I Was a Conscript Once

Posted on Monday, October 18, 2010, under , ,


In my small white tiled chamber
I tend to have a go at Italian arias
always overambitiously
flirting with falsetto.
My fanatic, therefore laughable,
rendition of Che gelida manina
evokes Sarajevo’s opera house
one winter evening in ’89.
A snowy weekday, a sorry turnout.
You know it's sorry when the cast 
outnumbers the audience
of music teachers in corduroy,
elderly aficionados in furs,
(long pearls tickling their navels)
a young man in a paint-stained coat,
an oil-haired geezer chatting up
cloakroom girls, and most shockingly,
two JNA conscripts in dress uniform
you and me that is.

In the virtually empty house
we sprawled over the burgundy seats
and watched the show so mesmerising
the arias had us cease chewing our gums
or whatever it was we were chewing
till we choked on our saliva.
Our gaunt tenor wasn’t quite a Pavarotti
yet probably bolder than most,
singing his heart out
to vacant rows, unwarmed galleries.
They were saving on heating
so when Rodolfo held Mimi’s hand
it was gelid for real, unlike
the unreal snow in the background.
If only, for special effect,
they could’ve split the roof open
(like they do at Wimbledon these days)
to let the echt Bosnian snowdrops
infest that Quartier latin garret.

Hard times those were.
Who would have thought then
much harder were to follow
able to split up the city.
The city as gracious
as any city could wish for.
The mountain-walled city
keeps echoing 
in my small white tiled chamber.

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