Louis Belfast

by Philip F. Clark

I met him in a Dublin bar, 

his bright white hair shining
like some last call light. 
I pushed among the crowd
and stood behind him, my eyes
trying to catch the bartender's
tattooed glance.

As luck would have it, I got 
a seat next to him, as its 
previous owner stumbled to the door. 
With a sidelong glance, we nodded.
I tried to order a drink. He asked,
"New Yorker, yes."
"Louis, Belfast," and I thought
at first it was his full name.

He turned ice blue eyes to the bar.
"A Guinness, Declan, when you have a chance."
When it came he placed it in front of me. 
"They're slow here, this time of night. Cheers."
He was maybe in his 70's; a strong broad
chest, well-dressed, smoothed-faced.
A blackened thumb tapped a beat to 
Crowded House, drumming in the room.

He leaned into me; in a clipped and 
beautiful brogue, he said,
"They say we have the gift of gab
so be prepared, I probably won't shut up." 
He'd traveled, taught, had a former wife
in a former life. His lover died.

"I'm monkish now, all I love 
to do is read." For the rest of the night,
Guinness after Guinness (I learned the art
of the round) we spoke of Joyce, and James, 
Dickinson, Manley Hopkins, Bowen.
I don't remember getting outside the bar.
"Will you come back to us, here in Dublin?
You must take my number down."

He hailed a cab. His strong arm settled 
me in; he leaned into the window for a kiss. 
"Get home safe, lad. You know, there really is
a death of the heart." Louis Belfast strode away.