Poetry: Rotisserie (The Wait) | clivejames.com
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Rotisserie (The Wait)

i.m. Ian Hamilton, 1938-2001

‘There’s a feeling of disaster in the air, which I now know I have felt for a long time.’
— I.H., May 2001.

Our usual place, and everything in it
Exactly as we had learned to expect:
Most tables empty, the interfered-with air’
Heavy with the stink of re-cooked fat
That got into the clothes, into the hair
Along with cigarettes smoked at such a rate
It was like a race, and you had to win it;

The maitre d’, a supercilious queer
Who knew we had too much class to be there
(These nights, I have to keep going back
To meet you, though it’s still only me there)...
Breathless from the cold, my coat unchecked
I found our usual table, where I sat;
Some wine, sir?’ No thanks’, I said, I’ll wait.’

And wait I did, my Standard open at
The horoscopes (Predictions for New Year!
Your Stars, That Break, and You! — as if),
My mind snagged on Failure of Drug Czar,
My eye swivelling from page to watch
And back again, and then to some
Embarrassing art-work above the bar...

Once or twice, I’d known you to be late
But there’d never been a time you hadn’t come,
Grim-faced, apologizing. So I sat on,
Through the looks of waitresses who guessed
I’d been stood up, who wondered what had gone
So wrong for me I’d choose this place for a date;
Through the chef’s’ indifference, the whiff

Of something raw, the turning spit. It was a test,
A trial of sorts. And since what we are
Takes the piss out of what we wish we were
And nothing we can do helps shake off the dread
That how we live measures our own nature’
(How many times had you quoted that?),
I ordered, first a scotch, and then another scotch.

The room forgot me. I didn’t have to stir.
Any moment, you’d come in, take off the hat
You wore to hide the fluff of white hair growing back
Now you were in remission’ — from the drugs —
And sit down, drink and smoke. (You never ate;
Just pushed things round and round your plate
Till you could decently light up again.)

A couple slouched in, a few single men
And glancing round each time I heard the door
I logged a face or two, flushed from the street,
For when you turned up, as you would any minute;
Would you just have to go and make a call’?
Or, patting pockets for reserves of ten
And feigning interest in the menu, greet

Our waitress with a show of blinks and shrugs? —
Such gentle flirting... Christ, that was months ago.
No jokes, now, about the new kid on the scene’,
Your last advance, or what you had to do before
You could be let off, the slate wiped clean...
As if. Were you trying to get through?
Or slumped in a cab — another scare?

I dialled your number, spoke to your machine;
Then sat again. Did I ‘want anything at all?’ —
No thanks, I said, and went on with the wait, not knowing
(And how like you, somehow, that I should not know)
What strange new circumstance prevented you
From joining me, from getting up and going,
To the phone, out to the tall night, anywhere.