You know how people bury a thing—mostly, it broods,
Tudor-style, walled-off and left to the vines
in some overgrown plot on the moors of the brain, with
one light burning in an upper window.

For two long-lost cousins, the scene of the crime
was an Edenic house in the southern mountains called
Redlands, half-timbered and possessed of an angelic light,
come back from the dead at the sight of each other

standing on a finger pier on a New England waterfront.
He is costumed in foul-weather gear, waiting for the launch.
Their eyes meet, his such a match for the harbor
behind him they seem openings in his head.

Sun tags the water under the pier and sparks fly
between them, up through the gap-toothed boards,
ricocheting like bitten words in a feud so civil
it never happened, mocking the blue sparks that used to fly

at Redlands, decades before the fall, when cousins
played tag after dark in their grandparents’ living room
charging their feet on the Oriental rug, fingers cocked,
loaded with electricity. Now, neither moves,

their feet locked in estrangement not of their making,
while halyards, clanking against aluminum masts,
call like a hundred spoons on goblets for silence
deeper than these years of held fire, deep enough

to hear the cowbells in the pastures at Redlands
from inside the house, where, as evening seeped
down the sky like blueing to meet the mountains,
their two small bodies, warm from baths,

had knelt at the window listening to the herd
carry their swollen udders to the barn. The fat notes
of their bells and low anguish gave them goose bumps
the way the chop of the harbor, glimmering

behind the hero like repoussé, like the sea of silver
that had awaited division on the sideboards and tables
in their grandparents’ dining room, does the heroine, now.
Tell me, dear reader, where can our hero turn

but to the sea? Yet, what is there for him
in that direction but a waterscape stolen with mirages
of ill-gotten goods: that hammered sea of roses and daisies,
poppies and pear blossoms, bobbing and sparkling,

lapping against the cloisonné marsh enameled with sun
where the water ripples down into the bas-relief
on the underside of Sandwich glass, that inner harbor
lying flat and sandy-blue as the missing hall carpet,

seagulls rising off of it as if the tiny birds that cousins
had hunted in the carpet’s trees and flowers were flushed
from its warp and woof, that pavé ocean beyond, winking
between dunes, no bigger than a brooch, and lurking

in the deep ground, the one light burning at Redlands.
Should the cousins speak, the arched front door could creak
open on the night in question. He shifts his weight, appears
to turn toward her. The black iron latch depresses,

and the launch arrives. Without looking back, the hero
boards and, plowing off into the repoussé meadow, illusions
retained, loses body at five knots, enters the dazzle
and vanishes as if it had been he, instead of his mother,

who had crawled on hands and knees out of her old room
into the darkened house, shedding human form as she
wound over Persian carpets from room to room, while
Presbyterian ancestors, wide awake on the walls above,

dreamed on and looked to the next world, as was
this family’s wont, varnished eyes full of the elect,
and male heirs, returned grey-haired and balding
to boyhood rooms for their mother’s funeral, slept.

Only the narrow dividing of the carpets’ pile,
parting and closing, betrayed the creature’s glide
through the Persian flora and fauna, filching not only
objects passed honorably from generation to generation,

but, not valuing that her people were American glass
and easily broken, also bearing, with her slide
into the crack of light spilling under her door,
cousins, family, myth, the whole paradise of blindness.

Mary Stewart Hammond

A Message from the Editors

Your donation sustains our efforts to inspire joyous rediscoveries.

This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 10 Number 1, on page 128
Copyright © 2024 The New Criterion |