The Age of Yearning
(For Beryl)


Awkwardly, he Googles, low in hope
forms a partial jigsaw of the past
her children, her father’s death.
Modest success inspires him.
He finds her ex-husband’s whereabouts
even her grandfather’s rates record
but no recent trace of her.
He is wary of contacting the ex-husband.

Then he lurches into luck, her brother
still living in their childhood district
or somebody of his odd name and initial.
He will not phone, only write with care
thoughts of her possible death hovering.
They were only sixteen, now she lodges
in his mind, nightly.  He read this happens
when more past than future is left.

He reasons the listing could be her nephew.
This generational distancing suits him.
What worries most are questions.
Why?  What do you want?  Whatever for?
He has written a poem, using her
as the model of a sensual girl long ago.
Publication is due in a glossy book.
He could say he wants her to have it.

They shared music, their bodies, not poetry.
He knows the book is an excuse.
She might laugh, if she is alive
might be married again, probably is
to a coarse, suspicious, jealous man.
He has posted the letter, thinks
of damning letters going astray in novels.
Fool is his favourite word for himself.

He wonders if he would like her again
remembers her wearing a cheong-sam
needs to know what she remembers
of him, them, beyond photographs.
It is as if he saw, long ago, half a film.
What did her character do in later scenes?
He must understand the entire script
knows he could not explain this.

For his address he used a P.O. Box.
His marriage old, children gone a’roving
he considers postal inefficiency
calculates a different day each time.
He likens himself to a spinning dog
biting an itch at the base of its tail.
When they broke up it wasn’t good.
Well, it never is, is it?

His is a calmer sadness now.
She lived in a bustling corner hotel
near a station where he caught the train.
On journeys he thinks of the two of them.
He was excitable, lived alone in silence
except for his hours with her which gleam
in a retrospective wash of light.
He strains to resist glossing the past.

Dropping the letter through that slot
has dropped his mind into a war zone
where tragedy and wan happiness co-exist
his messy mistakes, unreliable memory
directing a searchlight on vignettes
skerricks of history featuring himself.
He blames, not only his foolishness
but his marching-in-place existence.

Like passing the scene of an old crime
disappointment and relief come and go
when enough thought-drifting days vanish.
He had been aghast at time’s winged arrow
all those great poems, plays, and stories.
He does not mention his failed contact
to his wife, but it is not a secret.
The dark streets of his mind astound him.


He comes across his old P.O. Box number
looking through mementoes, a sheer fluke
remembers writing it without thinking
on the self-addressed envelope
he sent with the letter three months ago.
He understands these small mistakes
influence life’s slalom course
which seems steeper and faster now.

Those nineteenth-century novels again
undelivered letters, declarations of love
or guilt – life-changing stuff.
Thinking of the information he sought
fills him with trepidation.
At first his hopes rose like a rocket
reaching an apex then plummeting
ignorant of his carelessness.

Now they are all over the place again.
A stranger might have received his news.
Ancient memories disturbing him
caused him to compose the letter
nerves, the obsolete return address.
Memory, anxiety, followed by chance
the stunned realization of his mistake.
He sweats over another letter.

He knows there probably never was a reply
but grasps the excuse to try once more.
A golden morning beyond the window
light wind, trees surfing in air.
Lonely people listen for the mailman
invent scenarios, believe in fate.
They stare at nothing, strain to recall
fragments of the past beyond recollection.


Lives reflect like fun-park mirrors
children, divorces, loving well
some storm, some calm, loving no longer.
Days drain into the gulf of old age.
He remembers curls on her nape
her head turned to blow smoke away.
Tracking her, logic got ambushed, sure
his foolish assumptions, that wrong address.

A postal worker, an obvious TV fan
with an old-time attitude to service
places a newspaper ad., proving
the Dead Letter Office still has a pulse.
Her answering machine grants a reprieve
but she had only just missed him.
His phone, shrill, throbbing, stabs him.
Bone-lonely, he is bereft of confidence.

Longing for time lost, he picks up.
A lot can change over that many years.
The rush hour trains shaking their floor
should stir the blood under his scars.
He presses fingers to his temples
ponders a decision about a haircut
willing himself to match her bravery
as questions needing details line up.


In the rain walking with her again.
How remote that bare room.
In the beloved city he walks too fast
like he did fifty years gone.
His heartbeat in her underage womb
while he, excluded, walked alone
ignorant, into his battling future.
Now, two old people on this old street.

Before she told him her lonely secret
her shy presentation of photographs.
They walk, passing faces so young, sexy
like her black-and-white image.
She strokes a lucky cat, auburn hair
caressing her pale, slender neck
as he slows down for her, at fault
her breath short, heart contracted.

They agree with her parents’ decision
know they were too young in the past
that elusive time of smoke and sweat
its confounding catch-me-if-you-can.
He would walk through a ball of fire
if it took him back to what was.
Although pleased to have traced her
he grapples with the details, and grief.

The tears he sheds are tears unshed then
for the graceful girl he mourns
holding that cat to her warm belly
her smile which now he glimpses again.
He calls her gently by her maiden name
its Italian curvaceousness changed twice
now slipped back into use, revived.
They sit, rest, glad to have survived.


Feel my heart, she says, her voice veiled
guiding his fingertips to a place
below her right collarbone, not where
he believes their beating hearts lie.
At first touch he thinks she has been hurt
then it feels like a box beneath her skin.
He manages not to recoil like a boy
when she says, It’s a pacemaker.

He shows off by being self-deprecatory
hears more about her life’s potholes
the mistakes, the marriages, betrayals
says, I’ll help you stop smoking
concerned she could drop dead
her old nose frothy in her cappuccino
no longer in need of the facelift
she’d buy if she won Tattslotto.

Fate and the years can combine
like events in a nineteenth-century novel.
His old black heart beats strongly
the comfort of books an indulgence.
Each time she calls she sounds petulant
alone with love’s distant aftertaste.
She tells him she is still young, claims
he talks slant, that he mourns the past.

- Ian C Smith