The Ghost in the Martini
by Anthony Hecht
Over the rim of the glass
Containing a good martini with a twist
I eye her bosom and consider a pass,
Certain we’d not be missed
In the general hubbub.
Her lips, which I forgot to say, are superb,
Never stop babbling once (Aye, there’s the rub)
But who would want to curb
Such delicious, artful flattery?
It seems she adores my work, the distinguished grey
Of my hair. I muse on the salt and battery
Of the sexual clinch, and say
Something terse and gruff
About the marked disparity in our ages.
She looks like twenty-three, though eager enough.
As for the famous wages
Of sin, she can’t have attained
Even to the union scale, though you never can tell.
Her waist is slender and suggestively chained,
And things are going well.
The martini does its job,
God bless it, seeping down to the dark old id.
(“Is there no cradle, Sir, you would not rob?”
Says ego, but the lid
Is off. The word is Strike
While the iron’s hot.) And now, ingenuous and gay,
She is asking me about what I was like
At twenty. (Twenty, eh?)
You wouldn’t have liked me then,
I answer, looking carefully into her eyes.
I was shy, withdrawn, awkward, one of those men
That girls seemed to despise,
Moody and self-obsessed,
Unhappy, defiant, with guilty dreams galore,
Full of ill-natured pride, an unconfessed
Snob and a thorough bore.
Her smile is meant to convey
How changed or modest I am, I can’t tell which,
When I suddenly hear someone close to me say,
“You lousy son-of-a-bitch!”
A young man’s voice, by the sound,
Coming, it seems, from the twist in the martini.
“You arrogant, elderly letch, you broken-down
Brother of Apeneck Sweeney!
Thought I was buried for good
Under six thick feet of mindless self-regard?
Dance on my grave, would you, you galliard stud,
Silenus in leotard?
Well, summon me you did,
And I come unwillingly, like Samuel’s ghost.
‘All things shall be revealed that have been hid.’
There’s something for you to toast!
You only got where you are
By standing upon my ectoplasmic shoulders,
And wherever that is may not be so high or far
In the eyes of some beholders.
Take, for example, me.
I have sat alone in the dark, accomplishing little,
And worth no more to myself, in pride and fee,
Than a cup of luke-warm spittle.
But honest about it, withal …”
(“Withal,” forsooth!) “Please not to interrupt.
And the lovelies went by, ‘the long and the short and the tall,’
Hankered for, but untupped.
Bloody monastic it was.
A neurotic mixture of self-denial and fear;
The verse halting, the cataleptic pause,
No sensible pain, no tear,
But an interior drip
As from an ulcer, where, in the humid deep
Center of myself, I would scratch and grip
The wet walls of the keep,
Or lie on my back and smell
From the corners the sharp, ammoniac, urine stink.
‘No light, but rather darkness visible.’
And plenty of time to think.
In that thick, fetid air
I talked to myself in giddy recitative:
‘I have been studying how I may compare
This prison where I live
Unto the world …’ I learned
Little, and was awarded no degrees.
Yet all that sunken hideousness earned
Your negligence and ease.
Nor was it wholly sick,
Having procured you a certain modest fame;
A devotion, rather, a grim device to stick
To something I could not name.”
Meanwhile, she babbles on
About men, or whatever, and the juniper juice
Shuts up at last, having sung, I trust, like a swan.
Still given to self-abuse!
Better get out of here;
If he opens his trap again it could get much worse.
I touch her elbow, and, leaning toward her ear,
Tell her to find her purse.