Allison Alsup

In retrospect how we marvel at coincidence
and ordain it divine grace;
that I should have been an American
studying in a French town of no importance
and that this traveling symphony
should have stopped for an evening
and that I should have been persuaded
to attend the performance, all seems more than chance.

I am sure I was at the time in love
with a French boy, the smartest in our forum.
He was so impressive with his tightly knotted cravates
though I am also sure at that time
my feelings remained padlocked beneath a chic sweater
bought in the hopes of being mistaken
for just another femme fatale minus the cigarette.
His ass made the case for men in tight pants.

The symphony came from Odessa, but maybe not.
Metal folding chairs had been brought in,
so commonplace for the Palais de Justice
with its vaulted ceilings, kaleidoscopic windows
and other architectural details then forgotten
but that had once been described by our guide
while we collegiates, fresh off the plane, chewed gum,
wondered why they called it a French kiss.

Perhaps if the boy had already touched my hair
as he would later do fingering a cravate denouee
in front of his collection of English titles (equally impressive)
perhaps then, coincidence would have meant little.
But the night of the symphony, in a stone palace where men
had been sentenced to die; I slipped into a warm narcosis,
an infusion of Russian wistfulness and a passion
capable only of those on the cusp of adulthood.

Then as if the conductor were a migician,
a white bird appeared in the rafters fifty feet above.
It glided between the beams on a flight path
as sweeping as the trapeze artist. Others emerged:
our faces lifted to watch this aerial waltz
and I thought Franceis the most beautiful country
which is, of course, what all Americans in love think
but then every once in a while it's true.

For there was once that moment when feelings
until then larval, hatched and surfaced,
when my senses aligned in harmonic convergence
and the air compressed with the smoke of candelabras
so that each breath stroked like a swatch of velvet,
and my heart inflated as if preparing for an aria.
Did the young Mussorgsky stare into the night sky to find
his compositions revealed in the patterning of the stars?

This moment rises like the brilliant meridian of noon
threatening to eclipse all that remains to follow.
In its place, a tepid wake, encrusted with mulch;
we are left to forever look over our shoulders
like school girls who play hopscotch backwards
watching for the square that holds the pebble,
as if we could ever calculate the return trip,
as if we ever saw it coming the first time.

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-Allison Alsup