Because she could not stop for Ed,
he took her firmly by the arm,
seated her by him in his car,
drove to an abandoned farm,
and kept her there, locked up, a week,
talking to her about his life.
Outside the long fields looked away.
He split fruit with a pocketknife.
Time turned into a substance she
could feel along her tied-up wrists
and watch like a darkening handkerchief
between his clenched and unclenched fists.
She learned to sleep while keeping watch
and how the saviors we devise,
just as they raise their hands to knock,
vanish before open eyes.
And then he drove her home again.
Tearless, fatigued, they said goodbye.
And she walked back through her front door,
a mystery to her family.
It was a shady, block-long street,
The site of the old zoo
That we had moved our little daughters to.
We said they'd hear the ghostly feet
Of elephants outside and monkeys sneezing
And the dead lions roaring.
They knew it was just Mother's teasing
And Daddy's snoring.
But Debbie scared the pair of girls
When she came out to play
And had not had her medicine that day,
Shrieking as she did kicks and twirls.
She scared us, too, leaving her clumsy gifts--
A telephone, a doll--
In the mail box, each marked with an X
In ballpoint scrawl.
Her house was dark as a blood blister,
With sagging, shrubby gutters.
We watched the deaf old woman and her daughters,
Debbie and her big, dull sister.
The older girl worked somewhere and came home late,
Stood in the dark and knocked.
We heard her drumbeat build like hate
When the door was locked.
And Debbie, too, would, late at night
(Brought back from God knew where
By strangers in their cars) pound at her door
Till someone there threw on a light.
Or she would stretch out on the shadowy stoop,
And when the day began
Watch us watching her asleep,
And strip and grin.
Say that it was your family
Living beside this freak.
Hers was the kind of madness that could make
You mad. Watching her secretly,
As rain clung to the curves inside her dress
And she stood outside screaming,
You might find, studying her distress,
That you were dreaming.
You might find, studying the faces
Of children as they grow
That they return the gaze of what they know,
Learned like the knotting of shoe laces.
And what they learn is not a mad girl's antics,
But how their parents fear,
As if each day required new tactics
In an obscure war.
The Christmas she smashed ornaments
To a snowy dust of glitter
And strewed our driveway with the sparkling litter,
We told her mother make arrangements
Or else. Our children saw them come for her
And called for us to watch
As large, slow men encircled her
And made their catch.
It was a tree-dimmed, one-block street,
Ground of the former zoo
That closed when the Depression prowled through,
Now with brick ranches, small and neat,
And our two daughters, totally unlike
Debbie and her sister.
They learned to read, to ride a bike,
And never missed her.
That's why we want her back again,
Because with her will come,
Wide-eyed and wondering, horror-struck and dumb,
Those children. They have both gone
Into the sanity we sent them to
By making them grow up,
Like Debbie who, removed from view,
Was made to stop.
Mark Jarman is Professor of English at Vanderbilt University. His
Questions For Ecclesiastes won the 1998 Lenore Marshall Prize.
His new book, Unholy Sonnets, is due out in the spring of 2000.