Rain filled the streetsonce a year, rising almostto door and window sills,battering walls and roofsuntil it cleaned away the messwe'd made. My father toldme this, he told me it randowntown and spilled intothe river, which in turnemptied finally into the sea.He said this only oncewhile I sat on the armof his chair and stared outat the banks of gray snowmelting as the March rainstreaked past. All the restof that day passed oninto childhood, into nothing,or perhaps some portion hungon in a tiny corner of thought.Perhaps a clot of cindersthat peppered the front yardclung to a spar of old weedor the concrete lip of the curband worked its way back underthe new growth spring broughtand is a part of that yardstill. Perhaps light fallingon distant houses becomesthose houses, hunching themdown at dusk like sheepbrowsing on a far hillside,or at daybreak gildsthe roofs until they groanunder the new weight, orafter rain lifts haloesof steam from the rinsed,white aluminum siding,and those houses and allthey contain live that dayin the sight of heaven.IIIn the blue, winking lightof the International Instituteof Social RevolutionI fell asleep one afternoonover a book of memoirsof a Spanish priest who'dserved his own private faithin a long forgotten war.An Anarchist and a Catholic,his remembrances movedinexplicably from Castilianto Catalan, a language Icouldn't follow. That dust,fine and gray, peculiarto libraries, slippedbetween the glossy pagesand my sight, a slow darknesscalmed me, and I forgotthe agony of those menI'd come to love, forgotthe battles lost and won,forgot the final trekover hopeless mountain roads,defeat, surrender, the vowsto live on. I slept untilthe lights came on and off.A girl was prodding my arm,for the place was closing.A slender Indonesian girlin sweater and American jeans,her black hair fallingalmost to my eyes, she toldme in perfect Englishthat I could come back,and she swept up into a folderthe yellowing newspaper storiesand photos spilled out beforeme on the desk, the littlechronicles of death themselvescurling and blurringinto death, and took awaythe book still unfinishedof a man more confusedeven than I, and switched offthe light, and left me alone.IIIIn June of 1975 I wakenedone late afternoon in Amsterdamin a dim corner of a library.I had fallen asleep over a bookand was roused by a young girlwhose hand lay on my hand.I turned my head up and staredinto her brown eyes, deepand gleaming. She was crying.For a second I was confusedand started to speak, to offersome comfort or aid, but Ikept still, for she was cryingfor me, for the knowledgethat I had wakened to a lifein which loss was final.I closed my eyes a moment.When I opened them she'd gone,the place was dark. I wentout into the golden sunlight;the cobbled streets gleamedas after rain, the street cafescrowded and alive. Notfar off the great bellof the Westerkirk tolledin the early evening. I thoughtof my oldest son, who yearsbefore had sailed from hereinto an unknown life in Sweden,a life which failed, of howhe'd gone alone to Copenhagen,Bremen, where he'd loaded trains,Hamburg, Munich, and finally-- sick and weary -- he'd returnedto us. He slept in a cornerof the living room for days,and woke gaunt and quiet,still only seventeen, his facein its own shadows. I thoughtof my father on the runfrom an older war, and wonderedhad he passed through Amsterdam,had he stood, as I did now,gazing up at the pale sky,distant and opaque, for the signthat never comes. Had he driftedin the same winds of doubtand change to another continent,another life, a family, someyears of peace, an early death.I walked on by myself for milesand still the light hung onas though the day wouldnever end. The gray canalsdarkened slowly, the skyabove the high, narrow housesdeepened into blue, and oneby one the stars begantheir singular voyages.
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