The Untelling

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He leaned forward over the paperand for a long time saw nothing.Then, slowly, the lake openedlike a white eyeand he was a childplaying with his cousins,and there was a lawnand a row of treesthat went to the water.It was a warm afternoon in Augustand there was a partyabout to begin.He leaned forward over the paperand he wrote:

I waited with my cousins across the lake,watching the grown-ups walking on the far sidealong the bank shaded by elms. It was hot.The sky was clear. My cousins and I stoodfor hours among the heavy branches, watchingout parents, and it seemed as if nothing would entertheir lives to make them change, not even the manrunning over the lawn, waving a sheetof paper and shouting. They moved beyond the claimsof weather, beyond whatever news there was,and did not see the dark begin to deepenin the trees and bushes, and rise in the foldsof their own dresses and in the stiff whiteof their own shirts. Waves of laughter carriedover the water where we, the children, were watching.It was a scene that was not ours. We weretoo far away, and soon we would leave.

He leaned back.How could he knowthe scene was not his?The summer was with him,the voices had returned, and he saw the faces.The day had started before the party;it had rained in the morningand suddenly cleared in time.The hems of the dresses were wet.The men's shoes glistened.There was a cloud shaped like a handwhich kept lowering.There was no way to knowwhy there were times that afternoonthe lawn seemed empty, or why even thenthe voices of the grown-ups lingered there.He took what he had writtenand put it aside.He sat down and began again:

We all went down to the lake, over the lawn,walking, not saying a word. All the wayfrom the house, along the shade cast by the elms.And the sun bore down, lifting the dampness, allowingthe lake to shine like a clear plate surroundedby mist. We sat and stared at the water and thenlay down on the grass and slept. The air turned colder.The wind shook the trees. We lay so long we imagineda hand brushing the fallen leaves from our faces.But it was not autumn, and some of us, the youngest,got up and went to the other side of the lakeand stared at the men and women asleep; the men

© Mark Strand