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       A Verse Narrative by Michael E. Mautner


    The past is ever-present
    when it is just like the present was
    but we pay it homage anyway.

    Sarah's father, Josiah Clark,
    lived on a hill in north New York
    near where an old oak tree had stood
    for what seemed ages.  He took
    an axe to it, shaped it to
    his will by carving a table
    that he and his partner
    later carted to Kansas
    and gave as a present
    to their children, when they wed.
    Now it sits at the center
    of the Kent home, a constant presence
    in Clark's world.  He likes to feel
    its many textures.  Touching its top
    (so smooth), and its knotty legs, fills
    him with a sense of permanence,
    the knowledge that what flesh wants,
    wood knows.
    They grow impatient.
    "How does the prayer go, son?"
    "Huh, Pa? Sorry, I wasn't listening."
    Eben frets, but Sarah rises,
    wets her finger with her tongue
    and touches her son's brow.

    "No fever, thank goodness."  She sits,
    and pleads, "Say our grace now Clark,
    please."  In front of his face he
    slaps his paws together and
    repeats the mechanical lines.
    His elders smile and nod,
    approving a performance that gnaws
    to the marrow of Clark's every bone.
    As he chews his roasted hare (awful!),
    an alternate ritual calls,
    trying to draw him from this home.
    Once all the cake's been eaten
    and the songs have all been sung
    he wanders off in melancholy,
    as if some other bell had rung.
    His father momentarily ponders
    the boy's more distant moods; but, then
    the couple clear away the dishes and move
    to the parlor for an evening by the fire,
    where Sarah does her needlework and Eben,
    in the manner of old country squires,
    sits with a book by the hearth.

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