December 22, 2014

Robert Peake

LA CAMPAGNA, LONDON, FRIDAY NIGHT

This is not your nan’s Sunday dinner, a fish-and-chippy
or Chinese buffet. Tonight, this is Italy, no haggis
here, no bottled beers, just pasta, fresh, tailor-made.

The mincing waiter gooses the posterior of the brawny
man in the scullery, then inverts his frown, glides
over to the long table of single women, and flirts—

at first, you think, he hears the clink of coins
on his silver tip plate. But their laughter opens
his face like a daffodil, peeling back the outer petals

to reveal the golden middle of a man surrounded by nieces
and sisters, their heartaches, children, and deadbeat men;
he recommends the right rosé to wash it all away

and they comply with his performance, casting their eyes
over his handsome face and fit physique, investors
in a scheme that yields only the thrill of investing.

But isn’t this happiness? William Blake would whisper
in each ear an accolade for joy caught on the wing
and when they are at home, curling the stockings

from their legs, a little drunk, and over-full,
their smiles that say “could have been” and “you 
never know” will smile on them again, shaking out

their hairpins, clink, on the makeup mirror,
a sound our Romeo won’t know or hear, scrubbing
the stubborn Bolognese from his stiff apron,

sliding the tongue of the register back into place,
the backstage routine always tinged with sadness,
the afterglow of smiles, the space between applause.

from Rattle #44, Summer 2014

[download audio]

__________

Robert Peake: “From a young age, I was obsessed with surviving in the wild. At five, I begged my mother to drive me into the surrounding Sonoran desert of California and leave me there to find my way home. As soon as I completed all the wilderness survival courses offered, I quit my local troop just shy of becoming an Eagle Scout. Little did I know that from college onward, it would not be a pocket knife or field compass, but poetry, that became my survival tool. I now live a long way from the desert, near London.” (website)