Even in a place one has never left, a person may witness that particular something which brings her to the realization that she has never been more than a stranger in town, with little more than a tourist knowledge of the language she has used all of her life. Communion is not easy to come by. People talk about what they can find words for, most often in the form of questions or requests…tea, coffee, eggs, beautiful girls, beautiful boys, thank you, love, distance, foreigner, memory, mercy, please. And when the body or spirit, or both, are exiled, they may talk in the subjunctive and the conditional. They may talk of what if life on earth was easy enough for mothers to easily love their children; and what if soldiers didn’t take the lives of civilians absolutely unknown to them, as casually as my baby offers me the scent of French lavender against which her tiny fingers have brushed.
This morning as I am making my way to the library I have a poem in mind but it twists and turns, and runs ahead and shouts over its shoulder that I should keep up. It has something to do with the Japanese tourists I see from the top of the number 13 bus. They are having their photograph taken with the man dressed as a Victorian policeman outside 221b Baker Street. The poem wants to have something to do with how these tourists may explain the photograph to friends and family back in small towns a hundred miles from Tokyo or Yokohama or deep in Shizuoka Prefecture; friends who would surely know little of English literature, or Victorian London, or elementary deductions.
In a second group of lines I may have wanted to mention that perhaps something of a comparable situation might be for me, who knows little of bushido or Japanese literature, to have my photograph taken outside the one-time home of Yukio Mishima and to show it on my return to my great-aunt in her nursing home in Wellingborough Northants, or to my sister in a rural village in Essex, both of whom know little or nothing of seppuku or sailors falling from grace with the sea.
But the poem, like most poems, doesn’t get written. It runs off ahead, turns a corner, becomes lost in a sea of faces there. Instead I have ended up writing this to myself, at the back of the bus, this about words getting lost between the unfolding scene and the paper; and this about you who I haven’t set eyes on in five years except in my dreams, and who I have loved, and who I think I see twice in five minutes from the top of this bus as it crawls along Oxford Street. And twice in five minutes I have seconds to decide whether to leave the bus and pursue that figure who may or may not be you. But I know that whether it is you or not that I don’t have the words, and I continue to the poetry library by the river, and exchange the books of three Israeli poets for a book of the lamentations of an exiled Palestinian.
Afterwards, crossing Hungerford Bridge, the Roma woman carrying her swaddled baby stretches her open palm towards me. I wonder briefly whether she may have a store of pound coins, or crowns, or golden teeth, or resources beyond my dreams. I think of my baby daughter and drop change into her hand and stroke her baby’s head. I want the baby to feel love through my fingertips. For small change I have bought a fleeting communion. I get back on the bus and now, look, I am writing this.
Barb Vireneckt thinks the number 13 bus from Golders Green to Aldwych is worth saving. Do you?