Have them he said, looking foreignly at their long slim fingers,
their secret, dove-grey colour, their feel of age and youth,
when I found them one day under the stairs
where we kept the hoover, old scarves and overcoats.
Fine, leather gloves, soft, neatly sewn – from another time.
Have them, it’s cold in Milan in the winter.
So back I went at twenty-two to teach my garrulous Italians,
carried them with me, hands from the old world.
I wore them with an Al Capone trilby against the rain,
a long blue trench coat and my student moustache;
observed myself in department store windows
while waiting for buses, stared out the distortions
upon the glass – interrogating my own imaginings.
Which bit of me worked? Which accessory reflected
the whole? The trilby hat shrank its felt in the rain,
then lost its ribbon. The trench coat flapped against my legs,
turned dank and dirty. The gloves were the gloves,
a part of me and not. I tried to imagine his fingers fitting them
or him saying the wedding words or lying gloveless
of everything at night – he who wriggled under a towel
on the beach every summer. But the truth of it was
I could never imagine him. Me with my leaping mind,
my messy emotions, who year after year had watched him
awkward across the tea table as he manoeuvred words
like slow cups and saucers, as he cleared his throat against
the silence – trying to reach me. Alone in Milan
I touched the gloves’ grey lines, flexed my fingers
inside them. Then I lost them on a train some years later
and wrote to tell him, saying I was sorry. The letter
I keep writing now his hands do not move and he sits silent
in the sun. I scan the album’s wedding photos
for the gloves we both once wore, reach for his fingers
inside their darkness, keep turning the pages.