Robert Pinsky




IV. Epilogue: Endings

“Pregnant again with the old twins, Hope and Fear”
I’ll write you one more time. You’re older now,
By three years. And when the college students do
The Winters Tale, you’re charming as Mammilius,
The small bold Prince who starts what seems to be
A story about a ghost, and dies offstage
Before Act III is over—in time for bedtime,
Though you prefer to stay through each rehearsal,
As pleased as Puck, among the all-girl cast:
A kind of Court of Ladies, and you a page
Or favorite, a dwarf in jeans like theirs,
One of the group, all business, though inwardly
Half-drunk on glamour.
                                      “Looking on the lines
Of my boy’s face,” the girl who plays your father
Pronounces, in lines you say from memory
As I drive you to rehearsal, “I did recoil
Twenty-three years, and saw myself unbreeched,
In my green velvet coat; my dagger muzzled,
Lest it should bite its master, and so prove,
As ornaments oft do, to dangerous.”

Children are dangerous hostages to fortune—
Though they may seem, as to that fallible king,
Ornaments to our sentimental past,
They bind us to the future: Hope and Fear;
And though we may recoil, they make us strain
To see the wintry desert out beyond us.

On Opening Night, in hose and velvet tunic,
You say, “a sad tale’s best for winter”—and yet,
The ending is happy; though the Bear eats the man,
Though the pastoral is broken and the King alone
Upon the wind-scarred peak of his regret,
It all comes right: the statue comes to life,
And frozen Possibility moves and breathes,
Refreshed again, although the King is older.
Though happy endings rarely satisfy,
That one’s a model of successful failure,
Holding Truth up against the rules of Romance.

The repetitious Phoenix, on her nest’
Of burning contradictions, affronts belief
Like some impossible happy ending, as though
The country were just a dream—a pastoral
Delusion of the dirt and rocks and trees,
Or daydream of Leviathan himself,
A Romance of implausible rebirths.

The mountains intimate a different kind
Of ending: a cold and motionless remove.
High above the treelike the clear dry air
Even in the warmest August noon conveys
A hint of snow; a crystal needle tickles
The nostrils a little, even while the eyes
Water and squint against the gray rock flashing.
The brightness of the sky.
                                          In the Sierras,
Where Winter’s never far, the country is clear,
A stage of granite swept for meditation—
Irrelevant to the saunas, Volkswagens and woks
As British mountains are to tea and curry,
The exotic and assimilated clutter
Of treasure that expansion washed ashore.
Up there, a miner or drifter might expand
Upon his solitude and drift away
Over the ridges deep in muffling snow,
Feel free from all the clutter of hopes and fears,
And let his breath diffuse in the lucid cold.

Nothing can seem more final than the mountains,
Where Empires seem to grow and fade like moss—
But even mountains have come to need protection,
By special laws and organized committees,
From our ingenuities, optimism, needs.
The passion to make new beginnings can shatter
The highest solitude, or living rock…

One might end with disgust for such renewals:
The old bear lumbers from the hibernation
Of all his crimes and losses; the new sunlight,
Resurgent, falls in a halo on his grizzle,
And he feels young again—America,
The air that serves me with the breath to speak…
In the “Minnesota Belt” from Times Square west
For five blocks, children, boy and girl blonde hustlers
Imported from the Midwest, haunt all night—
Just as young children were sold in the Haymarket
Of William Morris’s London, or the bazaars
Of ancient, drowsy Empires. But “It avails not,
Time nor place, distance avails not”; the country shrugs,
It is a cruel young profile from a coin,
Innocent and immortal in the religion
Of its own founding, and whatever happens
In actual New York, it is not final,
But a mere episode…and on some stage
As bare and rarefied as the coldest mountain,
With an authority transcending power
Or even belief, New Hope is born again,
And though it demand an Aztec vivisection
Everything lost must be made whole again.

A sad tale’s best for winter, but the country
Sprawls over several zones of time and climate,
Never with any one season: the year itself
In no fixed place. Where nothing will stand still
Nothing can end—but recoils into the past,
Or is improvised into the dream or nightmare
Romance of new beginnings.
                                                On a lake
Beyond the fastness of a mountain pass
The Asian settlers built a dazzling city
Of terraced fountains and mosaic walls,
With rainbow-colored carp and garish birds
To adorn the public gardens. In the streets,
The artisans of feathers, bark or silk
Traded with trappers, with French and Spanish priests
And Scottish grocers. From the distant peaks,
The fabulous creatures of the past descended
To barter or to take wives: minotaur
And centaur clattered on the cobbled streets
With Norseman and Gipsy; from the ocean floor
The mermaid courtesans came to Baltimore,
New Orleans, Galveston, their gilded aquaria 
Tended by powdered Blacks. Nothing was lost—
Or rather, nothing seemed to begin or end
In ways they could remember. The Founders made
A Union mystic yet rational, and sudden,
As if suckled by the very wolf of Rome…
Indentured paupers and criminals grew rich
Trading tobacco; molasses; cotton; and slaves
With names like horses, or from Scott or Plutarch.
In the mills, there was every kind of name,
With even “Yankee” a kind of jankel or Dutchman.
The Yankees pulled stones from the earth, to farm,
And when the glacial boulders were piled high,
Skilled masons came from Parma and Piacenza
And settled on Division Street and Oak Street
And on the narrow side streets between them. In winter,
Mr Diehl hired Italian boys to help
Harvest the ice from Diehl’s pond onto sledges
And pack it into icehouses, where it kept
To be cut and delivered all summer long.
The Linden Apartments stand where Diehl’s Pond was;
But even when I was little, the iceman came
To houses the had iceboxes, and we could beg
Splinters to suck, or maybe even a ride,
Sitting on wet floorboards and steaming tarps
As far as Saint Andrew’s, or the V.F.W.
The Eagles, Elks, Moose, Masons each had a building:
I pictured them like illustrations from Alice.
As television came in, the lodges faded,
But people began to group together by hobbies,
Each hobby with its magazines and clubs;
My father still played baseball twice a week;
And even after you were born, the schools
And colleges were places set apart,
As of another time; and one time you
Performed in The Winter’s Tale.
                                                   And at the end,
As people applauded louder and louder, you
Stood with young girls who wore gray wigs and beards,
All smiling and holding hands—as if the Tale
Had not been sad at all, or was all a dream,
And winter was elsewhere, howling on the mountains
Unthinkably old and huge and far away—
At the far opposite edge of our whole country,
So large, and strangely broken, and unforeseen.