Monday, February 14, 2005


The river is dark now, a tarnished, pitted sickle-blade, iron-gray edging into black. The gulls are already gone, and only the crows are left, gathering by decades -- rushing bands, tumbling and taunting, quarreling like a Greek family. I am overdue to be home. The cold is climbing up from the river. But I linger.

I want to call somebody to account, at times like this. I want to say, "You sent me on a fool's errand!" But I can't imagine who's to blame. When I was a young man I was sent as a secret messenger with sealed letters to someone whose name I never quite caught. And after thirty years of not finding him, I sit down on this rivershore and open the letters. All blank.

What other errand should a fool be sent on? What other errand can a fool be sent on?

But I have been so timid. My courage has failed at every important turn. You'd think I would at least have asked someone to repeat the name, or explain the importance of the letters. But no; it was more important to give a flourishing salute and dash urgently away. And now I am here in my middle age, hoping that desperation may somehow stand in for courage.

I tear the letters into little pieces; yellowed scraps that fly in the wind.

The clouds are opening in the east, opening to dark blue starfields. I shiver in my thin jacket. I search my pockets. A river-pebble from long ago, oiled to a gloss by constant idle handling. A child's valentine. A little heart-shaped chocolate.

I eat the chocolate slowly. The crows rise in a great squawking swirl and make off over the bluff. The wind has fallen.

I have forgotten all my prayers. Not the simplest refuge prayer will come into my mind. The headlights of cars on the otherwise-invisible bridge make a string of bright beads across the river, far away to the south.

If I have no prayers, I will just have to make one. "Lord," I begin.

It's clearly the wrong word, and maybe the wrong God, but this is no time for quibbling.

"Lord," I say, "help me."

The darkness alters a little, but I don't know what that means. Except that nothing bides.

"Lord, help me to find a prayer," I say.

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