My Lady of the Stairs

(10.47 p.m.)
So what did you think of the film then
~I thought it was a bag of shite
~I could've had two pints
~For 52 francs
~And caught the end of the fight

~Well I've gotta rush mate
~We're getting a few beers
~And watching the game

All right, cheers mate
See you next Sunday
Take care

And I turn
And I make
For the top of the stairs.

(10.48 p.m.)
I know that she's there, I can feel her
A presence so strong and so frail

For she's always there
By the cold hand rail
Completely failed, without fail,

She must be 70, if she's a day
And resides, or so it would seem
On the second step up from the bottom
Of shitty 'Escalier B'
Metro line 7, Gabriel-Péri
To Châtillon-Montrouge, Paris
Such an imposing, impressive address
For one so lost such as she

But still beautiful.

(10.49 p.m.)
I can't hear her voice
Anymore now
Faded to a whispering sigh
But I know what she's saying
Mouthing the words
For those who can feel with their eyes
"Un franc, par pitié, M'sieur, Dame
Un franc, par pitié"
Thus runs her miserable dumb little verse
Her broken two-line reprise

And those watery eyes weeping pity
Seem to see through me there where I stand
As she holds out her discoloured
Vein-ridden, time-wizened
Bony and tremulous hand

Have those same hands kept children from violence
That now clutch a dirty old cup
And fended off blows from who nobody knows
Lying scared on a bed looking up

Or while murmuring Arabic blessings
With tenderness dark heads caressed

And with warm arms she’ll never herself feel again
Drawn small Moslem mouths to her breast
So I place my small coin gently into her hand
Scared her arm will snap with the weight

But I can't bear to see her reaction
To my gesture so weak and so late

Still our eyes meet for less than an instant
A wing-flick, a breath-beat, no more

And I run from the thanks
Of those thin steepled hands
Of that bundled half-life
Half dead on the floor

(10.53 p.m.)
Dear woman, dear child
What sad train dropped you here
Where the scum of the earth
Throw their fag ends and beer
And piss in the corners
And gob on the stairs
Where you sit with your cup
In your hands and your tears

Forgotten scrap of humanity
Swaddled and smothered in rags
Floating on froth
And drowning in filth
From the throwaway thugs
And your carrier bags

Have I salved my sick
Ailing conscience
For seven more days of debauch
Of fatness and fêting
And stuffing and sweating
And making sure nobody
Shits on my porch

(11.07 p.m.)
And now the train whisks me
Away from her world
Far away from the spit
And the dirt
To my hot-running water
And e-mail on-tap
And a bed
And another clean shirt

But 62 francs doesn't seem bad to me
Although prices do keep going up
When it buys you two hours
Of good solid fun
And a clink in an old plastic cup




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