It blindsided them and ended the awkward
talk they’d been making when finally they
rustled up three cups of over-steeped tea
and sat across from her in recycled air
in the long-term care canteen—bald
son-in-law and grown granddaughter.
Wasn’t Françoise down to three words
of greeting? How could she sink a shaft
far enough down in her mind to recoup
this tuneful blues banisher? If pressed,
her visitors might’ve said they sensed
a slippage to a crowded kitchen table
on, say, a Sunday in Montreal’s vanished
Faubourg à mélasses, her father tapping
a glass for her to sing a snatch of Piaf.
The war in Europe over, rationing ending,
butter on the table, mint jelly, leg of lamb,
her kid brother and sisters called to order
by the faux-gruff father. But that’s fantasy.
This is Françoise at ninety, holding notes
in a lunchroom with no one to press record
just two maladroit listeners trying to field
what’s thrown to them—flats and sharps
that peel through air—sonic tchotchkes
that won’t come again, much less a medley
for the dazed father-daughter duo who clap
with hands that don’t know what else to do.
photo by Harry Rajchgot