(Horace Odes 4.11)

There is a table booked in both our names,
Sandy, at this burnt end of the year,
In a timbered ingle of the Wayside Inn,
                  Hard by the fire.

Exactly now (as with a practiced twist
You bring the final touch of Winter Rose
To your pursed lips, and for the umpteenth time
                  Apply the test

Of sitting for your portrait in the mirror,
And for the umpteenth time you pass)—just now
There’s bustling in the kitchens of the Inn.
                  Trolleys in tow,

Platoons of waiters—Sudbury boys in white
Aprons—heft pressed linen with a snap
Above oak tables, deal out pewter plates
                  And pewter cups,

While, picking out the counterpoint, brisk girls,
Making haste slowly, glide with cupping hands,
Cradling flames they stoop, then lift, to touch to
                  Candle, then sconce. 

From pondering ovens rolls a savory
Rumor of quail spiraling on their spits.
Glow and scent and scuttle recombine.
                  The Inn awaits.

And if you ask what’s the occasion—not
Our anniversary, nobody’s birthday, so
Why this unlooked-for warmth amid
                  December snow?—

It’s this: I want you back. And if you say,
“I’m here, I never left, these twenty odd
Years,” well, that’s just it: I never meant
                  That you should plod

Doggedly through the desert of my neglect,
Trailing as I ranged from booth to booth
At Vanity Fair. I’m done with that. I want
                  You and me both

Again. I want your hand across the table,
Voice in my ears, that cadence and that timbre.
Winter’s not what it used to be: it’s starker
                  Than I remember,

Now that we can speak in terms of years
Left to us.
                 Look: no more of that. Just say
Something in that voice. Something to keep
                  All that at bay.

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This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 30 Number 4, on page 42
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