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“Before I Understood This Place”
————-——Henry Vaughan


Sixty years have not prepared me for the way,
all this morning, I feel I’m floating on a pond
of sadness, on the same sweet water
I could sink beneath, had I not given myself so
fully to this sorrow that it buoys me up:
this pond overflowing from a dream that,
being a dream, may or may not be
believed in; but also, being a dream, cannot be
questioned—not even that absurd, waddling
figure of a cartoon duck with a clown frill
around his neck and three puff buttons
on his satin tunic, who speaking (yes, he spoke)
became the source and focus of this sadness.

In the movie that reeled inside my dream,
he was a kind of genius, a goodness who remained
after the harrowing. He was drawn in the old style
of pen and ink, and brush for shading, the washed grays
of memory fading. I half recall a room,
a house, a town; and somehow a canyon, a trail
too steep for the old man. There was somewhere
we needed to go, things we needed to tidy up.
I said, Be careful, to my father as he gripped the edge
of a table to shift it back into place….

When I say a movie in my dream, I’m remembering
how huge the theater screen when I was a child—
vast and encompassing in the vaulted dark
sconce-lit with soft violet. And in that space
I said, Be careful, to a man who years ago
had been turned to ash.

———————–—There was a time,
one time, in my thirties, when I called my parents
and cried, because I feared their dying. It’s all right,
they said, We’ve got a good ten years. An answer
silly in its way as this cartoon clown of a duck,
except that, like the duck, it was there
the answer granted by those I needed to hear,
settling into place something left undone
in the past, when everything, even fear, was new.

There was some evil, yes, and it was thwarted;
but rather than the formulaic denouement, there was
the child rabbit asking questions of the duck
about all the future tail ends of the plot:
Will this happen? Yes. And will this happen? Yes.
Will they—? Yes. And we—? Yes. And it was all
so cruelly beautiful (the pool of sadness rising)—
to think that all could be swaddled in a single band
of talking. When since “angel infancy” had I been lifted
so wholly, held to soft breath, heart beating?
Standing with a rabbit listening to a duck—how
could it get more embarrassing to say?
How could two ink dots of eyes be looked into
with such love, except that, being in a dream, it must be
a love I am longing for?



William Wenthe’s most recent books are The Gentle Art and God’s Foolishness (both from LSU). He has won fellowships from the NEA and Texas Commission on the Arts and two Pushcart Prizes.




Photo by Vlad ION on Unsplash


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