility treat her well and do their best to keep her spirits up.  Nonetheless, her legal appeals seem to be going nowhere and she seems now resigned to serving out her full two-year term.  Ah, the predicaments that amour gets us into.

Enough for now.  I’ll provide a full report later on the weekend’s dinner and other activities.

Yours as ever,

Paul


Nashville

October 17

Dear Paul,

Many thanks for your recent letter and your account of narrowly escaping the thundering hooves of Sleipner.  I look forward to news of the denouement.

Meanwhile, I wanted to let you know that I will be in New York in a fortnight.  I’ll have an afternoon free from the mummifying rigors of political debate, and I thought I might bop over to Newark to visit ta mere.  Unless you have strong objections, consider it done, and of course I’ll let you know in detail how my visit with her goes.

And quickly – I have to get ready for a cocktail reception at the Grand Ol’ Opry tonight with all the guv’s financial supporters – I can relate that Ginger is back from her European swing and is making my life both joyous and nerve-wracking.  She wants to know if I intend on spending the entire rest of my miserable life in Nashville.  She disapproves of the lime green with purple pinstripes shirt that I covet in the Saks catalog.  She brought me a magnificent hand-tooled leather passport cover from Amsterdam, as well as a box of nice cheroots, but no, thank you very much, she will not waste an evening at the Grand Ol’ Opry with a gaggle of shallow, corrupt politicos.

Love’s predicaments, indeed.  It’s hard to know whether to bail out, or swim farther into the prickly brine!

Ta, ta,

George


Dear George,

Forgive my forwardness.  I hope you remember me.  We spent some time together in the Caribbean ages ago, and then ran into each other briefly a few years back when you were in New York for a National Governors Association conference.  As I recall we had a drink together at the Red Sage. 

I’m writing to ask if you have contact information for your friend, Paul deGrasse.  I have come across some information relating to his family that I believe would be of great interest to him.  I’m afraid I can’t say anything more about it because of attorney-client privilege.  However, I can assure you that it would be to Mr. deGrasse’s benefit for me to get in touch with him.  I hope you can help make that happen.

If you are ever in New York again, I would welcome the opportunity to chat with you.

Yours sincerely, 

William Benning, Esq.

Johnson, Benning and DesCognets, LLC

3640 Madison Ave.

New York, NY

 

 

Dear Paul, 

So much to relate!  I’m here in La Grande Pomme having a most delightful time in spite of the turmoil around me.  You see, Ginger agreed to make the trip with me --  “Anything to get out of Tennessee,” she grumbled – and our stay has been astonishingly pleasant.  During the days she has exercised her credit cards vigorously while I tend to the governor’s affairs.  Our evenings have been organized with great diligence and flair by captains of industry – you know, pharmaceuticals, gaming industry, tobacco companies, the usual crowd of corporate sponsors – who have introduced us to a handful of the city’s finest culinary artists.  The canard roti at Rivoli was fantastic, and what can I say about the flight of pickled herring at Akevit!  Life is so good when you don’t have to pay for it, n’est pas

But on to matters closer to your heart.  Yesterday I managed to slip away for a short visit with your mother.  I am most happy to inform you that she is doing well, looks quite ravishing given the circumstances (indeed ta mere will always be a classic beauty!) and has no complaints of ill treatment or discomfort.   She groused about the food, of course, and, being the night owl she is, about the early lights-out in the ward.  She bragged on a fellow – how should I say it – guest of the state, who is apparently quite the accomplished hair stylist.  This woman coifs several of the “guests” and a couple of the matrons as well, and judging from your mother’s do, is a true professional indeed. 

All in all, she appears to be holding up reasonably well.  She has, as I’m sure you know, submitted several appeals for clemency, but she was, after all, caught somewhat red-handed coming off the plane.  At any rate, she will appear before a parole board in only a few short months and has great hopes of being a free woman again by the holidays.  There is, apparently, no news of the scoundrel who brought her into this mess, although her attorney continues his search in hopes of finding witnesses and evidence that would get her a reduced or suspended sentence, if not complete exoneration.  As she said, Paul, “I have done what I have done.  I never paid too much attention to the legal niceties.  It was foolish of me.”

Speaking of attorneys, I trust you have by now heard from Messieur Benning.  I hope you don’t mind my divulging your whereabouts.  He did so convince me that he was the bearer of good tidings.  I had thought perhaps to stop in on him while I’m in town, but I remember him as rather a bore.  Still, it never hurts to have friends who are regularly admitted to both the legal bar and the local bar.  We shall see.

Alors, I should sign off soon.  The closing dinner is tonight.  Ginger has acquired a stunning ecru taffeta number that is sure to turn heads.  Tomorrow we will abandon the headquarters hotel (Marriotts are so predictable, don’t you think) for a couple of relaxing nights at the Essex House, where Ginger is certain to entice me into spending some of my own hard-earned cash for our mutual enjoyment.  I feel relatively certain the investment will reap copious reward.

As always,

George


 

Olveston

October 26

 Dear George,

 It is always so good to hear from you.  I envy you your seeming nonchalance, even if I know you use it as a masque.  There are so few to whom you reveal your inner self, and I am honored to be among them.  Your letters always amuse me – how would the English say it?  “Buck me up” – even in difficult times.

 Yes, I say, difficult, although perhaps a more appropriate word might be “confusing.”  There are things going on that I cannot understand.  I come across people I cannot fathom and events I cannot explain.  There are times I think I am inflicted with some sort of paranoia, yet at other times I know I must watch my step carefully.  I am faced with some delicate decisions, and you know how indecisive I can be.  I would much prefer to have the world parade before me while I observe its passing, quietly and in private.  It is perhaps foolish of me.  I wish I were as outgoing as you and not my usual introspective, retiring self.  But this is the hand fate has dealt me.

 In any case, I have many things to tell you, and maybe the telling will help me make heads or tails of it.

 Let me start by thanking you profusely for your graciousness in visiting my mother.  I know she appreciated it very much.  I had a brief letter from her last week in fact gushing about your visit.  She said you were as handsome and charming as ever and her brief conversation with you was the highlight of her week.  She did comment that you seemed a bit flushed while you were there, but I shall attribute that to your hectic schedule and perhaps a few too many convivial spirits during your stay in New York.  N’est-ce pas?

 Mother assures me that life in the institution is not unpleasant, and that she has sufficient activities to make the time pass.  But of course the upcoming holidays will be difficult for her.  I am trying to find a way to get up there between Christmas and New Year’s, but money is very short, and with everything going on, I’m not sure I can manage.

 I did hear from Monsieur Bennett, although I’m not quite sure what to make of it.  He said in his letter that he wants to come to Montserrat to meet me, that he has some very important information for me, and he wants to know if I would be available in early December.  But to be honest, George, I’m not sure if I completely trust the man.  Until Mother’s troubles, I had had very little contact with solicitors.  One might say I knew them only by reputation, which was essentially damning.  Nonetheless, I have replied that I will be available to speak with him.  I do wonder what he wants?  Perhaps something to do with my father?  Or, dare I hope, perhaps an American entrepreneur who wants to invest in my little café?

 You remember the bartender who used to ensure us that “time will tell,” only he said it in butchered French, “Le temps, il revelerait tout.”

 And now I must share with you my biggest concern.  I have been threatened!  At least, I’m fairly sure I have.  Bear with me as I describe this alarming contretemps.  It happened a few days ago.  One of my dinner guests at Rêve Gauche had just finished his entrée, my special coq cordon bleu, and asked the waiter if he could pay his compliments to the proprietor.  He was ushered into the office and I rushed from the kitchen to greet him.  Of course I was eager to hear his praise; I take considerable pride in my specialties.  And he was quite effusive about the dinner, the al dente haricot verts, the sauces, even the simple Bordeaux he had chosen as pairing.  But then he went on: “It would be a shame for you to lose such a lovely eatery, wouldn’t it?”

 “What do you mean?” I stammered.

 "Nothing.  I only hear that your family has had some difficulties and that some very powerful interests on the island are involved.  I hear that certain inquiries are being made from the United States that might not be appreciated.  That’s all.”

 “Are you suggesting I should close?”

 “Not at all.  I love dining here.  I would hate to lose this delightful venue.  I’m just saying you should be careful.”

 And with that, he smiled and walked out.

 What do you make of this, George?  He seemed a pleasant enough gentleman, good-looking, tanned, probably Iberian, perhaps cuarteron.  He was nicely dressed, silk tie, Italian shoes, tailored suit, everything.  I couldn’t tell if he was passing on gossip or if he had been sent to deliver a message.  It was very unnerving, I assure you.  It has bothered me ever since.

 And with this weighing on my mind, I had another puzzling experience last evening.  You remember the English gentleman I told you about, the one whose mount nearly knocked me down?  I went to his home in the Woodlands for dinner last night, since the café is closed on Mondays.  He had invited some other acquaintances as well, a Danish couple and a young woman.  The five of us enjoyed a splendid tarpon steak on his balcon, paired with a remarkable ’92 Chateau de la Galisonniere Muscadet Sèvre, all wrapped in lovely evening breezes and a stunning view of the inlet. 

 I know you are about to ask, “What is so puzzling about that?”  I assure you; all in all, it was a delightful evening.  My host, Mr. Henry Hollingsworth, was gracious and entertaining, and the Danish couple, the Sjellands, were charming and excellent raconteurs.  The puzzling part was my table companion, the young woman, whose name was Nicole Stevens.  She hardly said a word all evening!  She would smile at everyone and laugh at all the jokes the Danes told, and seemed to listen intently to everything I said.  I tried several times to engage her in conversation, but she would only reply in monosyllables.  Yes, she lives in Montserrat.  No, she is not a career woman.  Yes, she went to school in the States.  (Haverford)  Yes, she enjoys horseback riding.  No, she has never dined at Rêve Gauche.

 I tell you, George, it was maddening.  I suppose it wouldn’t have bothered me as much if she hadn’t been so lovely, so incredibly radiant when she smiled?  Yet I could scarcely get the time of day from her.  She was obviously no stranger to society, but at the same time she seemed quite wrapped up in her own thoughts.

 As I said my adieus, I told her I hoped we would meet again.  She politely answered, “I hope so,” but I am not optimistic.  Élas.

 George, I have rambled on a bit much now, trying to share with you some of the disconcerting events of the past couple of weeks.  It has been good for me to share these thoughts.  I hope you understand.  Say hello to Ginger (will I ever meet her?) I look forward to hearing from you again soon.

Yours as always,

Paul


 

                                                                           ...view from the Woodlands...



[Stay tuned - dr/)

© Dag Ryen 2016