Tobi Alfier is a multiple Pushcart nominee and a Best of the Net nominee. Her most current chapbooks are “The Coincidence of Castles” from Glass Lyre Press, and “Romance and Rust” from Blue Horse Press. “Down Anstruther Way” is forthcoming from FutureCycle Press. She is the co-editor of San Pedro River Review (www.bluehorsepress.com).
The Man Writes a Note to Remember Shadows
He has a photographer’s eye
and a poet’s words,
a memory that stretches back years.
Remembering days, dates, the small
humiliations of adolescence and successes
of adulthood. But he writes himself a note
to remember shadows that angle the sun
off hills running from green to gray
to white with snow. The undersides
of obsidian slabs, frames around an absent
sign that reflect onto walls of white.
Garage doors, curtains billowing,
the magentas and golds of sunset
as they play upon the ground.
A train that doubles itself in reflection
as it banks a corner in the middle of nowhere.
He may forget the note; he will never forget
to look for shadow.
Photo Assignment in Fort William
He has many photographs of women gazing.
Young women leaned out third-floor windows,
modest cleavage over the sill, they watch,
expression of joyous contemplation
or thoughtful listening across their brows.
One woman waits for the sound of her love
coming ‘round the corner, swinging
his lunchpail with the tiredness of end-of-day.
When he looks up she will burst onto him
a smile lit from within, all the suns
in the universe welcoming him home.
A nighttime wait is quite another expression.
As he sings himself home from the pub,
she watches the traffic around him, prays
for his safe up-the-stairs, prays harder
that all she’ll detect is the scent of lager
and tobacco, his neck unstained
by the color of anyone else’s smile.
She carried a sense of expectation
like air just before the hurricane sinks
the barometer like death, a streetlight’s
halting flicker as late sun mellows
from orange to pale to gone.
Houses, dark from the day, are lit
with stutters of candle and strong
reading lamps, the odd bird, quiet
on the wire, a train whistle—
so faint it makes no ripple
in the thick damp of ocean
that makes us cold,
even as it makes us muggy-warm.
Exhaustion of not knowing
what comes next forces sleep,
soothes the panic, rot beneath
beauty, search for the answer.
Carmen Walks the Camino de Santiago
Monday through Saturday Carmen
watches out her window, mother-of-pearl
cleavage at rest on the peeling husk of the frame.
A small gold cross, and smaller earrings
complete a pastoral still-life
against the faint piss-smell and detritus
of an alley off Bourbon Street
known for its women of all hours.
If her window is closed, she is busy.
If her window is closed, it is Sunday,
a day for Vieux Carre Baptist Church—
where they know she is broken
but do not care. Carmen keeps two
cigar boxes from her beloved grandfather
in which to save money—
one for Sundays, one for her dream
to walk the Camino, to walk with undiluted faith,
trek with the other pilgrims, all damaged
in some way, all searching for blessing, sense
of connection, some way out of unspoken grief.
Carmen counted the bunched-up bills in that box
like a child counts the hours until bedtime.
She stopped one day after church, took a modest
passport photo, and bought her ticket to all the hopes
her years amounted to. She paid her rent,
latched her window for at least two months,
and began her journey the way a blind woman
remembers the way through her house.
Gentle student on solitary holiday,
I invite you to take the commuter train,
not the express, from Paris to Mont St. Michel.
Purchase a ticket for second class,
find a seat facing forward.
You will see towns as you arrive,
the first view of peasant and town-folk
as they go from market to market,
stories written on their faces in a way
the express passengers’ never will,
their jaded indifference proving they don’t care.
Brush your hair from your eyes, get your book,
a coffee, your notes for home, hope the woman
carrying a chicken in her satchel does not sit across
from you. Maybe hope she does.
You may drift down to the Normandy beaches,
wander the damp fog, bunkers solid, rebar
twisted like exclamation points. Re-acquaint yourself
with the ghost of your grandfather, your only knowledge
of him a few photos with sepia shadows,
in frames older than you, on a few walls
of relatives you rarely see anymore.
Or stay on the train. I will be the girl in the window seat,
thick sweater down over my hands, flowered cotton skirt
like cornflower curtains adorning the windows
of my bony knees, violin in hand, lost in thought.
I will play softly. Simple music, not to bother anyone:
The couple on honeymoon wishing they could afford first class,
the nuns at the back, snoring quietly, chins tucked
into the dark of their veils, a foursome
playing bridge, the world outside ignored—
Turn your head to the side, you will hear me.
You may wonder enough to wait till the end of the line,
walk with me on the out-tide sand, draw your heart.
It’s all temporary, and just enough to remember
in the flamelight of your future, your face a map of sleep
as quiet music fills your dreams in the darkness.