Uttar Pradesh

August Kleinzahler

You were dozing over Uttar Pradesh
well after the shadows of Annapurna
swept across the big plane’s starboard wing,

dreaming a peevish little dream
of Stinky Phil, your playground tormentor
from fifty years before, his red earmuffs

and curious cigar voice vivid as the tapioca
you used to gag on at the end of Thursday lunch,
when the captain’s serene, patriarchal voice

suggested you buckle up, moments before
the plane jumped then yawed in an air-pocket
and dropped five hundred feet. Oh, shit,

there goes the Parcheesi board and what’s left
of a very bold Shiraz. Melissa
purses her lips in the compact mirror,

turns a quarter left, then right a tad,
scowls at her mascara and snaps it shut with a sigh.
You are the pre-eminent colourist

of your era. Some would suggest a fraud
with your grand chevelure of white hair and cape.
Mother would certainly not disagree,

but here you are again, crossing continents,
six miles above the petty quarrels,
the tossed green salads and car wrecks

to receive yet another prize, a ribbon,
a princely sum in a foreign capital
and a spread on the Sunday culture page.

How very far away now seem your student days:
happy, hungry, cooking up manifestos –
turpentine, pussy, stale cigarette smoke.

It was evident from the start. It screamed
at you from billboards, fabric shops, museums;
and no one else saw it, no one but you.

Amazing. Then half a lifetime to execute it
in paint. What a long time with one idea.
But still, it was a doozy, put you

in the art books and kept you there for life.
There will be a car waiting when you arrive.
Kremer is visiting with the Philharmonic

and will do the Sibelius, your favourite.
You recall meeting him some years ago
at a dinner in – Cologne, I think it was.

An intense young man, but very pleasant.
Right, now you remember the evening,
the lugubrious moulding and burgundy drapes ...

Ah, yes, and a most memorable Hasenpfeffer.