Along the bar one, two, three centaurs
In suits gulp down ouzos, whiskies, beers;
Clink tumblers until they all but break;
Chomp nuts, yet still manage to smoke and smoke
And in the flicker of an Adam's apple
Generally make known all that's female
Is theirs to have at a flash of will.

Except with her six rings and thick fur coat
Helena does not bat an eyelash;
Up and down the counter merely taps
Her brilliant fingernails. A match
Or more for the most rampant libido,
She smokes, smokes and downs whisky also;
As the bulbs on the wall glow red and blue,
Strokes now her curls, now a centaur's cheek;
Aims huskily seductive vowels in Greek
Across at the purse-lipped crone for whom
There's nothing new under sun or moon
Or neon, who's kept the bar for decades,
Noting what's consumed against what's paid
At intervals in a fat black folder -
Helena's image some thirty years older.

Meanwhile Mariana, the short-haired blonde,
Attempts to square being in such demand
With her own desire to be elsewhere.
In five languages she could tell her regrets
About that advert back in Bucharest,
Write a thesis upon east versus west,
The way reality and dreams compare -
And inbetween, hint by hint, lay bare
The unfairnesses of circumstance,
What's stopped her becoming something special.
Only nobody asks; Centaur number one's
Calling her a name she's never been called
In her life before. This bar turned prison -
Seven hours done, another four to go -
She retorts with a double-barrelled "Porco!
Porco!" which he, knowing no Italian,
Accepts as though it were a compliment,
And then in the mirror checks his grin:
Leaving her to assess the extent
Of his wallet, how if she'd only dare
Lower herself a little further,
Its folds might provide the escape fare
To Italy or Switzerland or France...

Such tangled purposes, closeness, distance -
Biographies in a single glance!
Less a centaur than J. Alfred Prufrock,
From a few stools down I watch, listen, watch,
All too aware how this time tomorrow
I'll be back inside Riyadh, teetotal, dour...
I drown the fact with another 'Brandy Sour'
And - No more nights out for six months or so -
Drink while I still can, scribble, scribble,
Lingering over each tell-tale detail,
Then stretching it as far as it'll go.

Martin Wilmot Bennett

If you've any comments on this poem, Martin Wilmot Bennett would be pleased to hear from you.


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