If only because in another country you are free
to renegotiate yourself or what you thought you were,
I found myself this night approached by a man
in a suit. When he asked me what I was drinking I didn't demur.
French was a lingua franca. He showed me a worn photo,
wife and children smiling at us from some Polish city.
We'd already exchanged names, whatever they were. So what
did I do? I told him I was a writer, not well-known.
Me? I'm a salesman, he said, I travel in fountain pens.
He represented all the big companies like Mont Blanc.
It was the coming back-to-the-future thing in the East,
though back where I come from, he said, they'd never gone away.
But what they desired now was 'Western exclusivity'.
And what sort of thing do you write, would you like to try mine?
Even before he proffered it I knew it was a fake.
He'd filled it with fancy ink. De l'encre violette.
So I wrote that I was a writer of fiction and poems,
and if you're about to ask me what they're about, I said,
that's for the reader to say, whose guess is as good as mine.
He smiled. And how did it all end up? I said, picturing
the scene, bottles with strange labels glinting in the background,
the bartender pretending to polish a glass, and you
looking the Mont Blanc man in the eye. I imagined snow
outside, the footsteps that brought you there already erased
as were his that crossed yours at the threshold if not before,
as you were a stranger to me once when we first met.
I stared at my face for an age in the en suite mirror.
Then I must have crawled into bed before my mind went blank.