The interpreter of my thoughts, who speaks many languages,Has brought me something primitive or strange,To which I am unaccustomed.He has translated it into English for me.
Without him I’m lost. But with himI’m a child, therefore agitated,Dependent for my happiness on someone whom I don’t respect.
Often he stands behind me, slightly to the left,Like a waiter in a fancy restaurant.If I drop my napkin, he retrieves it, drapes it over my chair.He takes away my soup plate, brings the cheese.
But on this day he was nowhere to be seen.
I’d ordered a plate of pasta, half risotto, half trenette with ham.At lunchtime you could do that, everybody did.Half and half, I said, and some daysThere would be lasagna, some days tortelloni—
I took my seat beside the window,Leaned my book against a bottle of wine,And in no time, though I’d takenOnly a few bites, the restaurant was empty.
Tables had been reset for dinner, silverware and cloths.Couples were walking arm in arm,The hills beyond the plaza tinged with fire—
Where did everybody go? [End Page 132]
Another word for interpreter, he saidAs he refreshed my water glass,Is medium, the intermediate,Who speaks among the living for the dead. [End Page 133]
James Longenbach is the author of many books of poetry and criticism, most recently The Iron Key (Norton, 2010) and The Virtues of Poetry (2013). He is the Joseph Gilmore Professor of English at the University of Rochester.