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by Alice Duer Miller |

The White Cliffs

I have loved England, dearly and deeply, 
Since that first morning, shining and pure, 
The white cliffs of Dover I saw rising steeply 
Out of the sea that once made her secure. 
I had no thought then of husband or lover, 
I was a traveller, the guest of a week; 
Yet when they pointed 'the white cliffs of Dover', 
Startled I found there were tears on my cheek. 
I have loved England, and still as a stranger, 
Here is my home and I still am alone. 
Now in her hour of trial and danger, 
Only the English are really her own. 

It happened the first evening I was there. 
Some one was giving a ball in Belgrave Square.
At Belgrave Square, that most Victorian spot.—
Lives there a novel-reader who has not 
At some time wept for those delightful girls, 
Daughters of dukes, prime ministers and earls, 
In bonnets, berthas, bustles, buttoned basques, 
Hiding behind their pure Victorian masks 
Hearts just as hot - hotter perhaps than those 
Whose owners now abandon hats and hose? 
Who has not wept for Lady Joan or Jill 
Loving against her noble parent's will 
A handsome guardsman, who to her alarm 
Feels her hand kissed behind a potted palm 
At Lady Ivry's ball the dreadful night 
Before his regiment goes off to fight;
And see him the next morning, in the park,
Complete in busbee, marching to embark.
I had read freely, even as a child,
Not only Meredith and Oscar Wilde
But many novels of an earlier day—
Ravenshoe, Can You Forgive Her?, Vivien Grey,
Ouida, The Duchess, Broughton's Red As a Rose,
Guy Livingstone, Whyte-Melville— Heaven knows
What others. Now, I thought, I was to see
Their habitat, though like the Miller of Dee,
I cared for none and no one cared for me.

A light blue carpet on the stair 
And tall young footmen everywhere, 
Tall young men with English faces 
Standing rigidly in their places, 
Rows and rows of them stiff and staid 
In powder and breeches and bright gold braid; 
And high above them on the wall 
Hung other English faces-all 
Part of the pattern of English life—
General Sir Charles, and his pretty wife, 
Admirals, Lords-Lieutenant of Shires, 
Men who were served by these footmen's sires 
At their great parties-none of them knowing 
How soon or late they would all be going 
In plainer dress to a sterner strife- 
Another pattern of English life.

I went up the stairs between them all,
Strange and frightened and shy and small,
And as I entered the ballroom door,
Saw something I had never seen before
Except in portraits— a stout old guest
With a broad blue ribbon across his breast—
That blue as deep as the southern sea,
Bluer than skies can ever be—
The Countess of Salisbury—Edward the Third—
No damn merit— the Duke— I heard
My own voice saying; 'Upon my word,
The garter!' and clapped my hands like a child.

Some one beside me turned and smiled,
And looking down at me said: "I fancy,
You're Bertie's Australian cousin Nancy.
He toId me to tell you that he'd be late 
At the Foreign Office and not to wait 
Supper for him, but to go with me, 
And try to behave as if I were he." 
I should have told him on the spot 
That I had no cousin—that I was not 
Australian Nancy—that my name 
Was Susan Dunne, and that I came 
From a small white town on a deep-cut bay 
In the smallest state in the U.S.A. 
I meant to tell him, but changed my mind—
I needed a friend, and he seemed kind; 
So I put my gloved hand into his glove,
And we danced together— and fell in love.

Young and in love-how magical the phrase! 
How magical the fact! Who has not yearned 
Over young lovers when to their amaze 
They fall in love and find their love returned, 
And the lights brighten, and their eyes are clear 
To see God's image in their common clay. 
Is it the music of the spheres they hear? 
Is it the prelude to that noble play, 
The drama of Joined Lives? Ah, they forget 
They cannot write their parts; the bell has rung, 
The curtain rises and the stage is set 
For tragedy-they were in love and young. 

We went to the Tower,
We went to the Zoo, 
We saw every flower 
In the gardens at Kew. 
We saw King Charles a-prancing
On his long-tailed horse, 
And thought him more entrancing
Than better kings, of course. 
At a strange early hour, 
In St. James's palace yard, 
We watched in a shower 
The changing of the guard.
And I said, what a pity,
To have just a week to spend,
When London is a city
Whose beauties never end!

When the sun shines on England, it atones 
For low-hung leaden skies, and rain and dim 
Moist fogs that paint the verdure on her stones 
And fill her gentle rivers to the brim. 
When the sun shines on England, shafts of light 
Fall on far towers and hills and dark old trees, 
And hedge-bound meadows of a green as bright— 
As bright as is the blue of tropic seas. 
When the sun shines, it is as if the face 
Of some proud man relaxed his haughty stare, 
And smiled upon us with a sudden grace, 
Flattering because its coming is so rare. 

The English are frosty 
When you're no kith or kin 
Of theirs, but how they alter 
When once they take you in! 
The kindest, the truest, 
The best friends ever known, 
It's hard to remember 
How they froze you to a bone. 
They showed me all London, 
Johnnie and his friends; 
They took me to the country
For long week-ends;
I never was so happy,
I never had such fun,
I stayed many weeks in England
Instead of just one.

John had one of those English faces 
That always were and will always be 
Found in the cream of English places 
Till England herself sink into the sea— 
A blond, bowed face with prominent eyes 
A little bit bluer than English skies. 
You see it in ruffs and suits of armour, 
You see it in wigs of many styles, 
Soldier and sailor, judge and farmer— 
That face has governed the British Isles, 
By the power, for good or ill bestowed, 
Only on those who live by code. 

Oh, that inflexible code of living,
That seems so easy and unconstrained,
The Englishman's code of taking and giving
Rights and privileges pre-ordained,
Based since English life began
On the prime importance of being a man.

And what a voice he had-gentle, profound, 
Clear masculine!—I melted at the sound. 
Oh, English voices, are there any words 
Those tones to tell, those cadences to teach! 
As song of thrushes is to other birds, 
So English voices are to other speech; 
Those pure round 'o's '—those lovely liquid 'l's' 
Ring in the ears like sound of Sabbath bells.

Yet I have loathed those voices when the sense
Of what they said seemed to me insolence,
As if the dominance of the whole nation
Lay in that clear correct enunciation.

Many years later, I remember when
One evening I overheard two men
In Claridge's— white waistcoats, coats I know
Were built in Bond Street or in Savile Row—
So calm, so confident, so finely bred—
Young gods in tails— and this is what they said:
'Not your first visit to the States?' 'Oh no,
I'd been to Canada two years ago.'
Good God, I thought, have they not heard that we
Were those queer colonists who would be free,
Who took our desperate chance, and fought and won
Under a colonist called Washington?

One does not lose one's birthright, it appears.
I had been English then for many years.

We went down to Cambridge, 
Cambridge in the spring. 
In a brick court at twilight 
We heard the thrushes sing, 
And we went to evening service 
In the chapel of the King. 
The library of Trinity, 
The quadrangle of Clare, 
John bought a pipe from Bacon, 
And I acquired there 
The Anecdotes of Painting 
From a handcart in the square.

The Playing fields at sunset
Were vivid emerald green,
The elms were tall and mighty,
And many youths were seen,
Carefree young gentlemen
In the Spring of 'Fourteen.

London, just before dawn-immense and dark—
Smell of wet earth and growth from the empty Park, 
Pall Mall vacant-Whitehall deserted. Johnnie and I 
Strolling together, averse to saying good-bye—
Strolling away from some party in silence profound, 
Only far off in Mayfair, piercing, the sound 
Of a footman's whistle—the rhythm of hoofs on wood, 
Further and further away. . . . And now we stood 
On a bridge, where a poet came to keep 
Vigil while all the city lay asleep—
Westminster Bridge, and soon the sun would rise,
And I should see it with my very eyes!
Yes, now it came— a broad and awful glow
Out of the violet mists of dawn. 'Ah, no',
I said. 'Earth has not anything to show
More fair— changed though it is— than this.'
A curious background surely for a kiss—
Our first— Westminster Bridge at break of day—
Settings by Wordsworth, as John used to say.

Why do we fall in love? I do believe 
 That virtue is the magnet, the small vein 
Of ore, the spark, the torch that we receive 
 At birth, and that we render back again. 
That drop of godhood, like a precious stone, 
 May shine the brightest in the tiniest flake. 
Lavished on saints, to sinners not unknown; 
 In harlot, nun, philanthropist, and rake, 
It shines for those who love; none else discern 
 Evil from good; Men's fall did not bestow 
That threatened wisdom; blindly still we yearn 
 After a virtue that we do not know, 
Until our thirst and longing rise above 
The barriers of reason—and we love. 

And still I did not see my life was changed, 
Utterly different—by this love estranged 
For ever and ever from my native land; 
That I was now of that unhappy band 
Who lose the old, and cannot gain the new 
However loving and however true 
To their new duties. I could never be 
An English woman, there was that in me 
Puritan, stubborn that would not agree 
To English standards, though I did not see
The truth, because I thought them, good or ill,
So great a people—and I think so still.

But a day came when I was forced to face
Facts. I was taken down to see the place,
The family place in Devon— and John's mother.
'Of course, you understand,' he said, 'my brother
Will have the place.' He smiled; he was so sure
The world was better for primogeniture.
And yet he loved that place, as Englishmen
Do love their native countryside, and when
The day should be as it was sure to be—
When this was home no more to him— when he
Could go there only when his brother's wife
Should ask him—to a room not his— his life
Would shrink and lose its meaning. How unjust,
I thought. Why do they feel it must
Go to that idle, insolent eldest son?
Well, in the end it went to neither one.

A red brick manor-house in Devon, 
In a beechwood of old grey trees, 
Ivy climbing to the clustered chimneys, 
Rustling in the wet south breeze. 
Gardens trampled down by Cromwell's army, 
Orchards of apple-trees and pears, 
Casements that had looked for the Armada, 
And a ghost on the stairs. 

Johnnie's mother, the Lady Jean, 
Child of a penniless Scottish peer, 
Was handsome, worn high-coloured, lean, 
With eyes like Johnnie's—more blue and clear— 
Like bubbles of glass in her fine tanned face. 
Quiet, she was, and so at ease, 
So perfectly sure of her rightful place 
In the world that she felt no need to please. 
I did not like her—she made me feel 
Talkative, restless, unsure, as if 
I were a cross between parrot and eel. 
I thought her blank and cold and stiff.

And presently she said as they 
Sooner or later always say: 
'You're an American, Miss Dunne? 
Really you do not speak like one.' 
She seemed to think she'd said a thing 
Both courteous and flattering. 
I answered though my wrist were weak 
With anger: 'Not at all, I speak— 
At least I've always thought this true— 
As educated people do 
In any country-even mine.' 
'Really?' I saw her head incline, 
I saw her ready to assert 
Americans are easily hurt.

Strange to look back to the days 
So long ago 
When a friend was almost a foe, 
When you hurried to find a phrase 
For your easy light dispraise 
Of a spirit you did not know, 
A nature you could not plumb 
In the moment of meeting, 
Not guessing a day would come 
When your heart would ache to hear 
Other men's tongues repeating 
Those same light phrases that jest and jeer 
At a friend now grown so dear— so dear.
Strange to remember long ago
When a friend was almost a foe.

I saw the house with its oaken stair, 
And the Tudor Rose on the newel post, 
The panelled upper gallery where 
They told me you heard the family ghost— 
'A gentle unhappy ghost who sighs 
Outside one's door on the night one dies.' 
'Not,' Lady Jean explained, 'at all 
Like the ghost at my father's place, St. Kitts, 
That clanks and screams in the great West Hall 
And frightens strangers out of their wits.' 
I smiled politely, not thinking I 
Would hear one midnight that long sad sigh. 

I saw the gardens, after our tea
(Crumpets and marmalade, toast and cake)
And Drake's Walk, leading down to the sea;
Lady Jean was startled I'd heard of Drake,
For the English always find it a mystery
That Americans study English history.

I saw the picture of every son—
Percy, the eldest, and John; and Bill
In Chinese Customs, and the youngest one
Peter, the sailor, at Osborne still;
And the daughter, Enid, married, alas,
To a civil servant in far Madras.

A little thing happened, just before
We left— the evening papers came;
John, flicking them over to find a score,
Spoke for the first time a certain name—
The name of a town in a distant land
Etched on our hearts by a murderer's hand.

Mother and son exchanged a glance, 
A curious glance of strength and dread. 
I thought: what matter to them if Franz 
Ferdinand dies? One of them said: 
This might be serious.' 'Yes, you're right.' 
The other answered, 'It really might.' 

Dear John: I'm going home. I write to say 
Goodbye. My boat-train leaves at break of day; 
It will be gone when this is in your hands. 
I've had enough of lovely foreign lands, 
Sightseeing, strangers, holiday and play; 
I'm going home to those who think the way
I think, and speak as I do. Will you try 
To understand that this must be good-bye? 
We both rooted deeply in the soil 
Of our own countries. But I could not spoil 
Our happy memories with the stress and strain
Of parting; if we never meet again
Be sure I shall remember till I die
Your love, your laugh, your kindness. But—goodbye.
Please do not hate me; give the devil his due,
This is an act of courage. Always, Sue. 

The boat-train rattling 
Through the green country-side; 
A girl within it battling 
With her tears and pride. 
The Southampton landing, 
Porters, neat and quick, 
And a young man standing, 
Leaning on his stick. 
'Oh, John, John, you shouldn't 
Have come this long way. . . 
'Did you really think I wouldn't 
Be here to make you stay?'
I can't remember whether
There was much stress and strain,
But presently, together,
We were travelling back again.

The English love their country with a love 
Steady, and simple, wordless, dignified;
I think it sets their patriotism above 
All others. We Americans have pride— 
We glory in our country's short romance. 
We boast of it and love it. Frenchmen when 
The ultimate menace comes, will die for France 
Logically as they lived. But Englishmen 
Will serve day after day, obey the law, 
And do dull tasks that keep a nation strong. 
Once I remember in London how I saw 
Pale shabby people standing in a long 
Line in the twilight and the misty rain 
To pay their tax. I then saw England plain. 

Johnnie and I were married. England then 
Had been a week at war, and all the men 
Wore uniform, as English people can, 
Unconscious of it. Percy, the best man, 
As thin as paper and as smart as paint, 
Bade us good-by with admirable restraint, 
Went from the church to catch his train to hell; 
And died-saving his batman from a shell. 

We went down to Devon, 
 In a warm summer rain, 
Knowing that our happiness 
 Might never come again; 
I, not forgetting, 
 'Till death us do part,' 
Was outrageously happy 
 With death in my heart. 
Lovers in peacetime 
 With fifty years to live, 
Have time to tease and quarrel 
 And question what to give; 
But lovers in wartime 
 Better understand 
The fullness of living, 
 With death close at hand. 

My father wrote me a letter— 
My father, scholarly, indolent, strong, 
Teaching Greek better 
Than high-school students repay— 
Teaching Greek in the winter, but all summer long 
Sailing a yawl in Narragansett Bay; 
Happier perhaps when I was away, 
Free of an anxious daughter, 
He could sail blue water 
Day after day, 
Beyond Brenton Reef Lightship, and Beavertail, 
Past Cuttyhunk to catch a gale 
Off the Cape, while he thought of Hellas and Troy,
Chanting with joy
Greek choruses— those lines that he said
Must be written some day on a stone at his head:
'But who can know
As the long years go
That to live is happy, has found his heaven.'
My father, so far away— 
I thought of him, in Devon,
Anchoring in a blind fog in Booth Bay.

'So, Susan, my dear,' the letter began, 
'You've fallen in love with an Englishman. 
Well, they're a manly, attractive lot, 
If you happen to like them, which I do not. 
I am a Yankee through and through, 
And I don't like them, or the things they do. 
Whenever it's come to a knock-down fight 
With us, they were wrong, and we right; 
If you don't believe me, cast your mind 
Back over history, what do you find? 
They certainly had no justification 
For that maddening plan to impose taxation 
Without any form of representation. 
Your man may be all that a man should be,
Only don't you bring him back to me
Saying he can't get decent tea—
He could have got his tea all right
In Boston Harbour a certain night,
When your great-great-grandmother— also a Sue—
Shook enough tea from her husband's shoe
To supply her house for a week or two.
The war of 1812 seems to me
About as just as a war could be.
How could we help but come to grips
With a nation that stopped and searched our ships,
And took off our seamen for no other reason
Except that they needed crews that season.
I can get angry still at the tale
Of their letting the Alabama sail,
And Palmerston being insolent
To Lincoln and Seward over the Trent.
All very long ago, you'll say,
But whenever I go up Boston-way,
I drive through Concord—that neck of the wood, 
Where once the embattled farmers stood, 
And I think of Revere, and the old South Steeple, 
And I say, by heck, we're the only people 
Who licked them not only once, but twice. 
Never forget it-that's my advice. 
They have their points—they're honest and brave,
Loyal and sure—as sure as the grave; 
They make other nations seem pale and flighty, 
But they do think England is god almighty, 
And you must remind them now and then 
That other countries breed other men. 
From all of which you will think me rather 
Unjust. I am. Your devoted Father. 

I read, and saw my home with sudden yearning— 
The small white wooden house, the grass-green door, 
My father's study with the fire burning, 
And books piled on the floor. 
I saw the moon-faced clock that told the hours, 
The crimson Turkey carpet, worn and frayed, 
The heavy dishes—gold with birds and flowers— 
Fruits of the China trade. 
I saw the jack o' lanterns, friendly, frightening,
Shine from our gateposts every Hallow-e'en; 
I saw the oak tree, shattered once by lightning,
Twisted, stripped clean.

I saw the Dioscuri— two black kittens,
Stalking relentlessly an empty spool;
I saw a little girl in scarlet mittens
Trudging through snow to school. 

John read the letter with his lovely smile. 
'Your father has a vigorous English style, 
And what he says is true, upon my word; 
But what's this war of which I never heard? 
We didn't fight in 1812.' 'Yes, John, 
That was the time when you burnt Washington.' 
'We couldn't have, my dear. . .' 'I mean the city.' 
'We burnt it?' 'Yes, you did.' 'What a pity!
No wonder people hate us. But, I say,
I'll make your father like me yet, some day.' 

I settled down in Devon, 
When Johnnie went to France. 
Such a tame ending 
To a great romance— 
Two lonely women 
With nothing much to do 
But get to know each other; 
She did and I did, too. 
Mornings at the rectory 
Learning how to roll 
Bandages, and always 
Saving light and coal.
Oh, that house was bitter
As winter closed in,
In spite of heavy stockings
And woollen next the skin.
I was cold and wretched,
And never unaware
Of John more cold and wretched
In a trench out there.

All that long winter I wanted so much to complain, 
But my mother-in-Iaw, as far as I could see,
Felt no such impulse, though she was always in pain, 
An, as the winter fogs grew thick,
Took to walking with a stick,
Those bubble-like eyes grew black 
Whenever she rose from a chair—
Rose and fell back,
Unable to bear
The sure agonizing
Torture of rising.
Her hands, those competent bony hands,
Grew gnarled and old,
But never ceased to obey the commands
Of her will— only finding new hold
Of bandage and needle and pen.
And not for the blinking
Of an eye did she ever stop thinking
Of the suffering of Englishmen
And her two sons in the trenches. Now and then
I could forget for an instant in a book or a letter,
But she never, never forgot— either one—
Percy and John—though I knew she loved one better—
Percy, the wastrel, the gambler, the eldest son.
I think I shall always remember
Until I die
Her face that day in December,
When in a hospital ward together, she and I
Were writing letters for wounded men and dying,
Writing and crying
Over their words, so silly and simple and loving,
Suddenly, looking up, I saw the old Vicar moving
Like fate down the hospital ward, until
He stood still
Beside her, where she sat at a bed.
'Dear friend, come home. I have tragic news,' he said
She looked straight at him without a spasm of fear,
Her face not stern or masked—
'Is it Percy or John?' she asked.
'Percy.' She dropped her eyes. 'I am needed here.
Surely you know
I cannot go
Until every letter is written. The dead
Must wait on the living,' she said.
'This is my work. I must stay.'
And she did— the whole long day.

Out of the dark, and dearth 
Of happiness on earth, 
Out of a world inured to death and pain; 
On a fair spring mom 
To me a son was born, 
And hope was born-the future lived again. 
To me a son was born, 
The lonely hard forlorn 
Travail was, as the Bible tells, forgot. 
How old, how commonplace 
To look upon the face
Of your first-born, and glory in your lot.

To look upon his face
And understand your place
Among the unknown dead in churchyards lying,
To see the reason why
You lived and why you die—
Even to find a certain grace in dying.

To know the reason why
Buds blow and blossoms die,
Why beauty fades, and genius is undone,
And how unjustified
Is any human pride
In all creation— save in this common one.

Maternity is common, but not so 
It seemed to me. Motherless, I did not know— 
I was all unprepared to feel this glow, 
Holy as a Madonna's, and as crude 
As any animal's beatitude— 
Crude as my own black cat's, who used to bring 
Her newest litter to me every spring, 
And say, with green eyes shining in the sun: 
'Behold this miracle that I have done.' 
And John came home on leave, and all was joy 
And thankfulness to me, because my boy 
Was not a baby only, but the heir— 
Heir to the Devon acres and a name 
As old as England. Somehow I became
Almost an English woman, almost at one
With all they ever did— all they had done. 

'I want him called John after you, or if not that I'd rather—' 
'But the eldest son is always called Percy, dear.' 
'I don't ask to call him Hiram, after my father—' 
'But the eldest son is always called Percy, dear.' 
'But I hate the name Percy. I like Richard or Ronald, 
Or Peter like your brother, or Ian or Noel or Donald—' 
'But the eldest is always called Percy, dear.' 
So the Vicar christened him Percy; and Lady Jean 
Gave to the child and me the empty place 
In hr heart. Poor Lady, it was as if she had seen
The world destroyed— the extinction of her race,
Her country, her class, her name— and now she saw
Them live again. And I would hear her say:
'No. I admire Americans; my daughter-in-law
Was an American.' Thus she would well repay
The debt, and I was grateful— the English made
Life hard for those who did not come to her aid. 

'They must come in in the spring.' 
'Don't they care sixpence who's right?'
'What a ridiculous thing— 
Saying they're too proud to fight.' 
'Saying they're too proud to fight.' 
'Wilson's pro-German, I'm told.' 
'No, it's financial.' 'Oh, quite, 
All that they care for is gold.' 
'All that they care for is gold.' 
'Seem to like writing a note.' 
'Yes, as a penman, he's bold.'
'No. It's the Irish vote.'

'Oh, it's the Irish vote.'
'What if the Germans some night
Sink an American boat?'
'Darling, they're too proud to fight.'

What could I do, but ache and long 
That my country, peaceful, rich, and strong, 
Should come and do battle for England's sake. 
What could I do, but long and ache. 
And my father's letters I hid away 
Lest some one should know the things he'd say. 
'You ask me whether we're coming in— 
We are. The English are clever as sin, 
Silently, subtly they inspire 
Most of youth with a holy fire 
To shed their blood for the British Empire
We'll come in— we'll fight and die
Humbly to help them, and by and by,
England will do us in the eye.
They'll get colonies, gold and fame,
And we'll get nothing at all but blame.
Blame for not having come before,
Blame for not having sent them more
Money and men and war supplies,
Blame if we venture to criticise.
We're so damn simple— our skins so thin
We'll get nothing whatever, but we'll come in.'

And at last—at last—like the dawn of a calm, fair day 
After a night of terror and storm, they came—
My young light-hearted countrymen, tall and gay, 
Looking the world over in search of fun and fame, 
Marching through London to the beat of a boastful air, 
Seeing for the first time Piccadilly and Leicester Square, 
All the bands playing: 'Over There, Over There, 
Send the word, send the word to beware—' 
And as the American flag went fluttering by 
Englishmen uncovered, and I began to cry. 

'We're here to end it, by jingo.' 
'We'll lick the Heinies okay.' 
'I can't get on to the lingo.' 
'Dumb-they don't get what we say.' 
'Call that stuff coffee? You oughter 
Know better. Gee, take it away.' 
'Oh, for a drink of ice water! ' 
'They think nut-sundae's a day.' 

'Say, is this chicken feed money?'
'Say, does it rain every day?'
'Say, Lady, isn't it funny
Every one drives the wrong way?'

How beautiful upon the mountains,
How beautiful upon the downs,
How beautiful in the village post-office,
On the pavements of towns—
How beautiful in the huge print of newspapers,
Beautiful while telegraph wires hum,
While telephone bells wildly jingle,
The news that peace has come—
That peace has come at last—that all wars cease.
How beautiful upon the mountains are the footsteps 
Of the messengers of peace!

In the depth of the night betwixt midnight and morning, 
In the darkness and silence forerunning the dawn, 
The throb of my heart was a drum-beat of warning, 
My ears were a-strain and my breath was undrawn. 
In the depth of the night, when the old house was sleeping, 
I lying alone in a desolate bed, 
Heard soft on the staircase a slow footstep creeping— 
The ear of the living—the step of the dead. 
In the depth of the night betwixt midnight and morning
A step drawing near on the old oaken floor—
On the stair— in the gallery— the ghost that gives warning
Of death, by that heartbreaking sigh at my door. 

Bad news is not broken, 
 By kind tactful word; 
The message is spoken 
 Ere the word can be heard. 
The eye and the bearing, 
 The breath make it clear, 
And the heart is despairing 
 Before the ears hear. 
I do not remember 
 The words that they said: 
 I knew John was dead. 
All done and over—
 That day long ago—
The while cliffs of Dover— 
 Little did I know. 

As I grow older, looking back, I see 
Not those the longest planted in the heart 
Are the most missed. Some unions seem to be 
Too close for even death to tear apart. 
Those who have lived together many years, 
And deeply learnt to read each other's mind, 
Vanities, tempers, virtues, hopes, and fears— 
One cannot go—nor is one left behind. 
Alas, with John and me this was not so; 
I was defrauded even of the past. 
Our days had been so pitifully few, 
Fight as I would, I found the dead go fast. 
I had lost all—had lost not love alone, 
But the bright knowledge it had been my own. 

Oh, sad people, buy not your past too dearly, 
 Live not in dreams of the past, for understand, 
If you remember too much, too long, too clearly, 
 If you grasp memory with too heavy a hand, 
You will destroy memory in all its glory 
 For the sake of the dreams of your head upon your bed. 
You will be left with only the worn dead story 
 You told yourself of the dead. 

Nanny brought up my son, as his father before him, 
Austere on questions of habits, manners, and food. 
Nobly yielding a mother's right to adore him, 
Thinking that mothers never did sons much good. 
A Scot from Lady Jean's own native passes, 
With a head as smooth and round as a silver bowl, 
A crooked nose, and eyes behind her glasses 
Grey and bright and wise—a great soul ! 
Ready to lay down her life for her charge, and ready 
To administer discipline without consulting me: 
'Is that the way for you to answer my leddy?
I think you'll get no sweet tonight to your tea.'

Bringing him up better than I could do it,
Teaching him to be civil and manly and cool
In the face of danger. And then before I knew it
The time came for him to go off to school.

Off to school to be free of women's teaching,
Into a world of men— at seven years old;
Into a world where a mother's hands vainly reaching
Will never again caress and comfort and hold.

My father came over now and then 
To look at the boy and talk to me, 
Never staying long, 
For the urge was strong 
To get back to his yawl and the summer sea. 
He came like a nomad passing by, 
Hands in his pockets, hat over one eye, 
Teasing every one great and small 
With a blank straight face and a Yankee drawl; 
Teasing the Vicar on Apostolic Succession 
And what the Thirty-Nine Articles really meant to convey,
Teasing Nanny, though he did not
Make much impression
On that imperturbable Scot.
Teasing our local grandee, a noble peer,
Who firmly believed the Ten Lost Tribes
Of Israel had settled here—
A theory my father had at his fingers' ends—
Only one person was always safe from his jibes—
My mother-in-law, for they were really friends. 

Oh, to come home to your country 
After long years away, 
To see the tall shining towers 
Rise over the rim of the bay, 
To feel the west wind steadily blowing 
And the sunshine golden and hot, 
To speak to each man as an equal, 
Whether he is or not. 

Was this America—this my home? 
Prohibition and Teapot Dome—
Speakeasies, night-clubs, illicit stills, 
Dark faces peering behind dark grills, 
Hold-ups, kidnappings, hootch or booze— 
Every one gambling—you just can't lose,
Was this my country? Even the bay 
At home was altered, strange ships lay 
At anchor, deserted day after day, 
Old yachts in a rusty dim decay— 
Like ladies going the primrose way— 
At anchor, until when the moon was black, 
They sailed, and often never came back. 

Even my father's Puritan drawl
Told me shyly he'd sold his yawl
For a fabulous price to the constable's son—
My childhood's playmate, thought to be one
Of a criminal gang, rum-runners all,
Such clever fellows with so much money—
Even the constable found it funny,
Until one morning his son was found,
Floating dead in Long Island Sound.
Was this my country? It seemed like heaven
To get back, dull and secure, to Devon,
Loyally hiding from Lady Jean
And my English friends the horrors I'd seen.

That year she died, my nearest, dearest friend; 
Lady Jean died, heroic to the end. 
The family stood about her grave, but none 
Mourned her as I did. After, one by one, 
They slipped away—Peter and Bill—my son 
Went back to school. I hardly was aware 
Of Percy's lovely widow, sitting there 
In the old room, in Lady Jean's own chair. 
An English beauty glacially fair 
Was Percy's widow Rosamund, her hair 
Was silver gilt, and smooth as silk, and fine, 
Her eyes, sea-green, slanted away from mine,
From any one's, as if to meet the gaze
Of others was too intimate a phase
For one as cool and beautiful as she.

We were not friends or foes. She seemed to be
Always a little irked— fretted to find
That other women lived among mankind.
Now for the first time after years of meeting,
Never exchanging more than formal greeting,
She spoke to me— that sharp determined way
People will speak when they have things to say.

ROSAMUND: Susan, go home with your offspring. Fly. 
Live in America. SUSAN: Rosamund, why? 
ROSAMUND: Why, my dear girl, haven't you seen
What English country life can mean 
With too small an income to keep the place 
Going? Already I think I trace 
A change in you, you no longer care 
So much how you look or what you wear. 
That coat and skirt you have on, you know 
You wouldn't have worn them ten years ago.
Those thick warm stockings— they make me sad,
Your ankles were ankles to drive men mad.
Look at your hair— you need a wave.
Get out— go home— be hard— be brave,
Or else, believe me, you'll be a slave.
There's something in you— dutiful— meek—
You'll be saving your pin-money every week
To mend the roof. Well, let it leak.
Why should you care? SUSAN: But I do care,
John loved this place and my boy's the heir.

ROSAMUND: The heir to what? To a tiresome life
Drinking tea with the vicar's wife,
Opening bazaars, and taking the chair
At meetings for causes that you don't care
Sixpence about and never will;
Breaking your heart over every bill.
I've been in the States, where everyone,
Even the poor, have a little fun.

Don't condemn your son to be 
A penniless country squire. He 
Would be happier driving a tram over there 
Than mouldering his life away as heir. 
SUSAN: Rosamund dear, this may all be true. 
I'm an American through and through. 
I don't see things as the English do, 
But it's clearly my duty, it seems to me, 
To bring up John's son, like him, to be 
A country squire—poor alas, 
But true to that English upper class 
That does not change and does not pass. 

ROSAMUND: Nonsense; it's come to an absolute stop.
Twenty years since we sat on top
Of the world, amusing ourselves and sneering
At other manners and customs, jeering
At other nations, living in clover—
Not any more. That's done and over.
No one nowadays cares a button
For the upper classes— they're dead as mutton.
Go home. SUSAN: I notice that you don't go.

ROSAMUND: My dear, that shows how little you know.
I'm escaping the fate of my peers,
Marrying one of the profiteers,
Who hasn't an 'aitch' where an 'aitch' should be,
But millions and millions to spend on me.
Not much fun— but there wasn't any
Other way out. I haven't a penny.
But with you it's different. You can go away,
And oh, what a fool you'd be to stay.

Rabbits in the park, 
Scuttling as we pass, 
Little white tails 
Against the green grass. 
'Next time, Mother, 
I must really bring a gun, 
I know you don't like shooting, 
But—!' John's own son, 
That blond bowed face, 
Those clear steady eyes, 
Hard to be certain 
That the dead don't rise.
Jogging on his pony
Through the autumn day,
'Bad year for fruit, Mother,
But good salt hay.'
Bowling for the village
As his father had before;
Coming home at evening
To read the cricket score,
Back to the old house
Where all his race belong,
Tired and contented—
Rosamund was wrong. 

If some immortal strangers walked our land 
And heard of death, how could they understand 
That we—doomed creatures—draw our meted breath 
Light-heartedly—all unconcerned with death. 
So in these years between the wars did men 
From happier continents look on us when 
They brought us sympathy, and saw us stand 
Like the proverbial ostrich-head in sand— 
While youth passed resolutions not to fight, 
And statesmen muttered everything was right— 
Germany, a kindly, much ill-treated nation—
Russia was working out her own salvation
Within her borders. As for Spain, ah, Spain
Would buy from England when peace came again!
I listened and believed— believed through sheer
Terror. I could not look whither my fear
Pointed— that agony that I had known.
I closed my eyes, and was not alone.

Later than many, earlier than some,
I knew the die was cast— that war must come;
That war must come. Night after night I lay
Steeling a broken heart to face the day
When he, my son— would tread the very same
Path that his father trod. When the day came
I was not steeled— not ready. Foolish, wild
Words issued from my lips— 'My child, my child,
Why should you die for England too?' He smiled:
'Is she not worth it, if I must?' he said.
John would have answered yes— but John was dead.

Is she worth dying for? My love, my one 
And only love had died, and now his son 
Asks me, his alien mother, to assay 
The worth of England to mankind today— 
This other Eden, demi-paradise, 
This fortress built by Nature for herself 
Against infection and the hand of war; 
This happy breed of men, this little world, 
This precious stone set in the silver sea— 
Ah, no, not that—not Shakespeare—I must be 
A sterner critic. I must weigh the ill 
Against the good, must strike the balance, till 
I know the answer— true for me alone—
What is she worth— this country— not my own?

I thought of my father's deep traditional wrath
Against England— the redcoat bully— the ancient foe—
That second reaping of hate, that aftermath
Of a ruler's folly and ignorance long ago—
Long, long ago— yet who can honestly say
England is utterly changed— not I— not I.
Arrogance, ignorance, folly are here today,
And for these my son must die?
I thought of these years, these last dark terrible years
When the leaders of England bade the English believe
Lies at the price of peace, lies and fears,
Lies that corrupt, and fears that sap and deceive.
I though of the bars dividing man from man,
Invisible bars that the humble may not pass,
And how no pride is uglier, crueller than
The pride unchecked of class.
Oh, those invisible bars of manners and speech,
Ways that the proud man will not teach
The humble lest they too reach 
Those splendid heights where a little band 
Have always stood and will always stand 
Ruling the fate of this small green land, 
Rulers of England—for them must I 
Send out my only son to die? 

And then, and then, 
I thought of Elizabeth stepping down 
Over the stones of Plymouth town 
To welcome her sailors, common men, 
She herself, as she used to say, 
Being' mere English' as much as they— 
Seafaring men who sailed away 
From rocky inlet and wooded bay, 
Free men, undisciplined, uncontrolled, 
Some of them pirates and all of them bold, 
Feeling their fate was England's fate, 
Coming to save it a little late, 
Much too late for the easy way,
Much too late, and yet never quite
Too late to win in that last worst fight.

And I thought of Hampden and men like him,
St John and Eliot, Cromwell and Pym,
Standing firm through the dreadful years,
When the chasm was opening, widening,
Between the Commons and the King;
I thought of the Commons in tears— in tears,
When Black Rod knocked at Parliament's door,
And they saw Rebellion straight before— 
Weeping, and yet as hard as stone,
Knowing what the English have always known
Since then— and perhaps have known alone— 
Something that none can teach or tell—
The moment when God's voice says; 'Rebel.'

Not to rise up in sudden gust
Of passion— not, though the cause be just;
Not to submit so long that hate, 
Lava torrents break out and spill 
Over the land in a fiery spate; 
Not to submit for ever, until 
The will of the country is one man's will, 
And every soul in the whole land shrinks 
From thinking—except as his neighbour thinks. 
Men who have governed England know 
That dreadful line that they may not pass 
And live. Elizabeth long ago 
Honoured and loved, and bold as brass, 
Daring and subtle, arrogant, clever, 
English, too, to her stiff backbone,
Somewhat a bully, like her own
Father— yet even Elizabeth never
Dared to oppose the sullen might
Of the English, standing upon a right. 

And were they not English, our forefathers, never more 
English than when they shook the dust of her sod 
From their feet for ever, angrily seeking a shore 
Where in his own way a man might worship his God. 
Never more English than when they dared to be 
Rebels against her-that stem intractable sense 
Of that which no man can stomach and still be free, 
Writing: 'When in the course of human events. . .'
Writing it out so all the world could see 
Whence come the powers of all just governments. 
The tree of Liberty grew and changed and spread, 
But the seed was English. 
 I am American bred,
I have seen much to hate here— much to forgive,
But in a world where England is finished and dead,
I do not wish to live.

by Charles Webb |


 Its silver clasp looks like a man grasping
his hands above his head in victory;
the latches, like twin hatchbacks headed away.

There are no wheels, just four steel nipples for sliding.
A hexagonal seal announces the defunct
"U.S. Trunk Company." The frame is wood—

big, heavy, cheap—covered with imitation leather,
its blue just slightly darker than Mom's eyes.
"It's beautiful. Much too expensive," she told Dad,

and kissed him. The lining is pink, quilted
acetate. Three sides have pouches with elastic tops—
stretched out now, like old underwear.

I watched Mom pack them with panties and brassieres
when I was so little she didn't blush.
The right front corner has been punctured and crushed.

(I could have choked the baggage handler.)
The handle—blue plastic doorknocker—
is fringed with wrinkled tags from United, Delta,

U.S. Air (which crunched the hole, flying
the suitcase back from Houston). I'd gone there
to see Mom in the "home," and save some boyhood

relics before my sister gave them to Good Will.
"Take mine," Mom said, hearing my suitcase was full.
"I won't need luggage, the next place I go."

by Charles Webb |

The Death Of Santa Claus

 He's had the chest pains for weeks,
but doctors don't make house
calls to the North Pole,

he's let his Blue Cross lapse,
blood tests make him faint,
hospital gown always flap

open, waiting rooms upset
his stomach, and it's only
indigestion anyway, he thinks,

until, feeding the reindeer,
he feels as if a monster fist
has grabbed his heart and won't

stop squeezing. He can't
breathe, and the beautiful white
world he loves goes black,

and he drops on his jelly belly
in the snow and Mrs. Claus
tears out of the toy factory

wailing, and the elves wring
their little hands, and Rudolph's
nose blinks like a sad ambulance

light, and in a tract house
in Houston, Texas, I'm 8,
telling my mom that stupid

kids at school say Santa's a big
fake, and she sits with me
on our purple-flowered couch,

and takes my hand, tears
in her throat, the terrible
news rising in her eyes.

by Sharon Olds |

The Clasp

 She was four, he was one, it was raining, we had colds,
we had been in the apartment two weeks straight,
I grabbed her to keep her from shoving him over on his
face, again, and when I had her wrist
in my grasp I compressed it, fiercely, for a couple
of seconds, to make an impression on her,
to hurt her, our beloved firstborn, I even almost
savored the stinging sensation of the squeezing,
the expression, into her, of my anger,
"Never, never, again," the righteous
chant accompanying the clasp. It happened very
fast-grab, crush, crush,
crush, release-and at the first extra
force, she swung her head, as if checking
who this was, and looked at me,
and saw me-yes, this was her mom,
her mom was doing this. Her dark,
deeply open eyes took me
in, she knew me, in the shock of the moment
she learned me. This was her mother, one of the
two whom she most loved, the two
who loved her most, near the source of love 
was this.

by Denise Duhamel |

Snow Whites Acne

 At first she was sure it was just a bit of dried strawberry juice,
or a fleck of her mother's red nail polish that had flaked off
when she'd patted her daughter to sleep the night before.
But as she scrubbed, Snow felt a bump, something festering
under the surface, like a tapeworm curled up and living
in her left cheek.
 Doc the Dwarf was no dermatologist
and besides Snow doesn't get to meet him in this version
because the mint leaves the tall doctor puts over her face
only make matters worse. Snow and the Queen hope
against hope for chicken pox, measles, something
that would be gone quickly and not plague Snow's whole
 If only freckles were red, she cried, if only
concealer really worked. Soon came the pus, the yellow dots,
multiplying like pins in a pin cushion. Soon came
the greasy hair. The Queen gave her daughter a razor
for her legs and a stick of underarm deodorant.
doodled through her teenage years—"Snow + ?" in Magic
Markered hearts all over her notebooks. She was an average
student, a daydreamer who might have been a scholar
if she'd only applied herself. She liked sappy music
and romance novels. She liked pies and cake
instead of fruit.
 The Queen remained the fairest in the land.
It was hard on Snow, having such a glamorous mom.
She rebelled by wearing torn shawls and baggy gowns.
Her mother would sometimes say, "Snow darling,
why don't you pull back your hair? Show those pretty eyes?"
or "Come on, I'll take you shopping."
 Snow preferred
staying in her safe room, looking out of her window
at the deer leaping across the lawn. Or she'd practice
her dance moves with invisible princes. And the Queen,
busy being Queen, didn't like to push it.

by Richard Brautigan |

Part 4 of Trout Fishing in America



This is the autopsy of Trout Fishing in America as if Trout

Fishing in America had been Lord Byron and had died in

Missolonghi, Greece, and afterward never saw the shores

of Idaho again, never saw Carrie Creek, Worsewick Hot

Springs, Paradise Creek, Salt Creek and Duck Lake again.

The Autopsy of Trout Fishing in America:

 "The body was in excellent state and appeared as one that

had died suddenly of asphyxiation. The bony cranial vault

was opened and the bones of the cranium were found very

hard without any traces of the sutures like the bones of a

person 80 years, so much so that one would have said that

the cranium was formed by one solitary bone. . . . The

meninges were attached to the internal walls of the cranium

so firmly that while sawing the bone around the interior to

detach the bone from the dura the strength of two robust men

was not sufficient. . . . The cerebrum with cerebellum

weighed about six medical pounds. The kidneys were very

large but healthy and the urinary bladder was relatively

small. "

 On May 2, 1824, the body of Trout Fishing in America

left Missolonghi by ship destined to arrive in England on the

evening of June 29, 1824.

 Trout Fishing in America's body was preserved in a cask

holding one hundred-eighty gallons of spirits: 0, a long way

from Idaho, a long way from Stanley Basin, Little Redfish

Lake, the Big Lost River and from Lake Josephus and the

Big Wood River.


 Last night a blue thing, the smoke itself, from our campfire

drifted down the valley, entering into the sound of the bell-

 mare until the blue thing and the bell could not be separated,

no matter how hard you tried. There was no crowbar big

enough to do the job.

 Yesterday afternoon we drove down the road from Wells

Summit, then we ran into the sheep. They also were being

moved on the road.

 A shepherd walked in front of the car, a leafy branch in

his hand, sweeping the sheep aside. He looked like a young,

Skinny Adolf Hitler, but friendly.

 I guess there were a thousand sheep on the road. It was

hot and dusty and noisy and took what seemed like a long

time .

 At the end of the sheep was a covered wagon being pulled

by two horses. There was a third horse, the bellmare, tied

on the back of the wagon. The white canvas rippled in the

wind and the wagon had no driver. The seat was empty.

 Finally the Adolf Hitler, but friendly, shepherd got the

last of them out of the way. He smiled and we waved and said

thank you.

 We were looking for a good place to camp. We drove down

the road, following the Little Smoky about five miles and

didn't see a place that we liked, so we decided to turn around

and go back to a place we had seen just a ways up Carrie Creek.

 "I hope those God-damn Sheep aren't on the road, " I said.

 We drove back to where we had seen them on the road

and, of course they were gone, but as we drove on up the

road, we just kept fellowing sheep shit. It was ahead of us

for the next mile.

I kept looking down on the meadow by the Little Smokey,

hoping to see the sheep down there, but there wasn't a sheep

in sight. only the shit in front of us on the road.

 As if it were a game invented by the spincter muscle, we

knew what the score was. shaking our heads side to side,


Then we went around a bend and the sheep burst like a

roman candle all over the road and again a thousand sheep

and the shepherd in front of us, wondering what the fuck. The

same thing was in our minds.

 There was some beer in the back seat. It wasn't exactly

cold, but it wasn't warm either. I tell you I was really embarrassed.

I took a bottle of beer and got out of the car.

 I walked up to the shepherd who looked like Adolf Hitler,

but friendly.

 "I'm sorry, " I said.

 "It's the sheep, " he said. (0 sweet and distant blossoms

of Munich and Berlin!) "Sometimes they are a trouble but it

all works out."

 "Would you like a bottle of beer?" I said. "I'm sorry to

put you through this again. "

 "Thank you, " he said, shrugging his shoulders. He took

the beer over and put it on the empty seat of the wagon.

That's how it looked. After a long time, we were free of the

sheep. They were like a net dragged finally away from the


 We drove up to the place on Carrie Creek and pitched the tent and took our goods out of the car and piled them in the tent.

 Then we drove up the creek a ways, above the place where

there were beaver darns and the trout stared back at us like

fallen leaves.

 We filled the back of the car with wood for the fire and I

caught a mess of those leaves for dinner. They were small

and dark and cold. The autumn was good to us.

 When we got back to our camp, I saw the shepherd's wagon

down the road a ways and on the meadow I heard the bellmare

and the very distant sound of the sheep.

 It was the final circle with the Adolf Hitler, but friendly,

shepherd as the diameter. He was camping down there for

the night. So in the dusk, the blue smoke from our campfire

went down and got in there with the bellmare.

The sheep lulled themselves into senseless sleep, one following

another like the banners of a lost army. I have here a very

important message that just arrived a few moments ago.

It says "Stalingrad. "



Long live our friend the revolver !

Long live our friend the machine-gun!

 --Israeli terrorist chant

One April morning in the sixth grade, we became, first by

accident and then by premeditation, trout fishing in America


 It came about this way: we were a strange bunch of kids.

 We were always being called in before the principal for

daring and mischievous deeds. The principal was a young

man and a genius in the way he handled us.

 One April morning we were standing around in the play

yard, acting as if it were a huge open-air poolhall with the

first-graders coming and going like poolballs. We were all

bored with the prospect of another day's school, studying


 One of us had a piece of white chalk and as a first-grader

went walking by, the one of us absentmindedly wrote "Trout

fishing in America" on the back of the first-grader.

 The first-grader strained around, trying to read what was

written on his back, but he couldn't see what it was, so he

shrugged his shoulders and went off to play on the swings.

 We watched the first-grader walk away with "Trout fishing

in America" written on his back. It looked good and

seemed quite natural and pleasing to the eye that a first-

grader should have "Trout fishing in America" written in

chalk on his back.

 The next time I saw a first-grader, I borrowed my friend's

piece of chalk and said, "First-grader, you're wanted over


 The first-grader came over to me and I said, "Turn


 The first-grader turned around and I wrote "Trout fishing

in America" on his back. It looked even better on the second

first-grader. We couldn't help but admire it. "Trout fishing

in America." It certianly did add something to the first-

graders. It compleated them and gave them a kind of class

 "It reallt looks good, doesn't it?"


 "There are a lot more first-graders over there by the monkey-


 "Yeah. "

 "Lets get some more chalk."


 We all got hold of chalk and later in the day, by the end of

lunch period, almost all of the first-graders had "Trout fishing

in America" written on their backs, girls included.

 Complaints began arriving at the principal's office from

the first-grade teachers. One of the complaints was in the

form of a little girl.

 "Miss Robins sent me, " she said to the principal. "She

told me to have you look at this."

 "Look at what?" the principal said, staring at the empty


 "At my back, " she said.

 The little girl turned around and the principal read aloud,

"Trout fishing in America."

"Who did this?" the principal said.

That gang of sixth-graders," she said. "The bad ones.

They've done it to all us first-graders. We all look like this.

"Trout fishing in America.' What does it mean? I just got

this sweater new from my grandma. "

 "Huh.'Trout fishing in America, " the principal said."Tell

Miss Robins I'11 be down to see her in a little while," and

excused the girl and a short time later we terrorists were

summoned up from the lower world.

 We reluctantly stamped into the principal's office, fidgeting

and pawing our feet and looking out the windows and yawning

and one of us suddenly got an insane blink going and putting

our hands into our pockets and looking away and then back

again and looking up at the light fixture on the ceiling, how

much it looked like a boiled potato, and down again and at the

picture of the principal's mother on the wall. She had been a

star in the silent pictures and was tied to a railroad track.

 "Does 'Trout fishing in America' seem at all familiar to

you boys?" the principal said. "I wonder if perhaps you've

seen it written down anywhere today in your travels? 'Trout

fishing in America.' Think hard about it for a minute."

 We all thought hard about it.

 There was a silence in the room, a silence that we all

knew intimately, having been at the principal's office quite a

few times in the past.

 "Let me see if I can help you," the principal said. "Perhaps

you saw 'Trout fishing in America' written in chalk on

the backs of the first-graders. I wonder how it got there."

We couldn't help but smile nervously.

 "I just came back from Miss Robin's first-grade class,"

the principal said. "I asked all those who had 'Trout fishing

in America' written on their backs to hold up their hands,and

all the children in the class held up their hands, except one

and he had spent his whole lunch period hiding in the lavatory.

What do you boys make of it . . . ? This 'Trout fishing in

America' business?"

 We didn't say anything.

 The one of us still had his mad blink going. I am certain

that it was his guilty blink that always gave us away. We

should have gotten rid of him at the beginning of the sixth


 "You're all guilty, aren't you?" he said. "Is there one of

you who isn't guilty? If there is, speak up. Now. "

 We were all silent except for blink, blink, blink, blink, blink.

Suddenly I could hear his God-damn eye blinking. It was very much

like the sound of an insect laying the 1, 000, 000th egg of our


 "The whole bunch of you did it. Why? . . . Why 'Trout

fishing in America' on the backs of the first-graders?"

 And then the principal went into his famous E=MC2 sixth-

grade gimmick, the thing he always used in dealing with us.

 "Now wouldn't it look funny, " he said. "If I asked all your

teachers to come in here, and then I told the teachers all to

turn around, and then I took a piece of chalk and wrote 'Trout

fishing in America' on their backs?"

 We all giggled nervously and blushed faintly.

 "Would you like to see your teachers walking around all

day with 'Trout fishing in America' written on their backs,

trying to teach you about Cuba? That would look silly, wouldn't

 it? You wouldn't like to see that would you? That wouldn't do

at all, would it?"

 "No," we said like a Greek chorus some of us saying it

with our voices and some of us by nodding our heads, and

then there was the blink, blink, blink.

 "That's what I thought, " he said. "The first-graders look

up to you and admire you like the teachers look up to me and

admire me, It just won't do to write 'Trout fishing in America'

on their backs. Are we agreed, gentlemen?"

 We were agreed.

 I tell you it worked every God-damn time.

 Of course it had to work.

 "All right, " he said. "I'll consider trout fishing in Ameri-

ca to have come to an end. Agreed?"

 "Agreed. "

 "Agreed ?"

 "Agreed. "

"Blink, blink. "

 But it wasn't completely over, for it took a while to get

trout fishing in America off the clothes of the first-graders.

A fair percentage of trout fishing in America was gone the

next day. The mothers did this by simply putting clean

clothes on their children, but there were a lot of kids whose

mothers just tried to wipe it off and then sent them back to

school the next day with the same clothes on, but you could

still see "Trout fishing in America" faintly outlined on their

backs. But after a few more days trout fishing in America

disappeared altogether as it was destined to from its very

beginning, and a kind of autumn fell over the first grade.



Dear Trout Fishing in America,

 last week walking along lower market on the way to work

saw the pictures of the FBI's TEN MOST WANTED MEN in

the window of a store. the dodger under one of the pictures

was folded under at both sides and you couldn't read all of it.

the picture showed a nice, clean-cut-looking guy with freckles

and curly (red?) hair



 Aliases: Richard Lawrence Marquette, Richard

 Lourence Marquette


26, born Dec. 12, 1934, Portland, Oregon

170 to 180 pounds


light brown, cut short


Complexion: ruddy Race:

 white Nationality: American


 auto body w

 recapper, s

 survey rod

arks: 6" hernia scar; tattoo "Mom" in wreath on

ight forearm

ull upper denture, may also have lower denture.

 Reportedly frequents

 s, and is an avid trout fisherman.

(this is how the dodger looked cut off on both sides and you

couldn't make out any more, even what he was wanted for.)

 Your old buddy, Pard

Dear Pard,

 Your letter explains why I saw two FBI agents watching a

trout stream last week. They watched a path that came down

through the trees and then circled a large black stump and

led to a deep pool. Trout were rising in the pool. The FBI

agents watched the path, the trees, the black stump, the pool

and the trout as if they were all holes punched in a card that

had just come out of a computer. The afternoon sun kept

changing everything as it moved across the sky, and the FBI

agents kept changing with the sun. It appears to be part of

their training.

Your friend,

 Trout Fishing in America

by Frank Bidart |

Herbert White

 "When I hit her on the head, it was good,

and then I did it to her a couple of times,--
but it was funny,--afterwards,
it was as if somebody else did it ...

Everything flat, without sharpness, richness or line.

Still, I liked to drive past the woods where she lay,
tell the old lady and the kids I had to take a piss,
hop out and do it to her ...

The whole buggy of them waiting for me
 made me feel good;
but still, just like I knew all along,
 she didn't move.

When the body got too discomposed,
I'd just jack off, letting it fall on her ...

--It sounds crazy, but I tell you
sometimes it was beautiful--; I don't know how
to say it, but for a miute, everything was possible--;
and then,
 well, like I said, she didn't move: and I saw,
under me, a little girl was just lying there in the mud:

and I knew I couldn't have done that,--
somebody else had to have done that,--
standing above her there,
 in those ordinary, shitty leaves ...

--One time, I went to see Dad in a motel where he was
staying with a woman; but she was gone;
you could smell the wine in the air; and he started,
real embarrassing, to cry ...
 He was still a little drunk,
and asked me to forgive him for
all he hasn't done--; but, What the shit?
Who would have wanted to stay with Mom? with bastards
not even his own kids?

 I got in the truck, and started to drive
and saw a little girl--
who I picked up, hit on the head, and
screwed, and screwed, and screwed, and screwed, then

 in the garden of the motel ...

--You see, ever since I was a kid I wanted
to feel things make sense: I remember

looking out the window of my room back home,--
and being almost suffocated by the asphalt;
and grass; and trees; and glass;
just there, just there, doing nothing!
not saying anything! filling me up--
but also being a wall; dead, and stopping me;
--how I wanted to see beneath it, cut

beneath it, and make it
somehow, come alive ...

 The salt of the earth;
Mom once said, 'Man's spunk is the salt of the earth ...'

--That night, at that Twenty-nine Palms Motel
I had passed a million times on the road, everything

fit together; was alright;
it seemed like
 everything had to be there, like I had spent years
trying, and at last finally finished drawing this
 huge circle ...

--But then, suddenly I knew
somebody else did it, some bastard
had hurt a little girl--; the motel
 I could see again, it had been
itself all the time, a lousy
pile of bricks, plaster, that didn't seem to
have to be there,--but was, just by chance ...

--Once, on the farm, when I was a kid,
I was screwing a goat; and the rope around his neck
when he tried to get away
pulled tight;--and just when I came,
he died ...
 I came back the next day; jacked off over his body;
but it didn't do any good ...

Mom once said:
'Man's spunk is the salt of the earth, and grows kids.'

I tried so hard to come; more pain than anything else;
but didn't do any good ...

--About six months ago, I heard Dad remarried,
so I drove over to Connecticut to see him and see
if he was happy.
 She was twenty-five years younger than him:
she had lots of little kids, and I don't know why,
I felt shaky ...

 I stopped in front of the address; and
snuck up to the window to look in ...
 --There he was, a kid
six months old on his lap, laughing
and bouncing the kid, happy in his old age
to play the papa after years of sleeping around,--
it twisted me up ...
 To think that what he wouldn't give me,
 he wanted to give them ...

 I could have killed the bastard ...

--Naturally, I just got right back in the car,
and believe me, was determined, determined,
to head straight for home ...

 but the more I drove,
I kept thinking about getting a girl,
and the more I thought I shouldn't do it,
the more I had to--

 I saw her coming out of the movies,
saw she was alone, and
kept circling the blocks as she walked along them,
saying, 'You're going to leave her alone.'
'You're going to leave her alone.'

 --The woods were scary!
As the seasons changed, and you saw more and more
of the skull show through, the nights became clearer,
and the buds,--erect, like nipples ...

--But then, one night,
nothing worked ...
 Nothing in the sky
would blur like I wanted it to;
and I couldn't, couldn't,
get it to seem to me
that somebody else did it ...

I tried, and tried, but there was just me there,
and her, and the sharp trees
saying, "That's you standing there.
 You're ...
 just you.'

 I hope I fry.

--Hell came when I saw
 and couldn't stand
what I see ..."

by Judith Viorst | by Judith Viorst. You can read it on' st_url='' st_title='Some Things Don't Make Any Sense at All'>

Some Things Don't Make Any Sense at All

My mom says I'm her sugarplum.
My mom says I'm her lamb.
My mom says I'm completely perfect
Just the way I am.
My mom says I'm a super-special wonderful terrific little guy.
My mom just had another baby.

by Judith Viorst |

Fifteen, Maybe Sixteen Things to Worry About

My pants could maybe fall down when I dive off the diving board.
My nose could maybe keep growing and never quit.
Miss Brearly could ask me to spell words like stomach and special.
(Stumick and speshul?)
I could play tag all day and always be "it."
Jay Spievack, who's fourteen feet tall, could want to fight me.
My mom and my dad--like Ted's--could want a divorce.
Miss Brearly could ask me a question about Afghanistan.
(Who's Afghanistan?)
Somebody maybe could make me ride a horse.
My mother could maybe decide that I needed more liver.
My dad could decide that I needed less TV.
Miss Brearly could say that I have to write script and stop printing.
(I'm better at printing.)
Chris could decide to stop being friends with me.

The world could maybe come to an end on next Tuesday.
The ceiling could maybe come crashing on my head.
I maybe could run out of things for me to worry about.
And then I'd have to do my homework instead.

by Rudyard Kipling |

The Native-Born

 We've drunk to the Queen -- God bless her! --
 We've drunk to our mothers' land;
We've drunk to our English brother,
 (But he does not understand);
We've drunk to the wide creation,
 And the Cross swings low for the mom,
Last toast, and of Obligation,
 A health to the Native-born!

They change their skies above them,
 But not their hearts that roam!
We learned from our wistful mothers
 To call old England "home";
We read of the English skylark,
 Of the spring in the English lanes,
But we screamed with the painted lories
 As we rode on the dusty plains!

They passed with their old-world legends --
 Their tales of wrong and dearth --
Our fathers held by purchase,
 But we by the right of birth;
Our heart's where they rocked our cradle,
 Our love where we spent our toil,
And our faith and our hope and our honour
 We pledge to our native soil!

I charge you charge your glasses --
 I charge you drink with me
To the men of the Four New Nations,
 And the Islands of the Sea --
To the last least lump of coral
 That none may stand outside,
And our own good pride shall teach us
 To praise our comrade's pride,

To the hush of the breathless morning
 On the thin, tin, crackling roofs,
To the haze of the burned back-ranges
 And the dust of the shoeless hoofs --
To the risk of a death by drowning,
 To the risk of a death by drouth --
To the men ef a million acres,
 To the Sons of the Golden South!

To the Sons of the Golden South (Stand up!),
 And the life we live and know,
Let a felow sing o' the little things he cares about,
If a fellow fights for the little things he cares about
 With the weight o a single blow!

To the smoke of a hundred coasters,
 To the sheep on a thousand hills,
To the sun that never blisters,
 To the rain that never chills --
To the land of the waiting springtime,
 To our five-meal, meat-fed men,
To the tall, deep-bosomed women,
 And the children nine and ten!

And the children nine and ten (Stand up!),
 And the life we live and know,
Let a fellow sing o' the little things he cares about,
If a fellow fights for the little things he cares about
 With the weight of a two-fold blow!

To the far-flung, fenceless prairie
 Where the quick cloud-shadows trail,
To our neighbours' barn in the offing
 And the line of the new-cut rail;
To the plough in her league-long furrow
 With the grey Lake' gulls behind --
To the weight of a half-year's winter
 And the warm wet western wind!

To the home of the floods and thunder,
 To her pale dry healing blue --
To the lift of the great Cape combers,
 And the smell of the baked Karroo.
To the growl of the sluicing stamp-head --
 To the reef and the water-gold,
To the last and the largest Empire,
 To the map that is half unrolled!

To our dear dark foster-mothers,
 To the heathen songs they sung --
To the heathen speech we babbled
 Ere we came to the white man's tongue.
To the cool of our deep verandah --
 To the blaze of our jewelled main,
To the night, to the palms in the moonlight,
 And the fire-fly in the cane!

To the hearth of Our People's People --
 To her well-ploughed windy sea,
To the hush of our dread high-altar
 Where The Abbey makes us We.
To the grist of the slow-ground ages,
 To the gain that is yours and mine --
To the Bank of the Open Credit,
 To the Power-house of the Line!

We've drunk to the Queen -- God bless her!
 We've drunk to our mothers'land;
We've drunk to our English brother
 (And we hope he'll understand).
We've drunk as much as we're able,
 And the Cross swings low for the morn;
Last toast-and your foot on the table! --
 A health to the Native-born!

A health to the Nativeborn (Stand up!),
 We're six white men arow,
All bound to sing o' the Little things we care about,
All bound to fight for the Little things we care about
 With the weight of a six-fold blow!
By the might of our Cable-tow (Take hands!),
 From the Orkneys to the Horn
All round the world (and a Little loop to pull it by),
All round the world (and a Little strap to buckle it).
 A health to the Native-born!