Café Trieste: San Francisco

by Joseph Brodsky

To this corner of Grant and Vallejo
I’ve returned like an echo
to the lips that preferred
then a kiss to a word.

Nothing has changed here.  Neither
the furniture nor the weather.
Things, in one’s absence, gain
permanence, stain by stain.

Cold, through the large steamed windows
I watch the gesturing wierdos,
the bloated breams that warm
up their aquarium.

Evolving backward, a river
becomes a tear, the real
becomes memory which
can, like fingertips, pinch

just the tail of a lizard
vanishing in the desert
which was eager to fix
a traveler with a  sphinx.

Your golden mane!  Your riddle!
The lilac skirt, the brittle
ankles!  The perfect ear
rendering “read” as “dear.”

Under what cloud’s pallor
now throbs the tricolor
of your future, your past
your present, swaying the mast?

Upon what linen waters
do you drift bravely toward
new shores, clutching your beads
to meet the savage needs?

Still, if sins are forgiven,
that is, if souls break even
with flesh elsewhere, this joint,
too, must be enjoyed

as afterlife’s sweet parlor
where, in the clouded squalor,
saints and the ain’ts take five,
where I was first to arrive.

-from To Urania