He had married the town beauty,
But the glad hands were gone when she divorced him in 1917 and left upstate New York for good,
Their five year old son's small fingers wrapped in hers
As they stepped up on the stool the porter had set down
And boarded the train for Detroit.
In January, Schenectady cold gets into your bones.
He went to work, played a little cards, skipped church,
And his nights were frozen rivers, hard and unnavigable.
Maybe he saw the dark of the river in her eyes,
--The woman he met in 1925--
Or maybe he just liked her cheek bones, high and perfect;
Anyway, the day came when he asked her, in his upstate accent, what was on his mind.
She made a fine bride, with her black hair against the white lace of her borrowed wedding dress.
The ice holds a happy man, with a Christmas flask in his gloved hand;
But springtime brings thaw and madness--
Nobody walks on water, then.
She was as silent as the beauty had been lively.
She made his life a Summer of swaying grasses,
And when, by candle light, he kissed her swollen belly,
He felt himself fortunate beyond all measure.
She bore him twin girls--
Held them one in each arm, like moondogs, and she the moon.
Then came the rocking,
While the babies cried unattended.
He would find her, twisting her hair and staring at something no one else could see;
A motor ambulance took her east as the Autumn came,
And a wagon took the babies west.
Neither ever came back again.
A man undone by twos,
He found a new double to numb himself with--
As the bottle stood, diminishing, on the bar,
He emptied, too,
Like a spilled shot glass,
Or a full moon river spirit,
Cursed and luckless as the northern winds that bring Winter,
Leaving him pale, cold, and gone with the first warm day.
This is a true story, though I have taken the liberty of filling in some of the minor details. The five year old boy grew up. At 43, nine years after the last one, he became a father for the third and final time. That child...was me.
art by Alphonse Mucha