Chaucer and Hass

I live on mint tea and toast for months
as I lie on the futons in each room
of the cottage I sublet,
the one surrounded by three-foot sunflowers
with a dying kitchen stove,
the small bathroom,
from an actress who has gone off to Vancouver
for some back stage version of King Lear.
And I survive on Chaucer
reading Chaucer
writing Chaucer
dreaming Chaucer
reciting Chaucer to my lover,
our shadows meshing,
whispering to the falling night
our wordless meanings,
the street lamp
just outside the front bedroom window
illuminates our rhythmic phrases,
Old English words
bounce between us
keep us distant,
draw us closer,
we squeeze these words out of one another,
try to understand our differences, again and again.

Alone, the Knight's Tale follows me around the house
echoes between ceiling and floor
as I can tomatoes and fruit,
watch the leaves accumulate below my bedroom window.
The Nun's Tale abandons me halfway through dinner
as I serve my best friend and her latest English fiancée quiche.
He drones out nursery rhymes,
I quietly pass out red strawberry compote
know he won't last through the winter.
I come alive with spring
as I follow the Pardoner's words to each room,
I see them pinned to the walls
in the bathroom next to the shower,
in the front room next to the tiny black and white TV,
in the kitchen on the fridge,
next to the stove,
next to the empty beer cans.

These old stories follow me everywhere
I repeat them until they are my words
hanging from my tongue,
my elegant rolling hill,
sometimes cut and dry,
perfect yet lacking feeling,
sometimes tossed like a salad
mixed to taste but not quite right,
Then, at times I don't think
they just arrive like neighbors for dinner
unexpected but welcome.

Summer has returned,
Cordelia the actress soon- to-be-waitress,
home early, they have cancelled her play.
The sound of her voice mixed with airport hum
sounds guttural, short, Chaucerian.

Our conversation too quick
becomes stuck in my throat
chokes me like the humid night air
I vacate, pack my bags, my books,
my Chaucer,
drag myself down the street
to my best friend's house;
her fiancée gone,
she is lonely and empty
and I am full of Chaucer.
when I see you,
a young man sitting under a tree,
gray flannel shirt hung lose around your waist,
long straggly hair falling into your eyes.

You are humped over that familiar blue book
coddling it into your chest,
stroking its back
as your mouth moves,
caressing each syllable
until it shapes your words,
molds your lips.

You stand,
begin to stutter the sounds I cradled.
An apple in hand, twisting it,
you try to squeeze the language from its featureless face,
shouting at it, tripping over the meter
you draw a crowd.
I watch in silence as words fall from this sacred place
you are creating for yourself,
the syllables scatter on the ground in front of me
I bend to pick them up
long to sort them and hand them back to you.

Then I remember myself
imitating Chaucer
washing myself in Chaucer
my voice springing forth in Old English dialect
filling the world until I was lost in it, drowning,
recovering to discover a voice that was wholly mine.
I turn and walk away leaving you, apple in hand,
the pieces of a world just beginning to unfold.
With Hass tucked under my arm, I head for home.


words: Bonnie Nish, Canada (Pandora's Collective)
photo: Diana Wynne, California (The Daily Interface)

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