Story of a Poem about a Girl

when I kiss her she runs away.

I write dialogues about children in love and for an unwitting while, am one. halfway into the failing dialogue she shows up at the door.

I didn’t think you’d come, I tell her.

the way she laughs reminds me of all my Whitman.

back out past the doors on the bench overlooking construction we talk about cities and writing, youth and flight.

I didn’t think I would either, she says.

the small dirty hills of cigarette butts and litter are romantic today. the sun is too pleasantly warm. she looks nervous and she is.

small paper cups carry coffee. the world is heavy with construction, tobacco and coffee. an hour passes.

back inside with time on the other side there’s a half finished manuscript about children in love. it’s easier to write and more difficult.

she has eyes that grow wide as green universes, her face gets small and pale in the sun. beneath the curve of her hair sometimes small shadows are birthmarks. this kind of dialogue is very hard to ignore and even harder to write.

some of the banalities I’ve allowed my children say is suddenly very obvious. if my reader’s no longer myself let me say that I will never finish editing these stories.

&

I meet her for the first time and it’s three days ago. she’s a friend’s friend.

meet Katey, someone presumably says.

hello Katey, the pleasure’s all mine. (and it really is)

maybe I drink too much or dance with her and go away unchanged.

&

spring in Strawberry is strange:

this year winter really held out. it got tediously cold.

the day after I meet Katey finally feels warm. I sleep in late.

early in the afternoon I do the things people do in the early afternoon: shower, go to the grocery store, make lunch, drink. by twilight I’m challenging Shakespeare:

there’s no question Marlowe was the superior poet!

to which perplexed friends respond, well, regardless of how anyone feels about the matter, there’s definitely a question.

by the evening it’s god.

the sky is a warm evening blue through the open window and we feel like we’re in prison. after prolonged hours we’re driving each other crazy with our alcohol and conversation. someone suggests going out. we swing by the bar because we reach it before we reach a decision.

it turns out to be a bad place to go to escape conversation and alcohol.

he’s been on this Shakespeare kick all night, friends explain to Katey and her friend when, hours later they show up unexpectedly at the bar.

we thought you all might be here, Katey’s friend says. so we figured we’d drop by.

Katey smiles a lot and she laughs even more.

returning to the table with another unfortunate drink in hand, I notice that Katey and her friend are engaged in a game of chess.

the bar is dim and small. the tables are old and wooden and lopsided. the music’s bad. I sit down next to Katey.

Katey smiles a lot and she laughs even more.

she plays well. she doesn’t like most of my advice and she shouldn’t. when she laughs she turns her head and looks at me and her eyes go wide and green. she holds a gaze like nothing I’ve seen.

her laugh and her eyes make her look awestruck. this kind of dialogue is very hard to ignore and even harder to write.

we win.

but it’s well past time for me to be in bed. my head spins on the walk home. friends are worried. back in my room everything looks small and confining. where did the day go? what did I do?

going home can feel empty as mirrors sometimes.

&

sometime sunday early afternoon the telephone wakes me up.

hello?

it’s Katey’s friend. did I wake you? she asks.

it’s alright. listen, about last night-

we’re making brunch, she says. come over.

I’m still welcome?

she laughs. just come by.

shaving, showering, heading out the door with my head pounding I feel convinced it’s a trap. they plan to poison me or something, revenge for last night’s behavior. this hangover might kill me first.

spring in Strawberry is strange.

it’s cold outside and drizzling hail. what happened to yesterday’s weather and the sun? the gray sky and my stupidity combine to create a pretty unpleasant effect.

a couple other people are there when I arrive. a chessboard is on the table.

Katey smiles. chess, she says and softly. she looks at me, and her eyes are wide.

someone slaps my shoulder. jesus, how do you feel today?

I lie. just fine.

really. if you could’ve seen yourself last night.

Katey’s still looking at me.

I go out onto the patio for a cigarette. a couple minutes pass free from moral defamation.

I need your help, I hear Katey say from inside. looking through the screen door I see her playing a game of chess.

no fucking way.

let me finish this first, I tell her.

yeah, and she laughs. it’s better when you jump in halfway through.

it’s cold outside and wet. the cigarette’s making me nauseous. I come back inside and sit down next to Katey. I do this very deliberately and politely.

I leave a modest distance between us.

she turns and looks at me smiling. that gaze again. she holds it.

I look thoughtfully at the chessboard.

she finds this funny. I can tell.

her opponent’s good and so is she, but my head isn’t. she contradicts all of my suggestions.

we win.

we make an unbeatable team, I tell her.

she’s looking at me again. I know.

&

after brunch, Katey and her friend and a few other friends go out for a long walk down to Strawberry pond.

I stay put with a couple of the roommates as lazy as I am.

you told her she was your girlfriend last night, laughs one of them over coffee.

too weird for me, says another.

well, she seems to have taken it all in stride, I say.

I think I’m challenging them, or maybe just myself.

true enough, but she might just be laughing at you.

&

true enough, she might just be laughing at me.

ay, there’s the rub and my friend was shrewd enough to know it and to know to say it.

&

Katey, after all, she’s just a kid.

she was a child and I was a child

I want to go home, I say it all day long but they keep me there.

it’s a lazy Sunday, we’ll have dinner together later and then go out to the bar.

go out to the bar? I don’t know if I like the suggestion or hate it.

sure, why not? Katey’s only here a few more days.

which is true. Katey’s from Germany and she’s visiting my friend after touring several American cities. she’s been to New York and then to Washington, Philadelphia and Boston too. she’s spending the last few days here in Strawberry.

when does she leave anyway? I ask.

tuesday.

so soon.

so soon.

&

something happens during the day. it must be the conversation.

Katey made me nervous at brunch, but now that she’s back I’m petrified. why?

she smiles and looks at me and we sit alone together while they’re making dinner.

how was the walk? I ask.

(an easy one, I know, but it has the advantage of sounding polite, relevant and interested.)

it was nice. a little bit cold, but not too bad.

no?

where did you go?

just to the pond. we walked around a while, went to the café and read some.

it sounds nice.

she looks ruffled and tired and damp from walking. she’s sitting on the couch next to me. I can smell the shampoo in her hair.

I tell her about my travels abroad, about Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam.

she talks about hers. she’s been everywhere: Rome, Paris, Berlin, Brussels, Greece, Amsterdam, et cetera.

she’s been living in London for the past two years. she’s German and speaks with an English accent. she calls roommates flatmates. she’s fluent in German, English, French and Italian.

she clearly has a lot more to talk about than I do. which, right now, is fine by me. I could listen to her for hours.

&

at the bar that evening I feel a little more relaxed. it’s dim and small. the tables are old and wooden and lopsided. the music’s bad.

Katey’s sitting next to me. I’m watching how much I drink. change keeps falling out of my pocket.

Katey’s laughing and picking it up and putting it on the table.

you’re as silent as the tomb tonight, Katey’s friend says to me.

didn’t I tell you I died last night?

Katey laughs. really? I hope it wasn’t my fault.

did you ever read the story by Borges about the priest who dies but doesn’t know he’s dead? someone asks.

sure.

Borges wanted to be a poet you know.

did he?

yeah.

he wrote a bunch of poetry all throughout his life.

that’s all he started out doing.

but his real strength came through in his short stories.

I wonder, I wonder out loud, if there was ever a poet that wanted to be a writer. and no one paid any

attention to his fiction, only his poetry. so that he had to spend his whole life as a poet when all he wanted to do was write fiction?

isn’t it usually the other way around?

that’s what makes it so funny.

Katey looks at me and smiles. I’m learning to like it.

for the first time ever I hold her eyes a while and smile back again.

&

later that night after everyone’s gone to bed, Katey and I stay up late to play a game of chess.

but we’re a team, I tell her.

we’ll see about that.

for a cup of coffee, I say.

we’re both tired and a little tipsy. like everyone, she has her own language. I stumble through it: something about her eyes and her smile and the way she can hold a gaze.

chess complements this language perfectly.

I hadn’t realized how sensual the game could be.

&

I haven’t gotten away unchanged.

several things clue me into this suspicion:

one, instead of taking the bus I walked home last night.

two, I’m not sure I can handle her coming by my work for coffee.

three, all day long I hope she comes by my work for coffee.

and besides, I’m tired because I couldn’t sleep last night.

the day goes slow.

it’s a beautiful spring day.

spring in Strawberry is strange.

there’s no reason why she’d show up. how is today different from any other?

leaving the office for lunch strikes me as the greatest kind of hubris and daring.

&

I write dialogues about children in love and for an unwitting while, am one. halfway into the failing dialogue she shows up at the door.

I didn’t think you’d come, I tell her.

she’s just walked into the office, looking flustered and embarrassed.

neither did I.

there’s a bench out back, I say.

we get coffee and sit out back. it’s hideous. it overlooks a dumpster and a construction sight.

it feels romantic. the sun is too pleasantly warm. we slouch a little into each other.

how was your day? I ask her.

nice, she says. I walked all over Strawberry. yours?

boring. I don’t do much here.

no?

you must be the luckiest guy on earth, she says.

it could be worse, but that’s going too far.

what do you want to do when you grow up?

her eyes grow wide as green universes.

I don’t know. what about you?

I travel too much, she says. I don’t know. I never stay in the same place very long.

I think I’d like to write stories, I tell her.

people walking in and out of the building look at us like people look at young lovers in early spring. it makes everything feel uncomfortably nice.

really?

yeah.

I used to paint, she says.

used to?

I quit painting.

why?

I don’t know. I always liked music more anyway.

yeah? you’re a strange girl.

you think so, do you? she smiles again. you’re a strange boy.

that’s what I was doing when you got here.

what?

I was writing a story.

what kind of story?

a short story.

I bet you’re going to end up a poet that always wanted to be a writer. she laughs. so do I.

she has this way of calling me on my conceit.

maybe so, I say.

so you want to be like Hemingway or something?

like Hemingway? no. why do you say that?

I don’t know. saturday night, for example.

jesus, I say. that’s not fair.

isn’t it?

poor Hemingway.

she slaps my shoulder. exactly.

there’s nothing better in the world than being out here with her.

maybe when you’re famous and I’m an English literature professor, I’ll teach your books.

professor then, eh?

she shrugs. I don’t know.

do you know, she says, how strange it is that in two days I’ll be back in Freiburg and you’ll still be here?

I don’t say anything.

America’s not at all like I expected, she says.

what did you expect?

I thought it would be boring.

&

back inside with time on the other side there’s a half finished manuscript about children in love. it’s easier to write and more difficult.

she has eyes that grow wide as green universes, her face gets small and pale in the sun. beneath the curve of her hair sometimes small shadows are birthmarks. this kind of dialogue is very hard to ignore and even harder to write.

&

it’s Katey’s last night in the States. we’re at the bar playing chess, the two of us.

the bar is small and dim. the tables are old and wooden and lopsided. the music’s pretty good.

I’m fluent in her language. it’s divine with chess and small amounts of alcohol.

time flies and it’s last call.

outside it’s drizzling and a little chilly. I walk her home.

after all, it’s already tomorrow.

so what will I tell everyone when I get home? she asks. that I met a drunken American writer?

after all, I say. I want to be just like Hemingway.

she slaps my shoulder. oh you! see I knew it.

I’m joking of course. I look at her. I just want to write.

she smiles slyly. you just want to be adored.

she has this way of calling me on my conceit.

you know half the time you’re full of shit.

I laugh. do you think anything really exists?

it can’t, I suppose.

why not?

why should it?

it seems like it does.

seems. she looks down. it’s so strange, she says.

what?

this. she’s not smiling anymore. I love it, but I get so tired of running from city to city sometimes.

yeah?

tomorrow I’m going to be gone.

that’s true.

when are you coming to Freiburg?

soon, I say.

she laughs. no you’re not.

I don’t say anything.

it’s just-

apparently she doesn’t know what to say either.

it is strange, I say. later on it will be really strange. and it’s only been three days.

we laugh.

but I won’t see you again, she says. that doesn’t make any sense.

it doesn’t make any sense at all.

it’s not fair, you know?

and it isn’t fair. and it doesn’t make any sense. three days. how could this happen? what is it we’re even talking about? everything takes on the vague urgency of everything’s uncertain.

every evening has to end, she says.

we’re in front of her friend’s building.

so this is it, she says.

yeah, I guess so.

we look at each other. there are linguistic depths to this language I hadn’t thought about.

goodnight, she says.

I watch her walk up the steps to the building.

going home can feel empty as mirrors sometimes.

Katey, I say.

she turns around. I run up the stairs. I’m not clever enough to pretend I really had something to say. she knows I didn’t anyway. I hate this. I take her hands. she’s looking at me like she’s awestruck. I want to give her flowers, gifts, alms, apologies.

when I kiss her she runs away.

— (Whit Frazier, From “Youth and the Unreal City”, 2001)

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