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  • Tell Me
  • Robert Cording (bio)


Bent over my new grandson’s crib,I find myself again at thirty-four bent overmy newborn, now thirty, and I recall how,called out of sleep, I’d rouse myself, listen,then make my way in the dark to wheremy new son lay. During those first unreal daysI needed to see in order to believemy week-old child was breathing. Each nightI’d track his breath coming and going,his tiny chest pulsing beneath my gentling hand.The night sky wheeled above the house like the dreamI imagined wheeling in my child’s dreaming head.Lying there, eyes closed, then half-open,he looked at me as if he were waiting to be recognized;or, still in the innocence of his birth, he hadsomething to tell me, though no way of sayingwhat it was he had already forgotten,or still knew, but in a way that was entirelywithout thought or words. I touched his shouldersand face, counted and held his curled fingersand weighed his legs in the palm of my hand.

That first week, the moon, its light diffused by fog,moved weightlessly across the fields. Inside,shadows chose the still clinging leaves of an oak,or a chair or dresser, and moved them without intentionor meaning across the floor and wallsof that rented house three thousand miles from home.So many nights I’d sit there, fearful of everything to comethat I couldn’t know; I listened, I watched,trying to stay awake. Failing to. When my son’s cries [End Page 572] announced him somewhere in my sightless sleep,the stars were slipping away, and the colorless skyseemed to be breathing itself into being,and I woke, again and again as I needed to,into the knowledge that my son was here, truly here.


Well, we’re older now. Nothing newthere. We did and yet didn’t knowfrom that very first I do how we’d followthe years toward who will bury who?

So tell me again, when our lives are done,that we’ll be together. It’s okayif you lie to me. That’s a price I’ll payfor our marriage to continue after we’re gone.

Say it, please. Say how it will always bewhen we meet again. After everythingwe made together is torn apart, nothingleft of us but this paper wish. Tell me.

Middle Tint

I’m standing in my front yardtrying hard to see like a painter,my raised hands framing the imaginedcanvas: Barn, Field, Afternoon Sun, and Larches.

I’ve been thinking about Ruskin again.More than half my life ago, I readstraight through Modern Painters.When it came to landscapes, Ruskin said [End Page 573]

the truly skilled painter devoted himselfto the middle tint, those humble gradationsof browns, greys, and greensthat provide a kind of ground

for nature’s isolated extremesof shade and sheen. So I’m studyingthat mild palette—the barn’smuted browns, and the heat-dulled

yellowy-green field that findsits complements in a green-gold standof larches and the five shadesof gray in the nearby stone walls.

But where the late afternoon suncatches fire in the mid-branchesof one larch, I’m taken with thoseflamboyant chiaroscuro touches

Ruskin warned against, and I wantto look beyond those duller colorstowards that deeply shaded,but sun-shocked spot of revelation.

I suspect Ruskin feared how the ego cavorts,turning everything it sees into its ownneedy masquerade—not the world as it is,but the enthrallments of the eye’s

idealizations—and so tried to makea sacrament of the middle tintto hold in check his darkest compulsions.Middle tint: like the church year’s faithful

stretch of Ordinary Time,or Ruskin’s days of exacting observations,the long tedium of attending tothe precise colors of a kingfisher’s [End Page 574]

secondaries, or the truth of waterthe kingfisher hovers above,a surface that can be seenor seen through...


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pp. 572-576
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