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DANTE: THE OTHER DAY YOU ASKED ME ON THE PHONE

about "a woman in my life." Well, I forgot to say
I'm still alone, in Graz. It's not that I don't try.
Throughout the season before last, Mireille

(remember her?) first crippled me with giggles,
then quit me for a principal of the ballet.
Come fall, after the break, I asked some girls.

They deigned: "you're such a pal" — Now tell me,
why? I'm twenty eight, a nice straight guy —
why am I not taken seriously?

I guess I'm just corps-de-ballet with a bad heel
and pains, Dante, you can't believe —
the other day in 'Romeo' I had to lift Lucile:

I heard a snap, grasped at her waist, my smile and stance,
reached the wings in spasms I couldn't conceal.
Yet ten o'clock next morning, back dancing,

I tried a tricky lift again and felt my tendon go —
but Achim canceled Tybalt: this was my chance!
I got to do it, and I sucked. At home, my ego

bruised, my foot in ice, I didn't call, I knew
you would have closed the restaurant, cut work
to come and try to make me good as new.

You asked if there is not a certain woman:
Well, across the street, down in a flat below my own
(which I could see inside if blinds were open)

this lady lives, she's Austrian, also at the theater
but not with the ballet — she buys for the canteen
whatever that means, I used to meet her

at the bus-stop down the street.
We talked, she did not treat me like an amateur,
found me droll, mentioned my good feet —

(you know my thing about my feet so I was flattered).
She made me laugh, she owns a cat and a parakeet,
and helped with forms and other paper matters,

(three years in Graz my German still is poor!).
When my tendon first got battered,
(late for class, no warm up, I tried that "tour"),

she was the one that got me to the clinic,
talked to doctors, dealt with the insurance,
and came to visit me while I was sick.

So I invited her for my version of your Ragu,
(you'd say it was too salty and too thick),
but she loved it, said it made her good as new

but also fat (she is not really that). Turns out
she's younger then I thought, as young as you
my brother: thirty-three, yet she's astute,

mature, like mother nagged at me to quit
smoking, take care, and eat.
One day I felt depressed, I must admit

I heard some whispers after class and learned Henri
(the guy from Cannes you met in your last visit)
arranged to party with a group from our company.

As usual, I was not included,
even though they always call on me
when someone needs my car or food

or my Nintendo. When she came by
suddenly, she found me full of gratitude.
She cracked the window open, shut off the game-boy

made tea, and told me lightly as she poured
she was in love with me, and said my name
with tenderness I never heard before.

She was not joking, when later in the week
she proposed to me and tore
an opal off her neck,

which I refused. I can't recall the words I chose
exactly, I think I said she was unique
with pretty eyes, a lovely nose

the truth: I simply don't desire
her and never will. She placed neat rows
of matches in the ashtray, set them on fire

and watched the smoke twist slowly in the room.
Months later, after the summer break, she inquired
how I was and asked again. Her perfume

reminded me of home, I was sincere,
she thanked me, nibbled on her thumb
and left. I have not seen her since but heard

she had an operation, I met her on the way
to work, her face was pale but clear,
she smiled at me and said she was okay.

Once in a while I call. She answers in a monotone,
her voice so white, come visit if you wish I say,
come see the tape of my hilarious dying swan

in drag, but she declines. And every night,
while she watches the same programs that are on,
(as dull on my TV as hers), I see the colored strands of light

escape between her window's slats. I know she is alone.

      — Peter Anson