Soon enough he arrives outside the boundaries of time’s false expectations, and there he knows that he can be a visitor no longer, at least not yet; his day for sitting still is yet to come. The two lovers’ shoulders grow cold to his touch. He reaches for their cane, but they yank the cane away from him, and by this signal gesture he understands that they desire him to leave.
He stands and bows, tips his hat in their direction, and next remembers that he wears no hat to tip. He feels his face flush red and warm with shame for all the poetry he’s written. All the scattered lines he’s traced in imitation of so many artful poses that he witnessed on one altar or another. Inside amphitheater classrooms dressed in tweed and dungaree. Between the leather covers of thick volumes he pretended hard to comprehend. Scribbled words on cotton, perfumed paper floating free above the weave of picnic blankets cradling wine and cheese and randy dreams of sexual intercourse.
“Your life,” he tells himself in a rare and honest moment, “this image you designed and named your life, is all about unrequited love in the form of a serial apology.”
“No matter this cynicism,” he answers his own voice. “All around me now, this very minute, side to side, behind and forward leading me to tap my soles along this worn-slate path; all around me grow my flowers.”
He next stops to watch a rosebud, and standing there he considers that while the rosebud springs unbidden from the ground, waiting for yet another self-proclaimed artist to compare her face to that of love, the metaphor is weak and just as limited as humanity’s vision of romance. “Trite, like you, and as shallow as your poems,” he whispers. “You are no more than a visitor to your self.”
He shivers in spite of the brilliant sunlight that bathes his arms and legs and back, because although somewhere deep inside he wants to realize, with the full and undeniable force of utter candor, that as death approaches so wing away his affectations, yet he feels afraid of death. With a flicker of the edge of hope inside his eyes, he notices that the rosebud leans toward the earth whence she came, and he walks on farther down the played-out path.
He picks a poppy from her stem and nibbles gently on her petals. “As I eat this fruit, I beg to save my soul,” he says; and then he tries to laugh away the bitterness he feels inside. “Your visit to this park has failed to change you. Your flowers are a sibling to your poetry; by way of both you mean to wear a mask. What soul? And who is there to beg? A priest? Yes, that’s it, you try too much to sound like a priest.
“Can’t you hear your own voice? You speak to dead people who sit still on a wooden bench within the confines of a garden hideaway that shelters you from the town which surrounds it. You talk to flowers and expect that they will answer you. You tip a hat that you imagine wearing; presume to separate yourself from youthful, amphitheater posturing; almost convince yourself that sexual intercourse never satisfied your urge to be the animal you are; and yet you cower from the angry heat that courses through your veins.
“What need exists, other than to live a lie, for this serial apology you claim as ode?
“If you want to become a poet, then throw away your pen and smell your neighbor’s breath.”