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The Promise

Charlie Smith

I.

Out walking in Maine . . .

we came on a bird chick in the road, a lost bird.

It was softly brown with a double yellow band on each wing, tiny

bird with a head that looked too small and an eager expression,

I thought of it as eager, rapt black glistening eyes. Nothing to do,

we agreed, and set the bird beside the road under a fir tree.

All around the big spruces, blueberries, the woodsy paraphernalia, ferns,

poison ivy, white birches. Beyond the trees the sound of the spill way.

It was still hot. We hadnít done anything but sit around

the camp which was all right. The toilet backed up

but they fixed that. We couldnít see the bird after we set him down.

In my former life it was the kind of business

I got upset about, poor bird, poor helpless world, etc.

I felt the loss, but it was small, I could go on.

We walked out to the highway, crossed and went into the woods

on the other side, but not far. We were afraid to go far.

The woods looked like someoneís intricately disputed personal

concern, some godís maybe, but not ours. The path was muddy and

I started thinking again and something about the way you looked at me

began to get on my nerves. The river carried on in a muted way

and it was still hot. I realized I was free to move on from this

but I didnít know yet how I wanted things to work out.

II.

Off to the side . . .

on the way back we saw a house swallowed up by growth.

The door hung open, the roof had cracked. Some other urgent life,

some mistake, some simple drifting away had taken precedence,

some thought or apparition or complicated set of circumstances,

that grew increasingly indecipherable and unavoidable,

some broken promise or hopeless memory banging the insides of the skull,

some obvious dereliction unrepaired, or fruitless search ending there,

someone some spring morning among the trefoil and silk weed

and crisp resiny smell of the woods, someone not making it,

or simply walking off. In all the tramped-through,

over-fished, cut-up, multiple-growth, out-timbered,

variously misused woods and environs there was this square of ground

given up on. And I started to picture little squares of emptiness

out in the woods, of space someone had quit on, running

or skipping or dragging his indispositions heavily behind him,

damning everything or neglectful, who even may have left in hopefulness,

as so many attempt to do, despite everything, positive this time

there was solace or opportunity elsewhere. I pictured this ex-pioneer

standing in the doorway a last time looking straight ahead into the woods,

memorizing everything, or wishing it all gone and forever forgotten,

behind him the complicated or simple, designed or haphazard stronghold

he wouldnít return to again, already edged by decay,

and I knew this time I would leave you and not come back.