By Carl Dennis
Featured Art: Shore Line by Howard Giles
Having lingered, on my first trip to Europe, longer
In Paris than I expected, I had to forgo
Walking in Wales. But that didn’t keep me
From becoming deeply indebted to Wales
When I phoned the hotel in Cardiff
To cancel my reservation and save my deposit.
“There’s a letter for you,” the desk clerk said,
In a rich contralto. “Would you like us to send it on?”
“Better read it to me, if you have time,
Since I keep moving.” And that’s how it happened
I heard, as I sat in a booth at the Gard du Nord,
Awaiting the train to Brussels, my mother’s sentences,
Penned in Missouri, delivered with Welsh intonations.
That’s how her usual mix of family news,
Tips about healthy eating, and encouragement
To visit any noteworthy local garden,
Took on an undercurrent of mystery.
That’s why they seemed imbued with the suggestion
My travels were more than a summer’s entertainment,
Were in fact a quest for something just as meaningful
As whatever a knight went searching for
When he rode out from a castle in Wales.
Some truth more practical than a grail
And more surprising would soon be mine
Once I learned to listen to people whose words
I regarded before as predictable and forgettable.
And I had questions about the desk clerk,
Who’d read the letter as if she’d composed it herself,
Inspired by a sincere concern for my well being.
What did it mean, her convincing performance?
If it wasn’t part of her job at the hotel,
Was it part of some other calling
Defined in a legend I didn’t know yet
But would want to learn if the chance were offered?
Carl Dennis is the author of many books of poems, including Selected Poems, 1974-2004, and, most recently, Night School. A winner of the Ruth Lilly Prize and The Pulitzer Prize, he lives in Buffalo, New York.
Originally published in NOR 15