Ber­lin, 1976


Room Magazine - - SIMMONDS -

The night be­fore that snow­less Ber­lin street with its iron stair­cases and in­sis­tent park grasses for­bid­den to boots, my spine jarred from a night across the GDR waste­land, I’d been this close, as close as this page, to Lenny. I can call him that now. Right af­ter he sang of sis­ters and mercy, he mused to those proud Ber­lin­ers, who’d clapped up­right and starched and who be­lieved, per­haps, that they loved him as I did, how strange a thing it was to per­form for his per­se­cu­tors. Later, at the Win­ter­garten, the pi­anist, his breath ridicu­lous with gar­lic, spilled Lenny’s guts for him, shot by shot—seven brandies for break­fast—the scratch of them still in his throat when he sang that night, so cer­tain was he that his star had fallen. In 1976 he didn’t know how his own ar­chi­tec­ture would shift or how the ar­rows of for­tune would pierce and stitch him, just as I didn’t know how the night would end or how morn­ing would fol­low, cold and dark, think­ing as I did then, only about sex, re­ally good sex, with Cohen. Last Christ­mas my son gave me four CDs —all Leonard Cohen, all of them I owned. “I know you like the guy,” he said. My son doesn’t know about Ber­lin or the morn­ing af­ter, how in the smoky pre-dawn I crossed the bridge, my stained white skirt, cheap shoes clomp­ing on the stones. There’s no brandy in this faux Ital­ian café on the bleak Toronto wa­ter­front, no mercy, no Hal­lelu­jah, just cold black cof­fee and this poem. No one in that au­di­ence un­der­stood his pain. I walked right into that green room lit flu­o­res­cent, bright and cold. We weren’t lovers like that. He put his cup to my lips—a drink so bit­ter I chose scotch. Once, when we were “home” I called him. Cohen. Cohen, you rubbed both my hands in yours. Re­mem­ber? Re­mem­ber? The Win­ter­garten was bright as crys­tal, and I was your “friend from Canada.” Your hands moist and soft, “I’m so sorry,” you said. “I can’t tonight. But call me. No, re­ally, call me when we’re home.” From un­der the scuffed café floor ghosts seep across that bridge, steel wa­ter be­neath, and I am on the far side where for­bid­den frost spikes the grass, and iron stairs de­scend from ev­ery house. A child cried and a truck’s steel door clanked and sud­denly hav­ing or not hav­ing sex with Lenny puck­ered into some skin pocket. Stones bit my knees as I went down.

They are not de­parted or gone. I was bleed­ing. I’m sorry it’s taken me this long to ad­mit. Blood on my white skirt. I’m steer­ing away from the blood, its trail on the pi­anist’s sheets, steer­ing back into this grey Toronto café with its harsh mu­sic blot­ting out the small noises of chew­ing and swal­low­ing. But late in the night as I crossed the GDR waste­land I was wo­ken by long guns, hard faces un­der scraped skulls, and no bitte with the Reisep­ass, burrs in my belly as if I were Jüdin or Polieren or some­thing worse. On the other side of the wall, blood had leached be­tween the stones, no ev­i­dence of bones gone to ash. I thought I was safe from the war. But even Leonard could not help, not even if he had traced each of my young ribs with his tongue.

I tried to wash out the blood.

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