I barged into a crowded room
angrily searching for a phone
to place a call to an old friend
who'd passed me on the grounds outside,
shrugging and turning away when I waved.
But when I lifted the receiver
a stranger in an evening gown
shook her head and tapped the ear piece
with her long black fingernails.
Someone was chatting on the line
in what sounded like Italian.
I hung up and stepped outside
through glass French doors into the garden
where couples strolled on lighted paths
or sipped champagne in semi-darkness
by the fountain whose loud plashing
made it hard to overhear them.
Below the tinkle of false laughter
I heard the low hum of real grief
as one couple talked in whispers
while she shredded wadded kleenex
and her partner rattled change
deep in his tuxedo pocket.
Death or divorce must be their subject,
I guessed as I edged closer to them,
but when I got in hearing range,
the man receded in the shadows,
looking for his wife or mistress,
leaving the woman alone and weeping.
Shaken by her sobs, a strap
from her black silk cocktail dress
slipped from her shoulder. Scusa senora
I ached to say as I reached to fix it,
but paralysis gripped my art and throat.
She plucked it nervously back in place
on the softest marbly white skin on earth,
then walked through me, into the night.
I saw, then, that I had no substance
as well as no voice—I was a ghost
among rich, beautiful, black and white ghosts
whose sadness moved me more than my sadness
at being ignored by my once loved friend.
What was she doing in my dream,
I wondered as I fought to stay under
the surface of my unconsciousness.
I knew that waking, I'd remember the movie
by Antonioni or Fellini
I saw with my friend when we were young
and trembled with passion, like the scarlet,
not suspecting that it was false,
while the shallow, bored sophistication
of the minor roles would tall to us
starring in the films of our separate lives.