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The Winter's Tale

It's about jealousy without cause,
   a king who thinks his queen deceives him;
or some truth that hides inside
   a seeming, how it glisters
through rust, how dreams are toys, authority
   a stubborn bear. It's about a man
rebelling against himself, lost in silent
   judgment after condemning innocents.
Then when the dead return to life,
   it's a comedy: everyone marries and remarries,
natural order restored, and the salve of
   second chances curing injury of tongue.
Art mocks us, so we applaud
   such unity in the proofs.

But watching you playing the Sicilian prince,
   still just a boy
who exits in the second act, dies off-stage,
   and won't come back to life (because it's not
written that way) ... Yes, poignant enough, and
   with the Besian school massacre
(344 dead in Chechnya, teachers and children)
   transparent backdrop to this university production,
inescapable even though we close our eyes
   in the dark sometimes to wait it out, to breathe,
the convergences so fast we can barely swim
   before the swell peaks and breaks over us
preparing for another wave, another scene,
   something else we want to know, or have to, or wish we didn't,
as Washington anticipates the next strategic move
   of the Expos franchise from Montreal
and Attorney General Ashcroft prepares his resignation.
   These are days in full flight, it's true,
with early winter flowers a toxic cloying
   we can't rinse away or swallow,
while the unfledged boy on stage
   nests under every wind that blows.

Proud parents? Naturally. You were our exercise,
   our mirth, our matter, you made
July's day short as December, and even some of
   Shakespeare's speech our own.
                                                  What was the source, then,
of my uneasiness, the finger pressing my nape ...
                                                                         How well you played
the son of another, and how happy in your play, taunting royalty
   and poking them like pears grown soft.
"I am like you, they say," you say, but not
   to me, already here, colorless
in the dark, without existence, the contract of our viewing.
   "You'll kiss me hard and speak to me, as if
I were a baby still." And we would, we will,
   except we belong to another world,
driven by like-circumstance, arrivals
   unforeseen, bonds undone that we could never explicate—
still, we have a role, the reason that the play takes place: because
   we want to see it. But like lines not written, or those written over,
you can't imagine us, we're shadows of a motion
   no longer going on, not part of events
folding over you, escorted in Act II to the margin where you disappear,
   leaving us to live through the play without you, somewhere
behind the scene, the other side ...

   And after your bows, then final bows, returned to the lit up world
and relieved by our release, we shake hands with director, cast, and
   especially your father, your king,
himself mostly boy for another year or two,
   scruffy, willow-lanky, his smile from
the sun, his laugh equal shade. The paternal eclipse
   he'd made as easy for him
as it was unknown, drew far past the drama, and I stared
   straight into it, to know it better
or go blind. I knew him like you know the second chime
   a bell makes—he had that power
even in silence, of possession, readiness, command,
   and I understood what he gave me to understand.

I was being charmed, though, in another way as well,
   branching in directions I couldn't see before
even as new buds popped out, drawing from present ground
   my own sapling days of insects, mold, and every kind of weather—
a synthesis of mind and world, the fusion
   of confusion with a constant light I wasn't looking for.

And I felt again something I'd missed, the ringing
   force of a boy I knew back then, when boys were what we were,
and how I wished to know him
   more than I ever could, than I could even know myself,
as some of what he meant
   flashed through me, his forehead's
candor, the blond hair on his arm as he whipped
   the ball to me, that was meant for me,
as you were mine once, too, to catch,
   not keep, not carry past the line. And how
you caper in your newfound poise
   leaping between nine years
and twenty, as if you could
   by will shake a tree to part its scales
and flower.
                  Even now, for now,
I resign the role, you have broken from my liking,
   and I see you join the actors in their gallery, exclusive,
irresistible, who recognize and welcome you despite your younger youth
   to the romance of the elder young
drawn to themselves in their rush to knowledge,
   their flushed embodiment
of what they'll remember of what they'll forget.

Joshua Weiner

Southwest Review

Volume 96, Number 3

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