Listening in April: Time Zones (Sydney, Virginia, San Francisco)

August Kleinzahler

I

Rain streams from the stucco parapets
of the Boomerang Academy
well after midnight, early autumn,
along this deserted stretch of Broadway
between the railyard and boarded-up emporium
where Aunt Peg got her trousseau,
Dolores too, in the year-aught-something
at the bottom-of-the-world.

And it roars in the canopy of leaves
high above the sedate brick
offices of the law and publishing firms nearby,
pouring from roof gutters
down on the walkways and out to the street,
empty of cars but for one.

Inside, Mr and Mrs Simao of the cleaning service
wipe off the waxy leaves
of the potted Monstera, vacuum and dust
before going back downstairs
to do the toilets and mop. The noise of the machine
mixes around in or obliterates
the thin plaintive guitar and fado
of the lover who will not return from sea
which comes out of the small, yellow tape-player
sitting there on the floor.

II

And in the glory of Virginia’s Piedmont,
songbirds in full throat
outside the cafeteria of a small, not
uncharming liberal arts college,
the school dietician sits weeping,
after lunch in the back
among the stacked steam trays, the fading
aromas of creamed chipped beef,
carrots and peas, the clatter of silverware.
She’s too proud, he’s weak –
or is it the other way round? No matter.
Azaleas, dogwood – the insult
of their timing, colour, fecundity.
And now the damn peepers starting in, to boot,
with their wall of noise from the lake nearby,
the pitiless chorus her sobs dig into
like some low coughing horn –
fifty, fifty, fifty.

III

I have for several years now,
while sitting here in the tub,
fastened onto how the chattering
of finches and robins,
the hammering, drills and catfights outside,
the shouts, the trucks double-clutching
(now, this instant, mid-morning, San Francisco)
make rough counterpoint
or interlace with the tune playing
on the stereo or in my head:

moments, half and quarter moments,
ambushed;
accident and artifice
so kindred, so swift and unexampled,
as never to be caught or remembered.