for a long long time
because my children now are grown,
I buy a book of them for the child of friends
and later get caught up in it alone
waiting nervously beside the phone
for word of an adult.

Once there was a cat
who made acquaintance of a rat.
There was a peasant once
who drove his oxen with a heavy load of wood.
An ugly fisherman lived with an ugly wife
in an ugly shack beside the heaving sea.
A man was rich, another man was poor.
A father called his children in before him.
Once there was a little girl
whose mother and father had died.
Once there was a witch.

Time passes. It is late.
Outdoors the wind is howling, and it rains.
My beard turns gray and
grows between my legs, grows
across the carpet, down the basement stairs.
The house creaks. The globe
spins off its axis, smashes on the floor.

The telephone is ringing off the hook.
My daughter is all right.

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This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 9 Number 6, on page 47
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