I’ve walked too many hundred
miles in those shoes. Talked too much,
and thought too little, and been unreasonable,
and half right, till it cost me. Like the night
Mike bet I’d never make it
from his flat to the Gare du Nord, which was the last time
for a while in my life I was that drunk. And we had no excuse, even if
it was Mike’s birthday, even if we were 22 and single and in Paris,
and the seedy fleshpot funfair of Pigalle
was swaggering and starry-mouthed,
with fire swallowers, and sweet
talkers, and the up for anything likes of us.
Picture two beersteins big as the Ritz! Check out this bar
where a Turk is propositioning us in tandem, as a melancholy pimp
sips pastis and spits and mutters. (Why do whores become
whores? I ask him, so young, so baffled by the world.
Because, he answers, keeping it simple for me, women are cunts.)
And to the next bar, and the next—every next drink a dare, a double
dare, a confession, every next joke, every next door if you want to know,
harder and harder to get through! And at four a.m., almost home,
snicker at the mugging, two pale, polite boys, who’ll jam their
hands in their pockets to make out that they're knives!
And when we laugh, and let them swipe our last few
centimes, they'll shake our hands to thank us!
How Saturday became Sunday I’ve now no notion,
nor how, nor how much I sobered in between, but I know
by Sunday evening I was sick of it, sick of the swish of alcohol
and the gusts of adrenaline, sick of slumming, sick of the sour
blaze each swig of glee went down with. Besides,
I’d an 8 a.m. class to teach on Monday, a hundred miles away,
in Lille, on Future Shock by Toffler to some kids in terminale.
So when Mike scoffed and cackled, saying I’d never
make it to the station, I bet back I would,
and I marched unreasonably out his door in circles.
Somewhere in those hours there was a Métro train, I recall the
doors opening, closing at Barbès-Rochechouart like very slow applause,
one long, sardonic clap... When I
jerked awake, the train was at the station, I leapt onto the platform,
hollering to a porter, C’est où le train pour Lille? Just as the train
I’d just jumped off of bucked into grunts and clattered off.
The way, abandoning us, a life we've lucked into
wakes us to to admire it. The thumbed nose,
na-nana-na-na of its adieu.
Voilà, the porter chuckled, you've just jumped off it. So I was
half right, and I had made it, though it did cost me, one cold snooze
in the waiting room, one bruise from a police boot, one night of
retching in a cheap hotel. But at 5 a.m. there came
another train, another right one,
that brought me somewhere else a hundred miles away,
somewhere where the stars were being leached clean in a smear of smog,
my own small cozy world I could pick my way through brain-dead,
where I would never do it again. Land of the reasonable
other half, where I took a careful
breath and got off easy.