A Wine Tale

August Kleinzahler

For Lee Harwood

Behind the château, its celebrated ‘candle-snuffer’ towers
and Gothic traceries engraved and worn proudly on the labels
of how many bottles of Pinot and Bourgogne,

the old caretaker sleeps in the shadow of the cistern, its wood
sweating and frayed, the autumnal, late afternoon light
bringing to this rustic tableau
the kind of orange-tinted, unworldly radiance
he would remember from his childhood, viewing scenes
from Snow White and Little Red Riding Hood in the family attic,
having stolen off with his big sister’s cherished stereoscope.

The depth and intricate plots of his dreams these past few weeks,
the harvest in and mornings darker by the day,
astonish him with their capacity for recall,
such a one as he would be hard pressed to reproduce while waking:
the long ago conversations, the detailed interiors

of that modest little house on the outskirts of the village,
not five kilometres from where he now lies,
awake and stunned by all that has taken place beneath his eyelids,
not to mention the emphatic bande
pitching a tent in the lap of his purple-stained coveralls.
Nearly 70, he thinks to himself, sheepish but rather pleased
at the impudence, the importunings of his valorous little friend.

He really mustn’t drink so much with lunch anymore,
But there is so much of it at hand,
a beguiling vermilion and with that distinctive nose,
cherry, mint and leather, the tiered finish, in every swallow
the goût de terroir,
the smell of the earth after last night’s rain,
the smell of all those Aprils and Septembers
here on the eastern slope of the Great Escarpment.

Who is to say if our friend is an epicure, a wastrel,
or but a simple man, a paysan,
of no particular ambition, wit or aptitude,
whose destiny has been to lift things up, clean them off,
and put them back down again where they belong
in paradise?