For the clear voice suddenly singing, high up in the convent wall,
                The scent of the elder bushes, the sporting prints in the hall,
                The croquet matches in summer, the handshake, the cough, the kiss,
                There is always a wicked secret, a private reason for this.

                                                —W. H. Auden, “At last the secret is out”
When they passed through a city, it was others knew it first.
The man claimed no lift in his shoe but an advertisement for the dance
left over from the last street but one.
A spotty youth pointed toward the policeman.
Someone downstairs had called for a cab;
it had arrived, was blocking traffic. The driver
seemed lost, and there were already passengers inside.
Did I know where the Cinema Kriter was?
Oh yes, I said confidently, in French. We
climbed in next to the others, who were nice, disposed to receive us.

Every year at this time of day I get a feeling

of a pain, like thyme or dried figs.
Nobody needs to know what is ailing me,
which is sad, but telling them would be worse.
I say, would you mind if I light up in bars?
There’s no place left to smoke. I wonder about taxis.
I used to smoke in them, because it was forbidden in the subway.
That was before I gave up smoking,
watching the flies or files drift upward, thick in gray noon.

And if a child came over to play
it would be asked its name, then given a dose of brandy
so as not to play any more. We risked it anyway,
out on the ice where it darkens
and seems to whisper
from down below. Watch out, it’s the Snow Queen,
one said. She likes playing
as long as she’s not involved. That seemed to make sense,
but what was I to do, with no trains till morning,
and a good sense of humor, several ward heelers concurred?

Next day the hills were parchment,
good to look at from far away, which is
where we usually are anyway. I dressed hurriedly,
consumed a hasty breakfast. Now it seemed there were pairs
of people thronging, telling me what to do. Father in his little house
took a bath. It was almost time for the news.
We took a walk toward the cathedral.
It missed us twice. I think. The pavement
of white chocolate curves around,
a zebra crossing.

Did the islands ever get in touch with you?
Turns out the bill was sent
to the wrong address. We have no credit rating
any more. We must try to live without it,
and the unsuitable caresses of oldsters
gone to the gym or the country. One
wall features billboards offering a trip to the seashore
in forty-five minutes. With that, we