The notion that the carriage wheels clattering through Paris
remind him of the drums from the islands in his father’s tales:
clickclack sputterwhir—he could make a song of it, dance
this four-in-hand down the cobbles of the rue du Bac
as he balances his small weight against the pricking cushions
clacksputter whir—all the cadences jumbled together
except the thudding dirge of his heart.
That he can see, in curtained twilight, the violin case in his lap
twitch with every jounce, like an animal trapped under the hunter’s eye;
that he can sense, down shrouded alleys, danger rustling just as surely
as he can feel spring’s careless fingers feathering his chest and smell
April’s ferment in the stink of the poor marching toward him… .
Though none of this is true. He hears nothing but clatter.
He can’t see the rain-slicked arc of the bridge passing under him
as the pale stone of the palace rears up and he climbs down
to be whisked into the massive Salle des Machines,
his father’s cloak folded back like a bat’s tucked wing—
because it was a dry spring that year on the Continent.
Nonetheless, he ignores his heart’s thudding and steps out
onto the flickering stage, deep and treacherous
as a lake still frozen at sunset, aglow with reflected light.
Soon the music will take him across; he’ll feel each string’s ecstasy
thrum in his head and only then dare to open his eyes to gaze
past the footlights at the rows of powdered curls
(let’s see the toy bear jump his hoops!)
nodding, lorgnettes poised, not hearing but judging—
except for that tall man on the aisle, with hair
the orange of fading leaves; and the two girls beside him—
one a younger composition of snow and embers,
but the other—oh the other dark, dark yet warm
as the violin’s nut-brown sheen … miraculous creature
who fastens her solemn black gaze on the boy as if to say
you are what I am, what I yearn to be—
so that he plays only for her and not her keepers;
and when he is finally free to stare back,
applause rippling over the ramparts—even then
she does not smile.