By James Ackhurst
We never went, but let me make a guess
about that fortune-teller that we’d pass:
she hides the future with her hands. You know
what poker-players do to hide the cards
they’re dealt? They sweep their hands over each one
one at a time but fast; that’s what she does
with tarot cards: the hanged man, death by water.
And that is what the sea is doing now,
its hands in gloves of richest Spanish black
with edges breaking into scruffy lace.
Hiding the future, though the cats don’t mind;
they’ll go on dancing on the peppered beach,
between the tourist tables and the dark.
I’m in Greece, dumbass. Yes, in Greece, where you
went backpacking one summer after college,
lost your passport, hooked up with an awful
Greek, and generally played the part
of a Canadian in Europe: nice,
unprepossessing, earnest, out of place.
I know all this because you told me, and
because I followed you, three years
behind, clicking from one picture of you
to the next like I was island-hopping
too – from slutty Mykonos down through
the archipelago to Santorini,
where there’s that photo of you lying on
the beach, as hot as the volcanic sands,
your hair more black, and somewhere in the center
of your iris the land went pop for me,
the seas poured in, and deep inside me ancient
men were leaping over bulls in bright
red palaces under millennia
of ash. Yes, I’m in Greece, just like I was
last summer, two months in ramshackle Athens,
racing through bombed-out Syntagma at dawn
so I could delicately hack at dirt
and scrub scraps of ceramic with a toothbrush –
and waiting for you, Airport Girl, through stun-
grenades and tear-gas, all the Sirens’ lures,
and offers whispered on the Hill of Ares.
Waiting for you, Airport Girl, so you
could fly to London and then dump me there.
Yes, that’s right, I’m in Greece, not San Francisco,
where I first spotted you beside the
baggage carousel, one more depressive hipster,
but just the right amount of cute – I checked
you out as you went up the escalator.
Not San Francisco, where I’d run downhill
to meet you every night, the city lights
swinging to meet me like a chandelier
or like I was an astronaut or diver
plummeting down into the Zodiac
or some sunk galaxy of coral. San
Francisco, where I often wander,
and always half-expect to see your face,
a chance encounter that I’m ready for,
of course – I’ll just say ‘hi’ and then walk by,
leaving you stalled, bewildered, disappointed.
I walk down 24th Street all the time,
meet friends for drinks where our first date was –
it’s not like you own the place, not like
I can’t eat sushi where our second date was,
when you saw your friend, and downed a huge
Sapporo, and masturbated me onto
your chest. Well that was slightly later,
but the point remains – it’s not your city,
I fit in here too, square though I am
in collared shirts and khakis, free of ink,
eschewing piercings, but with coloured socks.
And you were so much cooler than me since
I had an norange raincoat,* and you wore
an army jacket from East Germany
whose olive camouflage I fear you never
got the best of, living as you did
(and probably still do) in San Francisco.
But now you’ve left me and your number’s up.
The hippies in the meditation hall
won’t hug you now; they’re sitting on my side;
in Chinatown my lackeys are inserting
some dire syntaxless fate in your last cookie;
and in that coffee-shop we’d study in
they wouldn’t know you, wouldn’t plant a
daisy on your latte, while for me they craft
a foamy heart as white as angels’ semen.
And neuroscience, who even gives a fuck?
You spent all of your weekends in the lab
placing electrodes in the brains of rats
with all the relish of a tram-conductor;
you’d get them hooked on something, then you’d snatch
it back and cut their heads off. Sounds familiar.
Hell, you’d just as well have studied me,
the first night’s summer rain of serotonin,
and when you left, the dopamine in me
draining like water from a paddling pool.
Each time we made love you would register
the surge of oxytocin – ‘oxycodone’,
I would say, although you never laughed.
And I would swear, all through those first few weeks
my synapses were gummed up with some drug
that made all of the old familiar things
exchange their colours: every morning after
as I climbed the hill that sky was gold,
the moon was blue, my blood was green, and all
the trees were bursting into living red.
I’ll never figure out how come that year
ended so early, after starting twice.
The second time was in that coffee shop
when we were looking into each other’s eyes,
and then we left, and walked out straight into
the biggest Chinese New Year’s Eve parade
I’ll ever witness. Lanterns were slung all
around as bold as fruit, the firecrackers
bloomed like sulfurous lilies, old men hoisted
undulating coils above their heads.
I held your hand, and watched the dragons romp,
their manic heads devouring loneliness.
And then it passed, that whole instant parade,
the families home, the dragons’ waves collapsed.
So I’m in Greece, though I’ll be heading
back to San Francisco soon, when I’ll be moving –
would you ever guess? – to 24th Street,
near our old haunts... And Kate, it’s alright now.
You came along to Zen a couple of times;
that’s all I’ve learnt, and maybe all you learn:
things come along, and then they go again,
the itching on your finger or your nose,
the sudden onslaught of anxiety,
or your unconscionable nighttime lust
for chocolate. They come along and then
they go again, and so do we. We did:
for me, a long hoped-for remembering
of what to fall in love is, and for you,
well, there’s no need to reach consensus now.
‘You never know what’s just around the corner,’
you said to me as I was blubbering.
Quite an annoying thing to say, under
those circumstances, but the thought was right.
We never know, since Mexicans can’t really
tell the future, and the sea can’t talk.
I’m playing poker with it just the same,
dealing my visions – future, past.
It closes its hands over them, one at a time.
The cats will go on dancing on the beach
between the fish-knives and the salted sky,
so let me say this for the only time:
I’m over this, I’m over you, it’s over.
*Editor's note: 'norange' is not a typo.