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                -- t. e. lawrence

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Clarisse's Book

Clarisse left a book on a table one day,
And off with her friends she went outside to play;
But when she returned, it had stolen away.

She looked everywhere, but it couldn’t be found:
Toys and playthings had run her aground.
She left the small room without making a sound.

In another small room there were two little boys
Playing and fighting with all of their toys.
The book on the table did not make a noise.

“That’s my GI Joe!” the bigger boy said
And smashed a toy plane on the younger one’s head;
And out of the wound the blood flowed so red.

The little one cried, and Clarisse and her mother
Ran into the room and grabbed little brother,
Then, turning around, they looked for the other –

But he had grown older and gone off to school
And worked as a lifeguard at the town pool
And generally forgot that he could be cruel.

Then he returned home on school holiday.
On the main table Clarisse’s book lay;
But they didn’t see it:  they looked far away.

Little brother had to go fight in the war;
Older brother would run the family store;
Clarisse went downtown to work with the poor.

While she was there, she grew fond of a man,
And slowly and gently they shaped their life’s plan.
The book lay open, a delicate fan

On a pew in the church, where family went
To witness the marriage sacrament:
Clarisse and her husband, on life’s journey sent.

Back in the town, the business grew:
The older one managed it, steady and true.
From the front, nothing.  Anxiety grew.

Clarisse was expecting her firstborn child;
Into the room the officers filed.
The crisp telegram, its news so vile:

He was so terribly young to die,
As are they ever; his soul would fly
Beyond tin-planed worlds, beyond living cry.

The book opened wide, its pages dark,
Brooding and bloodied, the characters marked;
The funeral parlor, the coffin so stark.

And now it was time to deliver a girl
New-formed and pink to the general whirl.
Through her tears, then, Clarisse saw the world

Bending and breaking, hopeful and deep,
Her brother reflected in her baby’s sleep.
The book turned a page and guarded the keep.

The business changed.  The children were growing.
Clarisse could feel now a delicate slowing:
In the space with the book, a cool wind blowing.

A man and a woman came into the room;
Behind them both, society’s loom
Created a sharpened and ecstatic doom.

“We cannot do this; it isn’t right!”
The woman protested, and tried to take flight.
The man held her down, his strength so slight.

Against the advance of the darkening years
They coupled and buried their desperate fears
Of husband and wife, and theres, and heres

And, rending themselves, they thought themselves whole.
Away from the conspiring room they stole;
Behind them, the book lengthened its scroll.

The years passed; the older brother retired,
Successful but stroke-ridden:  now forced to hire
Hands and feet to do his desire.

The children returned, with kids of their own,
Surprised to see how wizened she’d grown;
They failed to discover the things she had known:

Her husband had left her, some years ago:
That young woman would keep him from getting slow –
Or so she’d supposed.  But now there was no

Real reason to muse:  remaining days
Sharpened themselves against gathering haze,
and grandchildren’s stares defined elderly ways.

The book lay flat at the foot of the bed
While ancient, cold hands weakly clasped the spread,
And into the room the small girl was led.

She stared with that wisdom, unblinking and small,
At the gaunt, greyed face, the advancing pall.
Slowly, the eyes turned away from the wall.

“Who’s there?” the voice quavered.  “Clarisse,” she replied.
The old woman recognized her, then, and sighed,
“Hello, then, my namesake, stand here by my side,

“My favorite one, I have something to give;
A small thing it is, but you’ll need it to live,
To fulfill your promise, until you too give

“This smallest of gifts to the one whom you choose.
This is a book for you to peruse
And from its pages, some lessons to use.

“Though I didn’t know it, I wrote this book:
Inside its pages, my living it took
To show to any who cared to look.

“It’s yours, now, you see:  You must take it and go
And read it and save it; and no one will know –
Kings will be vanquished, and empires laid low –

That this book is yours, alone.  Take it today,
For I am flying on, far, far, away,
And how we will join ourselves none can say.”

The little girl lifted the book from the bed, then,
And closed it.

The book rested lightly in Clarisse’s hands,
A little girl’s life not yet full of the sands
Of futures and pasts, and faraway lands –

so –

Clarisse left the book on a table one day,
And off with her friends she went outside to play;But when she returned, it had stolen away.