Each night we bought red wine from a small supermarket
Not too far from the Seine, where an overweight deaf teller
Smiled whenever we walked in. At the counter he read our lips
As we bought the cheapest wine we could find – never any change
As each time we paid, we paid the exact amount in coins you
Counted, one by one, into his open palm: six francs seventy-five.
Late in the evening you’d count up another six seventy-five
And we’d walk through the narrow streets back to the supermarket –
Fumbling through rich Parisians on their way to dinner; and you,
Who loved the city for our anonymity, became fond of the young teller
Who seemed alone and estranged and liked us too for the change
We brought to his long nights, when he read our hearts and lips.
Remember, when we figured out what he asked behind his mute lips,
“Why come twice, why not save yourself the walk and buy four or five
Bottles in the early evening?” We laughed, as nothing would change
The way we bought or the walks we took, hand in hand, to the supermarket.
The following evening, as we paid, we looked into the eyes of the deaf teller
And said, “It’s our habit” and left it at that; and he smiled, more so at you.
From that night on – every night, this game with him and you;
He’d lift his finger and wait for the silent words to form on our lips
And we’d say, “it’s our habit”; and he’d laugh – the deaf teller –
As we played our game, and all we needed was six francs seventy-five
On those evenings near the banks of the Seine, in that small supermarket –
Always paying the exact amount, never receiving any change.
Then you left and went away, and so heartfelt was the change –
Each night I cried, and it’s safe to say that he too sorely missed you.
In the evenings I still walk the narrow streets to the supermarket –
Remembering our walks in expensive coats, the jokes and your pale lips,
The way you kept the coins in a velvet pouch – the six seventy-five
That you’d always count into the soft, open palm of the deaf teller.
The night before I went away, I looked into the eyes of the deaf teller
And told him I was leaving the next day, his round face changed,
Something sad swelled in his young eyes as I placed the six seventy-five
Into his palm; he then signed to the sky, asking if I was on my way to you –
But no words this time, I could say nothing, no words of you from my lips.
I packed the bottles of wine and slowly began to exit the supermarket.
The deaf teller ran to me, tapped me on the shoulder as I thought of you,
With no change to his eyes, he shook my hand and silently said with his lips,
“It’s our habit, and exactly six seventy-five”. I smiled and left the supermarket.
from Spirit Brides
Carcanet Press Ltd., Manchester, 2006