The bob-white calling from a spacious tree
Before he slept;
The lawns, the soft green moss, the cedar quills;
And raked and swept,
The drive pale blue with granite chips.
No other vision quite fulfils
The safety of that scene,
Which lapped about those summer trips.
In black and white
Aunt Leita kept
Her gently sovereign state,
Her arm on mine, along the faded wood piazza,
As once along the decks of ancient ships
There in the past to Europe;
Or sat indoors, the sheen
Of pearls and diamonds bright
Under the silk-enveloped reading light;
And all the while mosquitoes sang
While Mother sewed or talked.
Sometimes I wandered to the kitchen, played
At being priest
In paper vestments Margaret made
And preached to Florence and Annette.
Sometimes I went around and rang
The bell, all dressed
In rugs and shawls:
‘A missionary calls!’
And I was gravely given alms.
This was the world where no debt
Was, no letters with alarms;
Where money never mattered.
Aunt Leita gave and gave,
Made sure her wealth was scattered
On those who had no wealth to save;
Made generous by her tact,
Her Christlike charity.
I saw no fault from day to day.
She seems a saint to me.
Most mornings we would drive to town
So slowly that the breeze
No more than ruffled Fee-Fee’s ears:
Aunt Leita’s tawny Pekinese
Sat up beside the chauffeur,
Who softly, softly changed the gears
Before we parked in State Street.
At Geaghor Crawford’s, Peterson’s and Star’s,
The other shops I can’t remember,
The smiles were out like flags
Above the unimportant small price-tags,
And I was given crackers
By merchants who would smilingly concur
With what I said.
And thus I grew up thinking all men were
Kind and pleasant - as so many are
If you have money.
Sometimes I would be driven back
Just by myself to go in bathing,
And sat in front with Charles,
Or later with Anselmo,
Who then made good that held back speed
And raced the Cadillac
Down Pequot Avenue.
For them it was a kind of need
To prove the car could go.
The beach before the hurricane
Was smooth and soft and shelving.
From time to time I had to blow
The water-wings up once again
To keep afloat.
The raft was too far out
But in between the ropes I drifted,
Happy to be
Upon the sea,
Or went collecting mussel shells
From pools among the rocks,
Or in the shallows sailed
The Then What? round and round -
The boat I had been given by
Someone amused because he failed
To answer all my questions.
At one o'clock
The car would come
And take me home.
Along the bowered streets we drove
To Ocean Avenue and Glenwood Road;
And then the wheels would crunch above
That blue and shining gravel,
While through an open window soared
The music of ‘Ramona’
Played on Aunt Mary’s small victrola.
At lunch the pale pink cantaloup,
Each on a single leaf,
Would match the salmon-coloured gladioli.
And I would eat too many nuts, then glance
At Margaret as she poured
The giner ale and grape juice out -
A make-believe delicious wine
In that strange prohibition state
The Puritans had brought about,
which seemed much nicer than the stuff
I had with Mother on the train de luxe in France.
The meal went on and on
And at the end I had to wait
Above a Sèvres or Dresden plate
While others talked and talked.
But finally grace was said,
And I went off to bed,
Once I had had my lump of sugar dipped
Some afternoons we drove to Lyme
To see the chocolates made,
Or went to Narragansett, watched
The surf roll thundering in.
Some afternoons I stayed
Around the house,
While in the drawing-room the games
Of bridge were played.
‘Why, Mother, don’t you ever win
The prize?’ I’d ask.
‘Because it's never done.
The guests must always win. Now run
Away and play. Be good
And don't get into trouble.’
At times, it’s true, the fog would come
In from the sea,
And everything be grey;
And the fog-horn mourn
Far off, forlorn.
But the sun would shine next day.
I fed the goat, admired the cows,
And wandered through the roses.
I heard the bob-white call,
Returned at sunset to the house,
Kissed Mother and Aunt Leita,
And found a book to read -
A small boy, safe, at peace.
I came back later as a youth,
Tall, and proud, and seventeen.
Very shy, and much in need,
And stayed with Mrs Carr.
The admiral’s widow.
One of whose rooms was full of chairs
Bought from the Kaiser’s yacht.
Beyond the creaking stairs
I trod so lightly late at night
I had my poet’s attic,
And kept for swank.
But out of sight,
The quart of gin
I’m pretty sure I rarely drank.
For I was almost never in.
Gosh. it was hot
Up in that room!
I spent my time elsewhere
The poet was
Someone who did not write.
The boys and girls I knew
Those summers there,
And all the fun
They gave to one
Who came to them
Almost unknown -
The friendliness which means
So much when you are young
And on your own.
The drives at night
To Ocean Beach;
Then wandering among
The shooting galleries and
The orange-drink and pop-corn stands,
Or going on
With an ice-cream cone;
The birthday parties; and the grown
Up dinners which we gave in turn.
The movies and the moon;
And talking on the sand for hours.
How innocent that time of trust
With boys and girls whose lives were just
About to open on the war.
And there was one
I met, as she was coming from the sea,
And to whose house I went that night
In thunder and in lightning.
I still can see the brilliant green
Flash that flung me on the grass
Before her door.
Then I ran, dripping, in.
what welcome to compare
With the welcome I had there?
The charm and manners of the South
Surrounded me - alas,
Too quick to take such kindness as my due.
She taught me ping-pong, billiards, chess,
With chocolates all the way.
Night after night I went, and each time knew
The next night I would be expected too.
Before I left I always had
A glass of sarsaparilla and a piece of cake,
Then walked along the empty streets
Back to my attic.
We laughed and talked and, half in play,
Decided we would make
America a monarchy,
And got a jeweller to design
Two pins of gold
With crossed swords and a crown.
And somewhere still I must have mine.
How it would please me now to write
A perfect line.
About her looks, her gaiety, her charm.
The kindness, which so many years away,
Is still as vivid as a lightning flash.
I’ve not been back since then.
Never return where you were happy.
No doubt the hurricane
Blew over more than just the boats.
No doubt the boys and girls I knew have gone.
This was the town where I was born,
Came back to as a child, and then
When I was almost grown.
In memory I have been
Often along those streets,
Often have seen Aunt Leita’s house
The gravel is as blue, as bright.
Calls beyond the green
Unchanging summer scene.
I wander in a childhood light.
That world of safety, peace;
Mother, Aunt Leita, gone.
My father, who had sailed his submarine
So close to where I swam -
My father, gone.
And now I am
Almost as old as he.