The Wall

by Paul Hooker

Distant January in a nameless hotel room.
Lying sleepless yet again and wondering why.

Moaning filtered through the stucco’ed wall.
Such agony, I thought, and too well known,

overheard the way you cannot help but hear
some pounding rap or furious Beethoven

through closed car windows from the next lane over,
as though I were worthy party to his pain.

Thin walls, I thought annoyed, and yet still curious,
listened on, until it seemed that I was hearing

keening of a different sort, a stranger music,
the kind that only lovers make. More insistent,

he began to build a slow crescendo…
with silence for a coda… and then another sound,

this one open-throated, higher in the register
as though the urgent theme were taken up

by another voice. Hers a freshened melody,
she called his name again…again…again…

his only counterpoint was silence until
at last the two began to sing together,

wordless duet, the ancient song our race
has always sung. The wall began to thump

with the headboard’s rhythm. I could feel
percussion now, and my own heartbeat

fell into the pace, matched their accelerando
as we strained toward the climax, all cries

and yearning, until the pinnacle was gained…
cries waned to denouement… and then to silence.

I held my breath, but nothing more:
the buzz of random voices down the hall,

and a thickening sadness in the dark
rising like a fog inside my soul.

Why has it lingered all these years, this grief
in every hotel room, at every bedtime?

I realized my knees were shaking—and
I was standing—and my ear was burning;

had I pressed it so long against the wall?
My hand trembled as I lifted to my lips

my now-cold cup of coffee, a nightcap tinctured
with the salty savor of my tears.