That summer my mother moved to Maine and my father stayed put in the old house in Savannah. Anna Freud had just died and the Brits had invaded the Falkland Islands; the world was losing romance and I was a kid, displaced and truant in time. Maine was a respite for my mother, was about as far North as she could go. She had always hated the South and wilted much of the time down there, the heat hovering about her like a jealous boyfriend. Later, when I grew up to be a poet, I wrote the line: "One grows old in the wrong climate." Surely, a reflection of those days.
She was a painter at the time–a stint in the arts she liked to say. But her bread and butter was cooking for a local, wealthy family. She didn't want any money from my father, so four days a week she cooked for the family and painted on the others. Without my father, my mother seemed like a young girl again, skipping around the property and I was always running after her, mother can I, mother can you?
One of the sons of the family, a college boy home for the summer from Princeton, hung around our house and she often painted him in her studio in the barn. He was a willowy sort of fellow, like an oak sapling with long tapered fingers and a bright open face. My mother would say he was "good stock". He's like a fine broth, she'd say, and with a good broth, you can always make a damn good soup.
We’d chat at breakfast, I’d eat ham and he, well, he'd smoke cigarettes and nibble on biscuits and sip from his solid mug of beer. I remember the thick, blue smoke hanging in the ceiling eaves. My mother would cook and he’d recite poetry, his voice heavy as damp wool.
"The years shall run like rabbits,
For in my arms I hold..." *
Years do run like rabbits, don't they? my mother interrupted, then sighed and looked out the window and from then on I always thought of time as rabbits running down a steep hill, panting and sure. And one day as I was meandering around I passed the barn where she painted and saw him in there naked–his long limbs loose and still. His face was turned up towards the rafters; the wide, white expanse of his throat was only visible and he held a whisk, straight out before him as if presenting it to the viewer. It was comical really, the whole thing–my mother whipping her brush about, pounding at the canvas. He laughed and the whisk fell to the dirt floor and there was his penis, lying against his thigh like a grub on a summer lawn, achingly still in the morning heat.
* excerpt from the poem, “As I Walked Out One Evening” by W.H. Auden
published 2 September 2011