by Conrad Aiken
The door is shut. She leaves the curtained office,
And down the grey-walled stairs comes trembling slowly
Towards the dazzling street.
Her withered hand clings tightly to the railing.
The long stairs rise and fall beneath her feet.
Here in the brilliant sun we jostle, waiting
To tear her secret out . . . We laugh, we hurry,
We go our way, revolving, sinister, slow.
She blinks in the sun, and then steps faintly downward.
We whirl her away, we shout, we spin, we flow.
Where have you been, old lady? We know your secret!—
Voices jangle about her, jeers, and laughter. . . .
She trembles, tries to hurry, averts her eyes.
Tell us the truth, old lady! where have you been?
She turns and turns, her brain grows dark with cries.
Look at the old fool tremble! She's been paying,—
Paying good money, too,—to talk to spirits. . . .
She thinks she's heard a message from one dead!
What did he tell you? Is he well and happy?
Don't lie to us—we all know what he said.
He said the one he murdered once still loves him;
He said the wheels in wheels of time are broken;
And dust and storm forgotten; and all forgiven. . . .
But what you asked he wouldn't tell you, though,—
Ha ha! there's one thing you will never know!
That's what you get for meddling so with heaven!
Where have you been, old lady? Where are you going?
We know, we know! She's been to gab with spirits.
Look at the old fool! getting ready to cry!
What have you got in an envelope, old lady?
A lock of hair? An eyelash from his eye?
How do you know the medium didn't fool you?
Perhaps he had no spirit—perhaps he killed it.
Here she comes! the old fool's lost her son.
What did he have—blue eyes and golden hair?
We know your secret! what's done is done.
Look out, you'll fall—and fall, if you're not careful,
Right into an open grave. . . .but what's the hurry?
You don't think you will find him when you're dead?
Cry! Cry! Look at her mouth all twisted,—
Look at her eyes all red!
We know you—know your name and all about you,
All you remember and think, and all you scheme for.
We tear your secret out, we leave you, go
Laughingly down the street. . . .Die, if you want to!
Die, then, if you're in such a hurry to know!—
. . . .She falls. We lift her head. The wasted body
Weighs nothing in our hands. Does no one know her?
Was no one with her when she fell? . . .
We eddy about her, move away in silence.
We hear slow tollings of a bell.
Last updated May 02, 2015