There is a bar in a village in France with a very romantic name and, for the month I frequented it, not many customers.
The Bar at the Well of Love
Six stone steps take me from the empty street
to the Bar au Puits d’Amour. Of the handful
of regulars, three are in tonight. We breathe
‘Bonsoir’ to each other – a bovine snuffle;
nothing to ruffle the arrangements of bodies
composed at the bar. Two men give a slight
angling of the head. Yes, that more than any nod.
There is no one piloting the bar, till le patron
steps up from the glare of the silent restaurant.
Today is one of his unshaven days. He is small
and must reach over the bar to shake my hand.
‘Bonsoir, monsieur. Ca va? Bien?’ ‘Trés bien,’
I reply and the slight puff of our enthusiasm
rises with the cigarette smoke and disappears.
He pours me a glass of beer slowly, ensuring
body and head are in proportion, and places it
on a beer mat before me. He fills the glasses
of the other men. And that’s it. I stand at the bar
and stare straight ahead or at the uncertain heap
of coins and keys beside the coffee machine.
Sometimes, talk is thin with them too and one
by one they lapse into silence. Or there is a joke
at someone’s expense or a flurry of attitude –
a dismaying eruption of conviction. This
is one of the things I do well and I do not say it
lightly. I have learnt, over many years, to hold
myself within my stall, as if standing here alone
is all I need. Because of this, I can stand
with others and let them be alone too. But what
makes possible this solitary act is that all this time
I breathe with them and give them what breath
I have. Once this poem is finished, you may find me
both taking and giving breath, wherever I can.
from At The Well of Love (Mariscat, 2016), © Tom Pow 2016, used by permission of the author