Vita Brevis

Short back and long bangs, but our barber never got it right.
Gentile’s place—you know it. Two leather chairs, mirror,
clipper, newspaper, radio on low, everything lit in one hue.
I’d bring my GQ photo. What the hell kind of hairstyle is that?
Self-knowledge was always knowledge of what I was not.

In my native buzz-cut, I bummed around Chabanel’s neo-realist lots.
Its loading docks and sweatshop façades true dead ringers
for their film-set selves, later made famous by my handheld shot
of factory women running in rain to catch the 121 after work.
Such perfectly cast amateurs: transparently simple, scarcely acting.
Born there, but never local enough to play the part,
I tried to look busy in that open-air theatre of storm clouds and asphalt.
We all did. We danced to soundtracks taped off CHOM.
Chose “Beh” over the thee and thou of “I see your point.”
Studied the sitcoms, plagiarists of inner-city high fives.
Even our doors were class conscious: fake-grained, pretend-cut
from the knot of some oak. Critics called us an intelligent contribution
to the working-class genre, a landmark of contrapuntal clichés:
the southerly effect of washing on lines, tomato gardens;
the northerly effect of strip clubs, warehouses, high-rises.
A stomping ground that never lost the feel of being the place
where bad weather always chewed up our shooting time,
where Québécois girls were eager body doubles for the nice daughters
we later married, where alleyways obliged our alter egos
to make good their escape, our mothers calling.
I put in long hours shadowing myself as I walked the tracks,
stopping to let the trains go by—always a five-minute
footage of freight cars, each one empty. I wanted the real thing
at work in real time for that foredefeated mood—artistically crude, yes,
but how much more genuine! Cut to the angry young man
shouting taunts from the overpass. Early Truffaut
chasing late Rossellini. I once found a watch still ticking, and left it.

First published in Accenti Magazine, Issue 17.

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