On a million nights like this

  
 
Noir
Ian Parks
 
The plot is complicated
but all its tangled threads
have found their resolution here.
The end is all we need to know.
It’s midnight on the waterfront
and all the ships have loaded up
 
their cargoes and have gone.
The hotel lights are lit:
a hundred rooms with a hundred beds
identical with blinds.
An interface of fire-escapes
supports it from outside.
 
A bright façade distracts us
from the narrow alleyways
where trash cans spill their overflow
and rats search out a meal.
Somewhere a storm is gathering.
Out there in Hudson Bay
 
it swirls unseen, unnoticed.
The city streets absorb it
for a moment then let loose
a sudden lethal downpour
that shimmers in the heat
and bounces off the sidewalk
 
where she steps purposeful, intent.
All we know about her are her heels,
her black silk stockings with the seams.
The desk clerk reads philosophy
and doesn’t notice her,
is distant and obsessed
 
by the problem of evil
and the fact of other minds.
She comes in through revolving doors,
making her usual entrance as she smiles,
unpins her dripping hair and shakes it free.
And we’re left wondering how it feels
 
to be someone like her,
someone who melts in from the night
without a future or a past,
without a clear identity
but sure about her purpose and her poise.
Men in the vaulted lobby watch her move,
 
put down their unread papers,
place drinks back on the bar.
Just then a yellow taxi picks him up
outside Grand Central Station where he waits.
He lifts a paper from the stack,
is down at heel and needs a shave.
 
He has the worn, familiar look
of someone we’ve all seen before.
The final train is juddering
as it swerves off to Harlem
hot with jazz. She taps her watch
and lights a cigarette.
 
The pianist is playing just for her –
a melody that lingers and goes deep,
much deeper than before.
She doesn’t know it but it will become
a universal theme, a tune
replayed by lovers
 
on a million nights like this,
requested by lone barflies
as they have one for the road
or whistled on the way back home
by men to their new girl.
But now he’s skirting Central Park.
 
The driver is loquacious and he knows
the places to be seen in
and the places to avoid;
the dark protruding belly
of the city’s underside
where, he says, it’s safer not to go.
 
He pauses on the steps.
Will she remember? How could she forget?
They had a past together after all,
embraces in the damp exotic south
where passports count for nothing
and there are no questions asked.
 
He has no way of knowing
but the first words that he speaks
will take on an existence of their own,
repeated out of context
on a million nights like this
when some lost lover stumbles, lost for words.
 
Impressive, but she doesn’t notice it,
distracted by dark corners,
shifting eyes. Can anyone be trusted
in this sharp ambiguous world
where threat is ever-present
and its secrets are all hid?
 
And then there are the details:
raised eyebrows, potted palms,
the glitter of a wedding ring –
suggested, unobtrusive
as she takes the battered envelope
and slips it in her bag.
 
We know that something more
than looks have been exchanged
as the bell-boy taps his shoulder,
says he’s wanted on the phone.
What happens next?
We’re left to guess. A life
 
impelled by answers
and the questions they impose:
false leads, lost threads, dead ends,
a trail of clues that have gone cold,
the gaps they leave for us to fill
with their intensity.
 
Things keep disappearing
and then turning up elsewhere.
The lights are neon blue.
We’re lost in it, its variousness
and the thousand things now happening
which the camera doesn’t see.
 
 
from The Landing Stage (Lapwing Publications, 2010)
 
 

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