It was Autumn in Paris. We walked down Rue de Grenelle on the left bank, my arm around her shoulders. She wore a long checkered coat. We stopped to look into the window of a shop selling antique playing and tarot cards. I pulled her towards me. We kissed. We were very much in love. We stood there arms entwined gazing at one another. She was very very beautiful.
That was the point when, last night, I realized I had been dreaming. I could feel myself being pulled away into wakefulness. My dream me cried out. I, however, felt no tears. I lay there in bed the rest of the night unable to get back to sleep. It had been like a reverse nightmare, waking up was the horror.
The whole thing reminded me of a poem I had written many many years ago when I was much younger and living in Rome. I fancied myself a poet then (more a lifestyle than a profession). I lived in a small pensione on the top floor of a building on a side street just off via Nationale across from St Paul’s within the Walls, the major American Protestant Church in Rome. In the evenings I would sit in my room by the open window and listen to the then love of my life, practice on the piano in the church rectory were she lived having been sent there by her exceedingly wealthy Danish parents to study music at The National Academy of St. Cecilia in Rome. She was exceptionally beautiful, an accomplished musician, a doper and a bit of a groupie, especially attracted to bass fiddle jazz musicians with lots of hair. Eventually her family felt she was spending too much time with a certain Italian-American drifter and called her back from Rome to marry someone more appropriate. She is now Chairman of the Board of a major subsidiary of the family’s shipping empire. Sic transit gloria.
I hung out with a group of ex-pat would be poets none of whom ever made it as poets (one became a high school teacher in Santa Rosa) and a few con-man who also to my knowledge never made whatever it was they were hoping to make. In ex-pat communities world over, there are always a lot of those on the con. How much less interesting would the world be if there were no con and no grifters to fashion them. Movies often tend to make the grifters happy-go-lucky sociopaths, sometimes even with a heart of gold. Although they smiled a lot, most of the sociopaths I knew were anything but happy go lucky and as for their hearts, it was far more likely they were lined with lead.
The poem was part of a lengthy piece most of which I no longer recall. It was lost many years ago along with all my other attempts at turning doggerel if not into gold at least into something useful like molybdenum. Pretentious Imagist drivel, it went like this:
The wanderer travels not by hook
But sprawled upon the empty tides of fairy world and real
And the sham cult darkness lie that was
Yet will not be
Marks its passage on nothing
The entire poem ended with perhaps one of the more tragic images in all of literature, “red sails returning.”
Tristan, before embarking from Cornwall on his latest war in Ireland, promised his beloved Isolde that upon his ships’ return, if he were still alive, he would unfurl his white sails but had he died his men would put up red ones. Upon word of the ship’s approach to the harbor, Isolde sent her handmaid to the top of the tower to report what she sees. Tristan, still alive, orders his men to unfurl the white sails. Unfortunately the sun was setting at just that moment causing the sails to blaze a bright red. Upon the maid’s return from the tower Isolde asked her the color of the sails. “Red” she answered not knowing the significance of her response. So, in sorrow and despair Isolde killed herself as did Tristan when he discovered his beloved’s body.*
I always envied Tristan. As far as I know, there have been very few people who longed for my return after I left the room.
* It should be noted, that there are several versions of the Tristan tale many of them that differ substantially from what I have described. First of all, in a lot of them Isolde waiting in the castle in Cornwall was not the beloved Isolde, but Isolde of the White Hands, T’s wife.
It seems that while T and the beloved Isolde were playing hide the salami, she was married to Mark the King who was also T’s boss. Eventually the lovers agreed T would go away because, in part, they both liked Mark the King and felt bad about what they were doing, but mostly because Mark the King was the King and if he found out what they were doing he would cut off their heads as well as other important parts of their body. So T left and married the white-handed Isolde because he liked her name and she had a castle near the water. Frankly, when T returned from his slaughter of his Irish kinsmen and found white-handed Isolde dead due to a mistaken perception, he was not too broken up about it.
There are also many versions of how T died. Some have him poisoned, probably by a jealous husband and others have him chopped to bits in the midst of one of his ethnic cleansing jobs. I, on the other hand, believe he died in a bar fight with some bikers in Pocatello Idaho.
However it was that he died, I am not particularly jealous of this version of T. He seems to just be like a lot of men – completely fucked in the head.