It was just him and me that evening
In a dimly lit coffeehouse on the south bank of the Thames,
Like we’d somehow met halfway.
Though I knew the Atlantic to be wider than his short jaunt from Vienna,
I offered to pay for the drinks
As he was the one who soared valiantly across the stars of two centuries
To meet me, and I simply took an early flight and a cab.
When we sat down, I happened to glance over his shoulder and out the window,
Catching the London fog along the length of the still river
As if it had wandered straight from some
Penciled copy of Eliot’s poetry
Or a chapter from that Dickens novel
Sitting softly on the shelf in a used bookstore near Piccadilly.
But all I could do was ladle my mug with both hands
Like a beggar warding off frostbite
As I tried to think of what to say, desperately wishing to avoid
The stilted air of an interview
Or the false pretense of coziness, talking about the weather
Or something equally grey and dull.
Yet, in the silence,
As the moon held its head above the water of the gentle, pebbled tide,
I looked to his navy coat, his shock of famous hair,
And, finally, to his curled fingers on the table
As they drummed lightly beside his empty cup and the black dregs
Splattered like notes along the bottom.
They spoke for themselves
The way they’d spoken all those years ago
In the Moonlight Sonata, the riot of the Fifth Symphony,
The glorious Ode to Joy.
And now, strolling down the street into the marble cool hours of night,
I slowly attach these headphones
And choose his Seventh Symphony in A major,
The one he reportedly wrote to convalesce from the storms of illness.
And I carry two thoughts, one for each pocket,
The first, how beautiful the winter air,
The second, a quiet wish that I could tell him how good it is to know
He’s still got it.