His Days



His Days appeared in the July 16, 1997 issue of the New Yorker.

When one of his black moods bedevilled him,
When the wince of some remembered pain—
Some wrong done to him, some cruelty of his own—
Hurt him like a surge melting down
Bad wiring, what choice was left to him
But to flinch and swallow and bear it like a man?
The cottage's slates and silences became
His kingdom, its weathers his own. He would coax
To a blaze coal and turfs each morning, and chunks
Of beech he split with his own axe.
The farmer's son or Sunday hikers would see him
Hunched at his kitchen table, away in his books.

Then obscurely one morning he'd lock his cottage door.
With a word to no one he'd be gone,                                                        

To look at an old church somewhere, or the ruin
Of a tower down a dirt track, or a stone
Incised with markings no one could decipher,
Its language crumbling by degrees in the rain.
He could navigate the old script. And he knew why an arch
Was rounded or Gothic. Why the mermaid
Held a mirror. Which sins the monks allowed
Themselves, and which they disavowed.
He knew the griefs of the high kings, belonged to the church
Of bitterness, had bet on the cards of pride.

But when on some grimy market town's main street
He heard a child, eyes widening in wonder,
Call out "Daddy!," reaching for his father,
It cut him like the crack of leather.
Then, it seemed, the pain was complete.
The water was wide, and he could not swim over.


© 2008 Richard Tillinghast, All Rights Reserved