A moment ago, Robert, I thought I was watching
a wren, the one which nests
By my window here, fly, dipping & rising,
across this field in Suffolk
So like the one we used to play in, in Ohio,
when we were boys. But it was
Really something that you, Dr Jacoby, would
be able to explain by pointing out
To me in some expensive, ophthalmological text
the proper Latin words.
It was no wren (still less the mythological bird
I might have tried to make it)—
But just some defective vision: one of those spots
or floating motes before the eyes
That send one finally to a specialist. Not
a feathered or a golden bird,
Nothing coming toward me in the early evening
mist, just a flaw, as they say,
In the eye of the beholder.
Like? in a way?
the flaw in the printer’s eye
(the typesetter’s, the proof-
reader’s) that produced and then
Let stand that famous line
in Thomas Nashe’s poem about the plague,
“Brightness falls from the air,”
when what he wrote was, thinking
Of old age and death, “Brightness
falls from the hair.”
I wonder if you remember all those games
we used to play: the costumes,
All the sticks & staves, the whole complicated
paraphernalia accumulated to suggest
Authentic weaponry and precise historical dates,
not to mention exact geographical places,
All through August and September—the months you
visited. You wanted then, you said,
To be an actor, and your father—a very practical
lawyer—said he found that funny, though
I think we both intuited
that he was secretly alarmed.
With little cause. You were destined—how obvious
it should have been!—to be professional,
Respectable, and eminent. Still, you put in time
and played your child’s part
With skill and grace.
There is a photograph of us taken, I believe, in 1950.
Your plumed hat (a little
Tight) sits sprightly on your head, your cape
(cut from someone’s bathrobe) hangs
Absurdly down your back, and in your hand you
brandish the sword of the patriarch
Himself, grandfather M., Commander in Chief
Of the United Spanish War Vets.
Plumed hat is slightly better fitting, if less
elegant, my sword a fencing foil with
A rubber tip, my cape the prize: something from
the almost legitimate theatre, from
My father’s role in a Masonic play where he spoke,
once each year before initiations
On some secret, adult stage, lines he practiced
in the kitchen all the week before:
Let the jewelled box of records be opened
and the plans for the wall by the
South west gate be examined!
The photographer, it seems, has irritated us.
We scowl. The poses are not natural.
Someone has said Simon says stand here, look
there, dress right, flank left;
Someone, for the record, intervenes. Or has
James arrived? Our cousin from the
East side of Columbus who, with bicycles
and paper routes and baseballs
Wanted you in time as badly then as I could
want you out of it. A miniature
Adult, he looked askance at our elaborate
rituals. He laughed outright,
Derisively. No mere chronicler, he was reality
itself. I hated him.
Of whom I would remind myself when asking you:
do you remember? a world of imagination,
Lovely and legitimate, uncovering, summer after
summer, a place that we no longer go,
A field we do not enter now, a world one tries
to speak of, one way or another,
In a poem. Robert! Had the jewelled box
of records been opened and the plans
For the wall by the south west gate been examined,
news: that he, not you and I, made
Without our knowledge, without our wigs and
epaulets, with bricks he had a right
To throw, binding rules for our splendid games.
How remote it all must seem to you who joined
him with such dispatch. One day, I
Suppose, I’ll come to you in California saying
to you frankly: cure me if you can.
Or to some other practicing your arts. Until then,
what is there to talk about except
This book of photographs? And what they might
have made of us, all those aunts,
Clucking at our heels, waddling onto Bosworth field
or Flodden with their cameras. And why
They should have come, so ordinary and so mortal,
to bring back images like this one
Turning yellow in a yellow book. Brightness fell
from the hair
Of whom I would be worthy now, of whom I think
about again as just outside my window
A child plays with a stick. And jumps on both feet
imitating, since she sees it in the field
(With a stick in its beak), a wren. She enters
the poem as she enters the field. I will
Not see her again. She goes to her world of stick
and field and wren; I go to my world
Of poem. She does not know it, and yet she is here:
here in the poem as surely as there
In the field, in the dull evening light, in the world
of her imagining, where, as the mist descends,
She is a wren.
As I write that down she is leaving the field.
She goes to her house where her
Father and mother argue incessantly, where
her brother is sick. In the house
They are phoning a doctor. In the poem—
because I say so,
because I say once more
That she enters the world of her imagining
where, as the mist descends, She is a wren—
She remains in the field.
Photo By: Kay Gaensler