The hotel restaurant
was not busy
a few came in
bleary eyed
and silent
like a breed of nuns
or monks
of a silent order
and took seats
at tables
far from each other.

Abela and I
came in
and took a table
by a window
and looked quickly
about the room
then at each other.

She picked up the menu
and stared at it
as if it was in
a different language.

I'll have a simple breakfast
she said
after last night.

I studied my menu
running my eyes over it
me too
I said.

We both put our
menus down
and waited for a waitress
or waiter to come to us
and take our orders.

Music was playing
in the background
foreign stuff
which you could neither
dance to to listen to
with any zest.

She looked tired
as she sat there
her hair quickly
brushed into place
a minimum amount
of make up applied.

She had on a yellow dress
with small flowers.

I gazed at her
thinking of her
the night before
after we came back
from the town
after the concert
where some pianist
had played Chopin
and Bartok pieces.

We had got
into our room
and she was swaying
(we'd gone to a bar
after the concert)
and she undressed
as fast as she could
almost falling over
a couple of times.

Come on
she said
get them off
I want you.

I had undressed
as quickly as I could
in a kind of race
with her.

She won
stood there naked
and swaying
as if she stood
on the deck of a ship
in rough seas.

She lay on the bed
and beckoned me over.

I took off
the last piece
of clothing
and set it neat
over a chair.

She had gone to sleep
lying there
naked and bare.

All I could do
was sigh and stare.

A COUPLE ON HOLIDAY IN 1972

It was night
I wandered
from the men's area
to where
the night nurse
was sitting
in her small office
reading reports.

I stood
in the doorway.

Hello Benny
what are you
doing up?
she said.

Can't sleep
I said.

Come sit down
for a while
she said
closing the report
and sitting back
in her chair.

I took the chair
opposite her.

When can I
get out of here?
I said.

When the chief
nursing officer
thinks you are ready
she said
peering at me
through her blue
framed glasses.

When will that be?
I said.

He will know
she said.

I looked at her
when will I know?

When he does
she said
want a drink
of cocoa?

Guess so
I said.

She got up
and put
an electric kettle
on and filled a mug
with cocoa powder
and a coffee
for herself.

She was about 30 odd
with a full frame
and dyed blonde hair.

She turned
and looked at me
why did you try
hang yourself?

State of mind
at the time
I said.

Both times?
she said.

Guess so
I replied.

She poured
boiling water
into both mugs
and took milk
from a small fridge
and topped up
the mugs
and passed me mine
and set hers down
on the desk top
and sat down.

I sipped the cocoa
it was hot
and smelt
of childhood.

I wondered if she
had sex often
with her husband
when they were
home together
at any given time.

I noticed her gold
wedding ring
and gemstone.

I never asked
just looked at her
sitting there
with her bright eyes
and dyed blonde hair.

A MAN IN A LOCKED WARD IN 1971

Three monks met me
on the driveway
from the road
to the abbey
black robed
and a welcome
taking my bags
we walked
to the abbey
domus dei,

unfold me
she said
plant kisses
here and here,

bell tower
reaching skyward
bell sound
disturbing rooks
from nearby trees,

George washing
the refectory floor
with the large mop
and steel bucket
and moving
side to side,

il sacrificio di Cristo
the Italian monk said
la Messa quotidiana
I listened to him
as I helped him
to sort books
in the abbey library,

I kissed  her breasts
one after the other
my husband doesn't
do that
so you must
she said,

Dio ama ognuno
di noi come se
ci fosse solo
uno di noi
Augustine said
so I read
and only God
could do
that I mused,

I cleaned
the windows
of the chapter house
with cloth
and cold water
musing on the monk
holding up the host
during Mass
with his shaking fingers,

les nombres parfaits
comme les hommes
parfaits sont très rares
Gareth said
quoting Descartes
as we sat
in the novice room
waiting for Dom Joe,

I tried to put her
from my mind
during Compline
tried to put the image
of her beneath me
moaning with her joy,

George and I
rang the bells
for Mass
the following day
wishing I could accept
the will of God
and obey.

A YOUTH IN AN ABBEY IN 1971

After we set up our tents
Miriam and I
walked into Madrid.

We went to the Prado
looked at the art
at the Fra Angelicos
and Titians.

Then we had coffee
in a cafe.

I see you liked
the Eve painting
by Durer
she said.

Yes I like that
I said
and the Venus paintings
by Titian.

What is it with men
and nude paintings
always out to look
at nudity
she said.  

We enjoy the beauty
of God's creation
the artists were not
ashamed to show that
why hide what
God made
so beautifully?
I said.

So God made my
beautiful
nudity then?
she said.

Of course
I said
mind you I'll need
to see it again
to comment further
can't see that much
in the darkness
of the tent.

She sipped
her coffee
we will see
that was a fluke
that that girl
I share with
was off with another
for the day
seeing the cathedral
in the Burgos
and other sights.

Shame she's not away
more and elsewhere
I said
for other nights.

A BOY AND GIRL IN SPAIN IN 1970

Sophia's mother
brings in
the dinner plates
and lays them
on the table
where containers
with an assortment
of vegetables
and meat are set.

Sophia looks at me
I look at her.

Her father sits
at the top end
eyeing the table cloth.

Her mother sits down
and the father says grace
he closes his eyes
as does his wife
and Sophia
closes hers.

I close mine
but allow
a slit of space
to see when Sophia
opens hers again.

This dinner invitation
is an uneasy event
like having a meal
at Stalin's table
or Al Capone's.

The grace ends
with a gruff amen.

All eyes are open
the mother speaks
in Polish in chilly tones.

The father looks at her
then at me
unsmiling he looks
at Sophia.

He says something
to her in Polish
she replies.

I sit and watch
the lips move
wishing there were
English dialogue lines
above their heads
to inform me
of the scene.

The father nods his head
and his plump hands
indicate for me
to partake
and put food
upon my plate.

The others take food
with tongs or spoons.

I timidly venture out
and take a little
of this and that
until my plate
is set out
like a small
child's meal.

I sense an uneasiness
at first hot then cold
like one who's ill.

A DINNER INVITATION IN 1969

The short monk
in black robes
limped up the aisle
of the church
like one half
of a comedy act
at the end of a pier,

I later learned
he was a theologian
and at work
on a book
on the benedicta trinitas,

sunlight in between arches
in the cloister
shadows elsewhere
and a monk stood
gazing into the sunlight
arms inside
his long sleeves,

hoc est corpus meum
Christ said
at the Last Supper
the institution
of the later Mass
fai questo in memoria di me,

c'est mon sang
shed for you
He said
drink from it
the tall monk
raised the cup
then sipped from it,

flowers
in the flower beds
around the outside
of the cloister
in the garth,

I weeded here
the bell ringing
each quarter
la voix de dieu
the French monk said,

I stood in the semi dark
during the office
of Compline
the voices chanting
plainsong
il mio cuore è colpito
dalla sua bellezza,

my heart
is also struck
by the beauty
of the incense
during Mass
parfum de dieu,

the raised host
between the fingers
of the monk
with Parkinson's disease
shaking as if caught
by an invisible wind,

I stood like one
who had misunderstood
and had sinned.

MONKS IN AN ABBEY IN 1968

Nima said
she was pissed off
and wanted out
of the hospital.

I was visiting her
outside on the lawn.

She was in her
nightgown
getting some sun.

What's up?
I said.

Everything
from the quacks
to the food
to the damn ants
creeping along the floor
by my bed
she said.

Aren't you allowed
out into town
or up to London?
I said.

Fuck them Benny
she said
just because my mother
put a bad word in
they don't trust me out
in case I go get a fix.

A nurse passed by
out on to the lawn
to attend to a guy
who was doing something
with his penis.

No no Henry
not out here
she said.

Nima shook her head
see what I mean
I'm a druggie
these people
are mentally ill
why am I with them?

The guy was taken back
into the ward
by the nurse.

I looked at Nima
I wouldn't get you drugs
I could tell
them that
I said.

No use Benny
they won't listen.

She lit up a cigarette
from the pack
I brought her
and I lit it
and lit one for me.

A radio played
from the open window
of the ward
a Beatle song.

We sat
and smoked
and talked more.

Henry stood flashing
by the open ward door.

A YOUNG MAN VISITS AGIRL IN A PSYCHATRIC HOSPITAL IN 1967
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