Epilogue, May 17, 2020
My wife and I stopped, half a block away.
We stared up wondering what it was we saw,
That form alighted on the church’s cross.
Two months ago, I idled in the yard,
The spring just threatening to persist in cold,
And leaned upon my spade’s smooth, wooden handle,
Dark masses stretched before me on the ground.
Forever, in a book, Achilles stands
Among the ships that plough the shores of Troy,
Howling in anger at fierce Agamemnon,
For claiming her who is his rightful prize.
Meanwhile, around them, plague descends like rain.
Not far away, a couple is descending
The shaded trail that follows Ridley Creek.
They stop before a massive fallen trunk,
Which vaults the water like an ancient bridge.
Its sides are caked with moss; its root bowl spreads
Its splinters in a ruined crown; its length
Is bleached and rotted at the top from sunlight.
They climb and take it to the other shore,
Where all gives way to trackless wilderness.
And here, where shadows run from noontime light,
Three robins hop and pick about the grass
To feed on insects burrowed in the soil.
Our public life has been so far debased
That all we’ve left are mobs of partisans
Who shout suspicions of conspiracies
Across the clashing waters that divide them.
For, only secret plotting could explain
The sickness, tyranny, or idiocy
That runs through everything and topples all.
In this, at least, the public’s like the private,
Indeed, is one with it. The neighbors grousing
At kids who ride too close upon their bikes,
With face masks dangling; every moment, now,
Lies tense with shadows like the leaves of grass
Through which the robins dart their yellow beaks.
That is why Thales of Miletus cried,
All things are full of gods. We cannot help
But feel their meddling whims just out of sight,
That all appearances are by design,
As when a stagehand, couched behind the backcloth,
In momentary carelessness, will fumble
And drop a saber waiting for Act Two.
It shatters our absorption in the scene;
Or, rather, make us conscious of its form—
The accidental item, turn of phrase,
Or motion pitched above us in the sky,
All suddenly revealed as well-made pieces
Within a world that’s cracked, yet full and deep,
And trying to tell us what to think of it.
It’s been my pleasure to record such things,
My occupation, too, and honest study;
My wish: to open wide the welded doors
Of minutes, and to draw the mortal hours,
With all their mishmashed oddities and flukes,
Together as some whole—provisional,
No doubt, but also, in its vexing way,
Enduring. This I offer as a gift,
For it was always yours as much as mine;
What tracings I have made here with my hand
Are yours to look within, their deeps to sound,
To figure how the whole thing fits together.
I only ask you keep in mind that plots
May be malevolent, but most are not
And show themselves as sturdy in the end
To those who bring attention and good will.
Be as I was, when I was still a boy,
And turned up early at my grandma’s lake house.
She’d taped a note in blue ink on the door,
That squarish, trembling cursive of her hand,
To let me know she’d gone out to the store,
But left the door unlocked. I was to enter
The shady porch and make myself at home,
To wait within the quiet and the stillness
And pass the time by eying all its clutter—
The Corky skis, the lures, rods, and nets—
Those things acquired in a life of summers,
And kept not for their owner but her guests.
-James Matthew Wilson