Wally Swist has published several books of poetry, including Huang Po and the Dimensions of Love, and as a co-winner in the 2011 Crab Orchard Series Open Poetry Competition (Southern Illnois University Press,2012). His new poems appear in Commonweal and North American Review.
Dinner with Camus
I plate both halves of the omelette, one half for now, one for later; and hear
his voice: debonair, erudite, sweetly gruff, Merci beaucoup, he says; and takes
a plate, then sits opposite me. Switching to English, he asks, Why did you
put in garlic with the sautéed sweet potatoes and onions. I tell him, It is because
I love a woman, and that she loves me, but now we only see each other when I visit her
at her office. Camus answers that Sartre and de Beauvoir lived separately.
He adds, It was unconventional; however, their love perpetuated itself. It lasted;
it wasn’t a convenience that they celebrated, but each other. I ask him, Did they fight?
He answers with his eyes, lifts a forkful of omelette into his mouth, then says,
Since we all argue about life itself, then why shouldn’t lovers argue about love, even if
they do so silently. Before I can ask another question, he queries me about why
I added the sweet bell peppers and the sun-dried tomatoes to the omelette,
and I reply, Because I wanted to sing. I wanted to recollect what was fine about
last summer; making dinner for Julieanne. Since I had frozen the peppers, I wanted
to eat them before the fine weather this summer. He stares quizzically, but
compassionately, then asks, Why? I push my plate aside, surprised to finish
before him, since I am such a slow eater, then answer, Because I am passionate
about the simple mathematics of the lyric. He reaches over to help himself
to another glass of wine, and says, It is exquisite for me just to taste this again,
holding the bottle of Baron d’Arignac up to the light fading through
the two windows beside the table. Just like Meursault when he makes an omelette
after his mother dies, and has a glass of wine with it, in L’Etranger, I ask, knowing
the scene by heart. Oui, he responds, and looks out into the falling dusk.
Did Meursault fire the extra shots into the Algerian, thinking it didn’t matter, since
he was dead already? I ask him, nearly feeling a little heady from a second
glass of wine. It didn’t matter at that point, but everything matters all the time;
what mattered was Meursault’s freedom, unenviable as his decision may have been,
he explains. I want to respond that I follow him, but since I don’t, I say,
Then what about Meursault’s sense of freedom after he is tried and condemned to death?
He eases back his chair, then replies, You are a commendable cook, and I am
appreciative that you know my work so well. Alerted to his imminent departure,
I ask, Must you leave so soon? He responds, We all must go, unfortunately.