MY FATHER IN THE NIGHT COMMANDING NO
~ by Louis Simpson
My father in the night commanding No
Has work to do. Smoke issues from his lips,
He reads in silence.
The frogs are croaking and the streetlamps glow.
And then my mother winds the gramophone
— The Bride of Lammermoor begins to shriek —
Or reads a story
About a prince, a castle, and a dragon.
The moon is glittering above the hill.
I stand before the gateposts of the King
— So runs the story —
Of Thule, at midnight when the mice are still.
And I have been in Thule! It has come true —
The journey, and the danger of the world,
All that there is
To bear and to enjoy, endure and do.
Landscapes, seascapes … where have I been led?
The names of cities — Paris, Venice, Rome —
Held out their arms.
A feathered god, seductive, went ahead.
Here is my house. Under a red rose tree
A child is swinging, another gravely plays.
They are not surprised
That I am here, they were expecting me.
And yet my father sits and reads in silence,
My mother sheds a tear, the moon is still,
And the dark wind
Is murmuring that nothing ever happens.
Beyond his jurisdiction as I move
Do I not prove him wrong? And yet, it’s true
They will not change
There, on the stage of terror and of love.
The actors in that playhouse always sit
In fixed positions — father, mother, child
With painted eyes.
How sad it is to be a little puppet!
Their heads are wooden. And you once pretended
To understand them! Shake them as you will,
They cannot speak.
Do what you will, the comedy is ended.
Father, why did you work? Why did you weep,
Mother? Was the story so important?
Said to the children, and they fell asleep.
Louis Simpson’s father was a hard-working attorney who often spent evenings catching up on his reading of briefs. His mother’s role in the family, I think, was to encourage the development of the young man’s artistic imagination. Please also see Louis Simpson’s ” The Green Shepherd.”