Poetry & Prose : CAFÉ DES DEUX POÈTES AND OTHER POEMS

Lindsey Hall

244 DAYS

Home has become
A small throbbing ache
Which I stroke daily
Glutton for pain, my heart
No longer beats in my breast
In its stead the center of my existence
Becomes home.
The gazebo overlooking evergreens
On a chill autumn eve
Dad's cigar smoke and bad jokes
Blending in the air
With mom's laughter
That laugh
Which even the distance
Of the French seashore
Cannot keep from me,
From bringing a sad smile to my lips.

 

DEATH AND CRÈME BRULÉE

She's on a roll now
The words are tumbling out
One stumbles on the other to explain
Algeria. The war. To me, an ignorant.

"Mon cousin… they found him
brulé vivant;
Do you know what that means?"

I rack my feeble grasp of French:
Crème brulée is all I come up with,
From several summers spent catering
To the custard needs of rich restaurant patrons.
The crème is burned to a delicate crisp
Cracked with the tap of a silver spoon…

Burned.

Vivant. She said vivant.
Vivacious. Vivid. C'est la vie.

My mind makes the translation
Quicker than the heart can accept

Burned alive.

"He was hanging from a tree. He was black, all black
So noir naught but his mère l'a reconnu .
They all came out to look, but no one knew
This raw bloody corpse.

Only his mother recognized him-
No one knows how."

 

CAFÉ DES DEUX POÈTES

In a dimly lit little cavern of a room,
Air draped heavy and sweet with shisha smoke,
He regarded me across the divan
White eyebrows raised in surprise.

My request hung teetering between us
Throwing its scattered light across the low tables,
Echoing the patterned glow wafting down
From Moroccan lanterns in the rafters.

I waited to see if it would crash to the ground
-A trainwreck, like me-
Or if the gentle smoke rings issuing from his pipe
Would catch it and waft it to the light.

Pourquoi voulez-vous apprendre l'arabe?
The one question I don't want to answer.
"Two reasons," I tell him, in faltering French,
"J'ai deux raisons: pride and love."

"Ah." He falls silent again, contemplating nothing,
"These are the same abstractions we all have for living.
The first, you must eschew. Pride will stop us
Before we begin."

I wait, my heart sinking into the brocade.
He puffs and ponders the book on his lap.
"The second you must turn inward. I will not teach
someone who does not love herself;

Why give gold to a beggar
Who will never cease to be poor?"
The glint in his eye reaches me
Through the clouds of smoke,

A beacon at the beginning of a long dark road
beckoning my dream prepare for flight.

 

APROPOS OF SNOW

Snow is falling on well-intentioned cookies,
spattering the tinfoil platter as I run,
tongue-first, to the last day of class.

Breathless, melting, I arrive,
we're discussing Stein's disgusting rhymes,
her crass and tactless lack of class,

with words like 'hermeneutical'
feigning fevered poetic passions
while casting glances, side-long…

"Her use of diction, I find superb,"
blue-orbed and brooding, what's he thinking?
"But her imagery, admittedly's, absurd."

Papers passed, the clock's ticked off,
ready to take its winter vacation,
and with slamming books my hopes are sinking…

"He who hesitates," my father'd say, so
lest I'm lost I follow, scarf askew,
into falling dusk, my breath, cartoon captions in the air.

But maybe the snow sugar-coated my words,
because for all their breathless absurdity
they're met, somehow, with a slight smile.

 

ADDICTION

Cigarette smoke
Of old bred disgust,
Now makes my stomach drop
A roller coaster plunge
Into nausea-laced excitement.
Its you, this remembrance.

They say scent's the sense
Linked strongest to memory
Since you left I've felt

The serpentine nature of smoke rings
Crawling into my heart, creeping into my brain
Twisting their coils around my veins.

So I sit in a café and inhale
This pleasant pain of self-infliction-
Nicotine and masochism over a coffee cup.
I pollute my lungs and cloud my head
For the briefest gulp of bitter relief.

I need this black tar decay rotting out my heart.

 

ENGAGEMENT PARTY

I was in this man's home
A beautiful house on a hill
And he was looking at me with eyes
That if they had the will
Could conquer me whole
Make me lie down and beg.

Eyes that knew
full well
what they could do.

His wife was standing by his side
Her wineglass sharing a hand
With her wedding ring
As she exclaimed to the bride:
This is the poem
The pastor will read
On your wedding day!

She unfolds a paper
From out of her pocket
And he doesn't let me go
Keeping me locked
He says to his wife, but really to me:
"Here, allow me."

And then in a mocking-me voice
Begins to read aloud.
The love poem.
A horrid little tract
'What is love.'
Everyone gathers to laugh
At his theatrics.

He looks up after each line
A clown, a jester
And meets each set of eyes in turn
But I refuse, for the resulting explosion
His gasoline to my flame
Could not be concealed
Like the rest of this game.

So silently I burn
My cheeks with shame, my eyes with tears
As he keeps me pinned like an insect
A worm, he watches me squirm
-Oh, the twist of a knife-

Love is not poetry and marriage.
Love is those eyes laughing as I scream
In silence in the happy crowd,
At the engagement party
Hosted by him and his beautiful wife.

 
 
A ROUGH NIGHT FOR OPTIMISTS

Leaving home far behind
Is not hard
Because your family is far away
Because your friends are sleeping as you eat breakfast.

Leaving home is hard
Because you're forced to see,
As you cry on a dark street corner
By the piss-smelling, over-flowing trash bins
While greasy coiffed guys hiss at you as they pass
And your legs shake with cold and loneliness,
You see this:
No one cares.

Home goes on without you
And the place you've stumbled into anew
Does not even shrug its shoulders
To acknowledge your presence.
You stop existing at home
And abroad
You are left
To face your insignificance
No more important to anyone
Than the discarded coffee cup
Full of spit and lipstick stains.

 

FRUITFUL

I hope poetry's not the only thing keeping you afloat.
Life can be...I know.
But sometimes, it's amazing.

I was in Minnesota
Living off IV juices for months
Radiation sapping my strength
Until the day I was able to eat, finally.
My parents bought me fresh fruit-
For weeks I'd dreamed of the juice
Bursting from a plum
Running down my chin
They brought me a whole basket
Peaches, pears, nectarines
But by then I had fungus on my tongue
Fuzzy as those ripe round peaches
And it was all for naught-
I couldn't taste a thing-
But not a loss
Because that basket kept me dreaming.
Hope for the future, Lindsey,
Left me fruitless...but not.

 

BINTLIFF'S ALL-AMERICAN BRUNCH

"What is happiness?" they ask.
Well, tell them quite simply: A moment bottled in time.
Two best friends 'cross the table,
of an old Maine restaurant.
Hair down, upstairs
summer ending, but life beginning
Love on the lips of one, dreams in the other's eyes
Slightly burnt coffee and maple syrup on the tongue.
The tic-tic of clinking silverware answers the toc-toc of mugs on wood.
An occasional burst of laughter accompanies Sinatra, Holiday, Armstrong.
A Sunday paper between the two shivers
as a breeze blows in Autumn through the rainy windowpane.

Happiness is sitting here
in love with life
knowing we'll
never
be here again,
and drinking it up
to the
very
last
bittersweet
drop.

 

THE PIG FARMER'S WIFE

Babcia's face sinks into itself,
a weathered potato dug up from the mud
of the Polish pig farm.
She's spent all her softness
long, long ago.

She's muttering, muttering
not a kind word for anyone,
not the new couple,
blushing velvety peach rose petals.
Babcia's world is mud-colored.

So she sits and knits scratchy wool socks
(which no one will wear)
and she spits when her grandson passes her chair.
Babcia is waiting
to go back to the mud.

 

LINDSEY HALL graduated from the University of Virginia in May 2006 with a Bachelor's in Spanish and Comparative Literature. She spent the last year living in Paris with a French family, writing, taking French classes and attending open mic poetry nights. Currently living in London, where she will be attending LSE for an MA in Media and Communications. Presently writing a novel based on her incredible experiences in the past year.

Illustration by Ishmael Fiifi Annobil

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