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  • In Mansfield HollowFor Francelia
  • John Cech (bio)

It is six in the morning and the phone isshaking our house awake with urgency.It always used to be you calling, Francelia,your voice as flat and true as a row of Ohio cornwith some ruminative Yankee drawland a wisp of Virginia—the Balls, no doubt,Washington's mother's people,from whom you thought you had descended.For almost a decade, the calls were brimmingwith the Peace Games, and then only last yearyour dawn began with pigeons, carrier pigeons(you knew the man who trained the birdsthat flew through the fiery smoke of D-Day)and how the children of Connecticut, andsoon the world, would be linked by flocks of birdsflashing across our skies,carrying words from other souls, far away,from other hearts who beat like yours againstloneliness and indifference and silence.I am groggy, half in an old dream, half in a new one,swept into your visionary calculus,and I know you are sitting high up on your bunkin the tiny ship's cabin where you sleep off the living room,your address books spread like tarot across the quilt,sending messages into the morning: exhortations,pleas, gossip, lamentations, crises, triumphs, plans,and somewhere around the corner of things,there is the aching heart, from an unloving motherand a broken father, of racism and fascism in Washingtonwhich you had opposed and lost and left [End Page 186] to find hatred in Germany, penury in Parisand, finally, those few years of bliss with Jerry,a danse jolie before the dust from Hitler's armiesrose in a cloud east of the city to choke that fragile happiness,and still you found a story to rescue from that heart-stopping chaos,wrapped in a rug with a crate of the Windsors' breakfast china,presented to you by a merchant on the Champs-Elysées,and the painting the gallery owner had let you chooseso the Nazis wouldn't get it—you had wanted the small Matisse,Jerry insisted on the Nobody—a fortune slipped throughyour fingers (one of many), and you dragged it allto the train, onto the boat, and back to the States,your ship's picture on the front page of every paperhere because the Germans had nearly sunk it.The Duke and Dutchess's cups and saucers sat in your cellarin Mansfield Hollow, where they aged like wine,like myth, our deepest rememberings,that are never depleted unless weforget to tell our sufferings and our joys,to tell how we got through.

The tears were not over when the ship docked for you.Soon the cancer caught up to Jerry,long years after he was gassed at Ypres,and the struggles after that to raise your daughter, Annie,to find some other way, a widow's way,in a world of guarded powers and clubby privilege.A new Ph.D., late in your forties,they gave you "kiddie lit" instead of Shakespeare,gave you the short end of the stick,which you took as a scepter and with itmade lemonade—delicious, satisfying, from scratch.What else was there to do but show them how it's done?You knew the recipes of delight and determination by heart.And soon there were accolades everywhere;adoring students, admiring apprentices sought you out.Falcons flew in your classroom;there was laughter, song, ropes spun,a Wampanoag princess chanted mysteries,the maker of Wild Things blessed your rumpus, [End Page 187] the master of Chelm offered wry wisdom.You talked, soul to soul, with the soul of George and Martha.Even the Wicked Witch of the Westfell under your spell, utterly,while some colleagues upstairsgrumbled about your popularity,cut at you, set more hurdles higher,farther than any of them could reach,and still you persisted, spinning straw to gold,sleeplessly, selflessly creating—a field of amazements and possibilities.

Tomorrow it will be the gardener calling at sevenabout the shrubs that need spraying.Not you, Francelia, to tell me aboutthe wonders that ask to be brought...


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pp. 186-189
Launched on MUSE
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