By CURTIS BAUER
This was bitter—the rain pouring down on us,
the too early risers, waiting in line outside
the National Portrait Gallery. Flood-
like; movie-like (Why would you want to live there?
my brother asked. It’s always raining); and
just like the movies, I had an umbrella
and she didn’t, she had looks, and I didn’t,
wanted to practice her already perfect English,
understood her body exactly, and I didn’t.
I gestured, held the umbrella out to her
and she took my arm, we waited together,
not talking about the weather or both being
foreign, but the familiar smells we missed
from home and when we last caught them
here, or the bitter tea we couldn’t get used to.
Maybe we laughed and I felt even more
of her body next to mine. I have told this story
so many times; some women stay with a man;
her beauty, of course, was stunning
and I didn’t deserve to be near it—her
confidence—though she was sopping wet.
It was her unexpected presence, my arm
was a door she took hold of and opened,
her hand the key that fit perfectly in it;
it was the little dry space and conversation
we shared: she didn’t walk away once
inside but waited for me on a bench,
and I didn’t rush down a crowded hall, say,
shivering with her perfume still on my shirt,
the memory of her forearm touching my hip,
reeling; but only that I had gone there to look
at paintings and write to another woman.
She had fallen out of love with me and I didn’t
see it. I’ve put this off for years, but now I see
I found a clue, or was given one that morning
and afternoon in central London. I would spend
another day with her, hear her voice on the phone
twice and then she left. Twenty years ago
I drank my tea and worried across the table
from her, holding my hand and we didn’t know
we were dying; we never met again although
we’d planned to spend a weekend together—
I could have a daughter or son who speak
a language I don’t understand, a giggling grandchild,
newborn and soft, smelling like milk and warmth
in Paris or Dubrovnik. Every other year I think
about her, wonder how I could find her, if she is still
singing or still alive, and I tried writing her once.
I did only that. We never shared a room in Ljubljana,
or met in Venice, or swam naked in the Adriatic.
I started thinking of her again this morning.
I still feel that woman’s arm between my elbow
and chest. I still confuse the two. This is another
woman I loved, there aren’t so many, but
it isn’t only that, there’s a little pain, and the thought
of her grows, sweetens. It must be the boy in
my walking around and wanting to be somewhere
else, with someone feeling desire for me. I gave
that woman half of me because it wasn’t being used.
I broke myself in half to keep from falling off a cliff.
I bought this with that savings: the Anjou pear,
a cup of coffee, this red table. Happiness. I followed
her, eager, joyous. I earned this memory, though
I could have not had enough. It must sound silly.
Her beautiful face. Her hand pressed into mine.
Twenty-three rain drops on her hair.
Curtis Bauer is the author of three poetry collections: Fence Line, which won the John Cardi Poetry Prize; Spanish Sketchbook; and The Real Cause for Your Absence(forthcoming).