Today I am walking around our town,
down to the waterfront, up the hill to the small church
that looks out across the harbor, and into the chapel
with its wonderful stained glass windows
and its one clear window with the stunning view
where I sit down a moment to cool off and whisper
a prayer for the small scorned creatures, the ones
no one appreciates, the roaches and termites,
the fire ants and slugs, though I don't much admire
these creatures either and have trouble finding
the appropriate words. So I just sit still
and try to hear the seagulls way down in the harbor,
and listen to the pigeons in the rafters, as I watch
an old woman in black shuffle slowly down the aisle.
She leaves a trail of perfume that reminds me of something.
Suddenly I'm trying to remember where we've met,
yearning to make some sort of contact,
though she has her back to me, and she's dressed all in black,
kneeling now, way up front,
as other people enter the chapel, all of them
dressed in mourning, fragrant with that perfume.
So I get up and walk out of the church instead of crying.
Outside it's too bright. Old people are feeding
pigeons in the park; the cafes are crowded.
As I pass The Fat Baguette, someone calls
the nickname that defined my childhood, the one
I tried for many years to deny and then forget,
the name no one's called me since high school, and I look up
reluctantly from the newspaper I'm carrying
to see her, the girl I've thought about so often
all these many years, suddenly transformed
into a middle-aged woman, still beautiful,
sitting there alone, standing now and smiling
as she waves, wearing black, which makes her look even
more lovely, lovely against the sea
of bright summer colors, the tablecloths and flowers,
the garish tee-shirts of the tourists drinking
pitchers of beer and laughing with raucous
good humor, saluting this most auspicious day --
I approach this woman I once loved and tell her
that's not my name now, sit down beside her,
order coffee, and ask whose funeral we're going to,
though of course I know the answer. And she starts laughing
as though I've told a joke -- you mean mine or yours? --
holds up her cup for a toast to our health,
asks me my new name, who I am these days,
and starts to cry softly, like a whisper.