The park was delicate. The wooden benches,
by Peter Jay Shippy
woad-washed. A soapstone
birdbath was shaped
like an overturned bowler, like a flake
from Magritte. The kid's quarter
a slide, a sandbox and a seesaw—but
kept immaculate. A weeping willow
amused a pebbled koi pond,
filled with finned tigers.
A star flitter sang like a sob sister.
Apparently there was a lost turtle, too.
Several signs, adorned with hand-
drawn shells were taped to lampposts
asking visitors to be on watch
for Burt. I sat under
a sugar maple, reading the memoirs
of a long-dead Viennese painter—
a member of the Blue Rider group?
A tortoise? Maybe Burt
was a tortoise. Was he terrapin?
Is their difference? Viva?
Bert? Maybe the painter
would be a Futurist, a man
trying to express the dynamic nature
of his age, looking
in unpublished calendars. Maybe.
I have trouble starting books.
The park was a brief walk from my place,
yet this was my first visit. No surprise.
I'm an excellent insect.
seven months ago but couldn't begin
to direct a stranger from A to C.
Each day, weather permitting,
I exited my apartment and walked north,
to the famous park. Famous? Popular,
let's say. Eminent? Certainly large,
though in retro, lacking certain charms.
The popular park featured a large pond.
Was it a lake? There were sleek sailboats
and doughy rowboats. There were swans,
geese and ducks. Men in rubber
There was a bandstand and a food court.
Well-visited? The well-visited park
was noisy. But the day in question
I couldn't walk north
because of road construction.
I thought I could go east
and then, after a bit try north once more
and tack back west
to the well-visited park. But the street
I took was an unmarked dead-end.
My back was sore—
not a surprise or
a concern. I'm surprised I mention it.
A cul-de-sac: a road with no exit
at one end or a situation in which
further progress is impossible or
a body cavity, open one spot
only. An avenue? I turned south.
That worried me. I'll be honest, after
a few steps south I considered turning
back toward home. Why not?
My building featured
a garden courtyard with an iron bench.
In the daylight it was mostly empty.
I could stare at cats staring
down at me.
It was suggested that walking
could be a highlight of convalescing.
So I walked. I do as told.
I lick my silken cuffs.
I kiss my jailers cuffs!
But might it be restorative, now
and again, to just sit at home? Staring?
I could ogle and gawk. I could
catch-up on my eyeballing.
I could grow to love
having no use for everything?
Sorry. That was uncalled for.
That was above the belt.
Where was I? I
continued south until I found a vein
that ran east. Obviously, I took it.
I can continue my original plan,
I thought. I'll walk east
then north and then west
to the fashionable park
with the hectic lake. To the rational park
with the static lake?
The east-flowing seam was Antigonê Lane—
an absurd name
for a dogwooded way
marked by fauvist-colored faux Queen Annes.
Little did I know
that Antigonê Lane
led directly to the charming park, which
was, really, closer to my home than
the fashionable park. What a find.
Serendipity? Fate? Happy accident?
Little do we know. I sat. I read.
I reached the part of the book
where the painter
must explain to his bourgeois family
that he wishes to dedicate
his life to art
and not to the middling occupations—
law, finance, or the military. I marked
the page with a leaf.
Even the trash receptacles
were attractive—redwood frames
contained dent-free metal cans
lined with clear plastic bags.
I was comfortable.
My sod-colored sweater was just right?
Yes. I went on the lookout for Burt.
They might support his choice
with one proviso—study architecture, too.
That's like an art! They might
disown the oil painter, the lout,
the freeloader. They might,
with grave resignation, agree
to support the collagist financially,
if not emotionally. They might cry
and congratulate him for doing
what they had wished to do
when they were his age but
were forced by circumstance
to apply their lives to middling pursuits.
They might wash their hands
of their boy. I conjured
his mature art—patriarchal, strident,
pompous, fiery, imperial, heroic.
What life abets that palette? I had to know
so I rose and walked across the park.
Just as I thought, the garbage bins
were empty. Fiery not firey? Odd.
When I turned back I saw someone sitting
on my bench. Was that an older woman?
A matron, as they say? Well, they sat
on the bench that I occupied. Not
my bench. My name was not
branded into the pinto ash, no.
I don't see your name
here, sir? Is your name carved in it, sir?
No, the benches were unmarred. I think
I first saw his art in a small gallery
in Paris. Orono? As I stared, stricken,
a man said, in American, "Fortuna,
the goddess, inasmuch as this occurs
by chance." Did I look naive? Carrot raw?
I was going to turn and smile
"Do I look that American?"
But the man's companion said,
"Horace dedicates one of his
least doleful odes to Fortune."
She spoke French. German?
I guess they thought that would keep me
on the outs. Really, it wasn't my park.
I should go home, I thought.
Americans don't hanker to traveling
companions. The brown pullover
was enough, but starting to be just so.
For the first time, the leaves rustled.
I looked back to see the woman
waving, at me? Going gulp?
I hesitated to respond. Have I noted
that this occurred in the last century?
I should have. This was the last century,
before the trouble but after the bothers.
Now you see why I dither and dithered.
could have happen in a dynamic park,
in our century—the test tube years.
No one here has time to wave. Once, there,
I sat on a metal bench at the edge
of a thick lagoon when the water
began to bubble. At first I guessed
fish, maybe a lung carp. Next I wondered
if the lake was man-made?
It might be. Why not? Maybe
the bubbles were the result
of maintenance routines. Let the good water
in and the bad water out? Minutes later
came a boy holding a plastic joystick.
"Did you see a submarine?" he asked.
"What flag was she flying?" I joked. "Sorry,
mister," he said, and jogged on.
"I'm a cavalry man!" I yelled
at his back. As I closed
I saw that it was just the woman's clothes
that were matronly.
She was young.
I had that feeling one
sometimes gets where one thinks
they have time-traveled. Slid-back?
You know the feeling?
It happens under demolition and blindfolding
She was attractive. She was. There was
much make-up involving her face, not
my cup-of-chai, but she
carried it off.
"Sorry," she said, "but I just had to ask."
My sweater was just right. She might
support my decision, with one proviso.
She might disown a lout, a freeloader
—me. She might, with grave
resignation, consent to slide me
piles of cash but never one kiss.
Slide me miles of lash but never one kiss.
She might sigh and coagulate me
for doing what she wished
to have done to her when she was my age
but was forced by circumstance
and Aunt Cucumber to apply
her life to sidling pursuits. She might
wash her hair. There was that wet bowler.
Was he a surrealist? When would Breton
boot him from the group? What life
leads to palettes?
I had to know. I walked across the park.
"Any luck with your turtle?"
"May I join you?"
"Of course," she said.
There was a newspaper
on her lap. It was our tabloid, the voice
of the street. Page one featured
a man and a woman, naked
from the waist down.
The headline read: TALKS DOOMED TO FAIL.
She saw where I looked.
"This isn't my standard read—
but it was here." That was a boldface lie.
Of course a third person
future tenser could have left the newspaper
on our bench
while my back
was turned, while I was at the immaculate
trash bin. It's possible?
It is the past?
"The things they'll print to sell papers," I said.
"Tell me about it," she said. "Everyone
knows the talks are site-specific—
don't beat let's about the cactus.
Failure and doom
are defined by local experience, not
an editorial board."
Did I hear right?
She was one of those!
but exciting. She was.
"You're right, of course," I said.
I nodded. I did not lick my lips.
"The picture unmistakably puts across
what a woman's genitals look like—
few men have any opinion of where
it is they come from.
It's good to remind us all,"
she said. Let's lie down
on the moon-bright hill!
I almost sang.
She saw where I looked.
"I bet," she said, "that you were never a crow."
I made my face say, what.
She didn't answer, I knew, uh-oh,
I must have made, however did you know!
"I don't understand," I said.
"Blue jay, cardinal, crow—right?
Reading groups at school.
I bet you were always a jay, like me."
I nodded. "Yes, guess I was."
"Which was silly because
anyone who knows anything about
birds knows that crows are the most
marvelous birds, far more brainy than bratty blue jay
and humpty-the-cardinal. Stan-the man!
You can even teach them to speak."
I nodded and shook.
"Can you?" I said, although I knew
she was right.
What was wrong with me? Despite
her skirt I could see
that her knees were touching
although her feet were apart.
"It's hard to believe
we were ever those birds." Yes.
This was a long conversation,
At least one with someone who wasn't
paid to attend. To distend.
"Here's something amusing—
at first I thought that Burt was a veteran."
"Well," she said," you have to admit
that your turtle shell might, to a someone
with poor eyesight and a rich imagination
resemble a helmet. I thought poor Burt
was a soldier suffering shellshock
who had wandered away from his people.
Do they still call it shellshock?"
"I think you can."
"Do they still use shells?"
and sailors and candle-stick makers."
"I believe they do."
"How will it turn out?"
"I guess he'll either be found or found out."
"No, not Burt—you, this book," she said.
Her glove touched the cover. "Is he the one
that dies penniless and unknown
or the one who pisses away his talent
with loose wine and fine women?"
I almost said, Fortuna,
the goddess, inasmuch as this occurs,
by chance. But didn't. Her finger withdrew.
My wools were becoming
"Did your child draw the shell? His turtle?"
"Yes," I lied. And then (why?),
"Since his mother died
my son has become attached to turtles.
Maybe he's old enough for a puppy?"
"I should go."
"It's late. Thanks for not
turning me in to the sheriff!"
"To your hood's security… the regulars!
In my defense, your honor, I didn't
notice the signs until I was sitting.
And then I saw the helmet—the turtle.
Mercy on my soul. Good-luck."
She rose, erasing her lap. Her white gloves
were stained with newsprint.
I watched her quit my place.
Around her jacket collar were white-stitched
stars and Saturns. She paused near the gate,
at a drinking fountain in a way that may
have included me so I returned
to my book.
"Hello!" Again she waved
me over. It was safe to call it dusk.
"Voila! Look," she said, pointing under
a barberry bush. There was a turtle.
"Your eyes aren't so bad, are they?"
She batted her lashes. I fogged like glass.
"Well, now that I've done my good deed
perhaps you'll allow me keep my head?"
"I'll have to confer with the chief jester."
"Of course," she said, bowing.
I crouched down
and picked up the turtle. Why?
Its feet swam through the air.
It took two hands to hold him.
"God—that face. What a mug.
He resembles a pictograph, like he's fallen off
a cave wall. There's something
of a nightmare about him? I guess
boys must have their beasts.
"Bye again. And thanks—thanks,
my son will be so happy."
She waved, not stopping
or turning. I noticed the sign on the park fence:
PRIVATE PARK—KEEP OUT—
FOR RESIDENTS OF THE CIRCLE, ONLY.
I walked down Haimon Lane. I'll turn west
and tack north, I thought. North?
Is down, east? The sodium lamps fizzed
to light. I took off
my sweater and wrapped it around
the turtle. I dumped my book—
it was hard to cradle
against my body while holding Burt
with two hands. There was one moon.
Was this Burt?
What would I say if were stopped
before we reached the lake?
The talks are doomed—why beat
The construction on my street
would be finished. I could
return the way I did when I was found.