The plans we make are dangerously at sea;
I note your natural confidence and ease
about train bookings, the itinery
that takes us to the Southern tip, then sees
us on a trail that winds intrepidly
into the depths of more uncertainties.
I go along with what you say, then freeze -
wanting to pull back from this unsettling journey.
And then the news that you haven't returned
from an excursion to a wild life park
over six hundred acres in the West.
You stayed to see the sunset as it burned
the trees, lingered there after it was dark,
a friend reported, or bare-facedly guessed.
Then, not worried for you or about you,
we thought we saw your form fly genie-style
emerging from a vase. Just how you flew
we didn't surmise, though it made us smile
to see you smugly calm and bang on cue.
Each day I have to walk a forest mile
on shifting floors, and ratchet up my guile -
no map or guide, the light our only clue;
and your penciled note: "Head for first light
and don't stop 'til the Asian birches start."
In truth I don't quite trust anyone here,
though I stick close to the camp fire at night.
They say there's a new danger everywhere:
seen from far, you couldn't tell us apart.
Under the restaurant's concrete canopy,
the terrace overlooks the lake. We float
above the gentle darkness, less weary
now that we have a bowl of matelote,
a table and - increasingly remote -
chance of a bed. This good, reviving Cote
du something starts to make me worry-free,
though deep down still anxious about the journey -
I've lost all track of you, and lost your smile,
expect to see it like a pale night light,
can't place the way it dimples into shadows.
Instead my watch's luminous blue dial
tells me we've still got hours to kill. I doze,
give up, decouple; it doesn't feel right.
I measure a chaotic football ground:
buses in perpetual movement commute
past me to an unseen moving-around.
The city moves on from route to crazed route;
the engines growl and rumble, shudder, shoot
into tunnels, a sharp, determined sound.
The smallest spat could lead to a dispute.
It's in this sprawl there is a slender chance,
split from the rest at last, of seeing you.
An out-of-town high street, a doorway where
an old kebab shop has a teashop air,
though the unlikeliest of rendezvous,
is where your elfin shape could take on substance.
In slanting evening light where crowds are massing,
wishing we'd thought to bring a camera,
seeing that not to act would cost us dearer,
we move with them, the group we thought was passing,
involved in scenes that get embarrassing.
When anger spills over, nothing could be weirder
than not knowing who it is you're harassing,
crushed against a costume and its wearer.
It's not so much the weight of others makes me
afraid, the need to shove and wriggle free;
rather, it's irony. I tracked you down
against all odds, and if in this strange show
I lose you again the joke would gain renown
amongst our peers. Hold tight and don't let go!
There's a small park near the hotel: I stare
at a white page and try to write this down,
before it peels off in the fresh air
of morning, floats away across the town.
Fact is, last night, over pizza and wine,
you told me the story of your adventure,
starting with how you climb through night to where
the stars shine bright as an amphetamine
high. It was here you had to admit being lost,
and how you stayed lost for, “over all
a longish time…" I write and scribble quickly
all that I can remember and recall
of you, your voice and what it said to me,
vaguely aware of coffee on the roast.