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Jim Cummins - Mid West Correspondent

Between the Lines [by James Cummins]

                     after A Moveable Feast

HemingwayWe only have Papa’s account of this,
That Scott Fitzgerald asked him to weigh in
With ‘absolute honesty’ on the question
That filled Fitzgerald’s heart with fear and dread:
Was he big enough?  Was he man enough
To please a woman?  “Zelda?” his friend asked.
Scott nodded.  “Yes, Zelda.  Who else?”

It’s clear Hemingway wants to reassure
Fitzgerald with a comforting response.
He fumes at women.  “They’re all alike. 
They want to destroy a man—it’s true!
Crazy Zelda’s trying to kill you.”
Scott looks up from his cherry tart:
“You don’t know anything about Zelda!”
Hemingway backs off that one like hot
Potato soup dropped in his lap by one
Of old Michaud’s careless waiters. 
He dips a spoon in his own cherry tart;
Outside he hears the racket of a car.

“Have you tried a pillow?” he asks quietly.
“You’ve got to get some purchase on that slope.
A pillow can facilitate your mount.”
Scott stares at his wine glass.  “I never know
Whether I’m in or not,” he says.
“When I ask, she gets disgusted.  Cries.”

At this Ernest almost upsets his wine.
He can’t abide a woman’s tears—he can’t!
They’ve tried their tricks on him and found
He’s what a man should be: a stone. 
They’ve tried the “too small” line before;
And sure, he’d spent some sleepless night
Reviewing his performance in the sack;
But if a woman can’t be satisfied,
He wasn’t going to take that on himself.

Scot Fitz & Zelda“What if she’s right?  What if I’m just too small?
Scott’s question broke through his friend’s reverie,
Who then slammed his hand down on the table:
“Let’s check it out!  Let’s go to le water.”
Scott suddenly looked blank.  “Well, I don’t know,”
He said.  “I mean, they do that in Pigalle—”
“For Christ’s sake, Scottie, I don’t want your balls!
You asked for my ‘absolute honesty.’
Let’s get some sort of assessment in hand.
So to speak.”  “So to speak,” Scottie sighed.

“Michaud!”  Now Hemingway was all business.
“Michaud, come help us out?  And bring Pierre.”
Scott looked alarmed.  “Ernie, old man—old sport—”
But Hemingway brushed all dissent aside.
“Don’t ‘old sport’ me!  Save it for your prose.
Come on, we’ll have a good old show-and-tell—
You show, the rest of us will tell.”  But Scott
Held firm, and only he and Hemingway
Repaired to le water, the dank men’s room,
Where Scott undid his belt and dropped his trou.

Now Hemingway’s a bit unclear about
What happens next: we’re given to believe
He checks Scott out, and then they reappear,
Attabler, with their cherry tarts and wine.
But old Michaud fills in the blanks for us.
One of his waiters, Francois, had the runs
That day, and so was seated in a stall
Reading Le Monde when Scott pulled down his pants
Francois’ account is somewhat vague because
He had to stare through a narrow crack;
But evidently Hemingway squatted,
Then got down on all fours so he could find
The ‘angle of the dangle’ as he called it.|
And Francois swears he heard him say,
“Pull it a couple times, see if it moves.”
But Francois’ English wasn’t, say, the King’s.

Now they’re sitting above their lunch again,
And Ernest is expansive.  This might mean
What Scott showed his friend in le water
Wouldn’t keep Hemingway awake at night.
“It’s not the size that counts; it’s the motion—”
His pal was one big friendly smile.
“Let’s hit the Louvre and size the statues up.
You’ll see—their scale is pretty much the truth.” 
A frightening image flared in Scottie’s mind:
Ernie measuring statues with a tape.

The Louvre was just a short walk from Michaud’s.
Scott stammered out, “I really should get back”—
Ernie seemed more obsessed with … that ... than he.
“Zelda can't make you any more a man
Than some whore you could pick up in Pigalle.
A pal can boost your confidence, that’s all.”
But Scott was adamant outside the bar.
They let the tarts settle and had a smoke;
Ernie studied his friend as they stood there.
Was that the problem then?  Scott was a poof?
He’d never judge a friend.  Then he thought
Maybe he’d pushed him too far for one day.
“I guess you’re right,” he said, “it’s getting late.
The Louvre’s a project for another day.”

Except they did go to the Louvre that day;|
And Hemingway explained to Fitzgerald,
“The proper measurement of man is man.”
Scott still had his theories about finance,
How these abstractions can suck out your soul;
And Ernest still thought life a game
Between whose lines a man’s soul finds its measure.
They stopped at Dingo’s on the way back home
To drink apéritifs and watch the sun
Slip through the pink clouds of the Paris dusk.
Ernie held up his glass to catch the light,
And then intoned, without cracking a smile:
“A rosé is a rosé is a rosé.”

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I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark

from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman

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