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Note: All poetry in this story was written by e. e. cummings and taken from the book E. E. CUMMINGS: COLLECTED POEMS, 1922-1938 copyright 1990. All unusual punctuation, capitalization, and such is his own doing.
Thy fingers make early flowers of
thy hair mostly the hours love:
a smoothness which
(though love be a day)
do not fear,we will go amaying
Corbin’s smooth voice seemed to roll over e. e. cummings’ words, entertaining us all with poetry as he lay on his back, his feet against the wide trunk of an oak tree. His long legs were clad in dark blue jeans, a green studded belt peeking out from beneath a Silverstein t-shirt.
thy whitest feet crisply are straying.
thy moist eyes are at kisses playing,
whose strangeness much
(though love be a day)
for which girl art thou flowers bringing?
Lily also lay on the grass, her head resting on Rich’s lap. Jillian was on her stomach, picking at a patch of dandelions. Jay and Sled sat cross-legged nearby. I was leaning against another tree, a slender maple, and was half-listening in amusement as Corbin read on.
To be thy lips is a sweet thing
Death,Thee i call rich beyond wishing
if this thou catch,
(though love be a day
and life be nothing,it shall not stop kissing).
Corbin shut his book and pushed off the tree with his feet, performing a backward somersault that landed just in front of me. He smiled and touched my nose with his finger.
“Good morning, lovely.”
“It’s three in the afternoon, Corb,” I corrected with a wry smile. “Don’t you have any sense of time?”
He shook his head and said with satisfaction, “Nope.”
I rolled my eyes. “What will I ever do with you?”
Corbin laughed, a lighthearted sound that never failed to make me smile.
“Look at this one,” he said, leaning over to show me a page in his book.
witches and tingling
little hoppy happy
toad in tweeds
little itchy mousies
eyes rustle and run and
whisk look out for the old woman
with the wart on her nose
what she’ll do to yer
for she knows the devil ooch
the devil ouch
ach the great
“That has got to be one of the weirdest poems I have ever read.”
Corbin laughed again. “I know! Isn’t cummings amazing?”
“Amazing might not be the word I would use,” I muttered.
Corbin pushed me gently. “I’ll admit, he’s a little . . . abstract — ”
“ — but he’s really a fascinating writer. Here, let me — ”
“Hey Jordan, Corbin,” Sled interrupted. “Jillian says the fair’s opening today. Want to check it out?”
I thought for a minute. “Sure. Do you have room in your van for everyone? Might as well save some gas.”
“I’ve only got room for three; I took the back seats out to make room for my drum set when I had to bring it over to the school.”
“Jordan and I can take the bike,” Corbin offered, then looked at me and added, “If she wants to, of course.”
I shrugged. “Why not?”
“Sounds good,” Sled said. “Let’s go.”
Corbin stood and helped me to my feet as well. “See you guys there.”
When we got to his motorcycle, Corbin reached down and pulled out two helmets, handing one to me. I eyed it distastefully.
“Safety first!” he reminded with a teasing grin. “Do you need help getting it on?”
I shove it onto my head and grimaced up at him. “Nope.”
He gave my helmet a gentle whack. “Good girl.”
He put his own helmet on and climbed onto the motorcycle. I followed suit, linking my hands around his waist and burying my face into his shirt as he started the bike. He laughed and peeled out of the parking lot.
We rode without even trying to talk over the roar of the motorcycle. I was content to lay my head on his back and breathe in the indescribable scent that always clung to him, a mix of cologne and dryer sheets and gasoline. I loved the way Corbin smelled, and often told him so. He usually just laughed when I did.
We got to the fairgrounds before Sled, so we stood by Corbin’s bike and talked as we waited. I had met Corbin my freshman year of high school in a drawing class. Our relationship had developed into a kind of close, brother-sister friendship, but sometimes I got the strange feeling like there was something else. It would be at the most random of times, like when we were talking in the hallways or sitting next to each other on my couch during one of our group’s sporadic movie nights. I would look at him, and for a second, I would feel this unfamiliar draw toward him – an attraction, you might call it. Then it would go away and things would be back to normal, and I would be left wondering what the heck that just was. It was all rather disconcerting.
We were talking about Corbin’s latest obsession, the rather eccentric e. e. cummings. Corbin revered the man; I thought his poetry looked like he had fallen asleep on the typewriter.
“I just can’t understand what it is he’s trying to say,” I complained. “I’ve tried to ignore all the strange grammar and made-up words and odd punctuation — or lack thereof — but I still have trouble making any sense of it.”
“See, that’s your problem,” Corbin said, as if it was obvious. “You try to ignore it. With writing like cummings’, the key is to incorporate the weirdness into the message of the poem. That’s what makes it so unique.”
I shook my head. “I don’t know . . . I guess I’m too down-to-earth for his stuff.”
Corbin looked about to protest, but I had spotted Sled’s van and hurriedly waved them down. Lily climbed out, holding Rich’s hand.
“Where to?” she inquired brightly.
Jay poked at a half eaten hamburger with his toe, a slightly disgusted look on his face. “This parking lot sure is well maintained,” he observed sarcastically.
Sled appeared from the other side of the van. “Well, what are we waiting for? I haven’t been to one of these in ages!”
We made our way through the crowds, occasionally stopping to buy something or look at a particularly interesting booth. I walked in between Corbin and Jillian most of the time. Jillian loved to talk, and I was content to listen and quietly observe our surroundings. Eventually, she migrated to the front of the pack, and I was left at the back with Corbin.
We walked without talking for a while. It was one of my favorite things about him; we could talk for hours about anything and everything, but he knew when to be silent as well. I was in a reflective mood, and I guessed that he was as well.
“Jordan?” he said suddenly, breaking my train of thought.
I looked up at him expectantly. He held his poetry book, one finger holding a certain spot open.
“This is the first poem I read of e. e. cummings’. I guess it kind of struck me, then, and I’ve been fascinated by his way of thinking ever since. Maybe it will help you understand.”
He held it out to me. I took it and looked down at the page, cleared my throat, and began.
you shall above all things be glad and young.
For if you’re young,whatever life you wear
it will become you;and if you are glad
whatever’s living will yourself become.
Girlboys may nothing more than boygirls need:
i can entirely her only love
whose any mystery makes every man’s
flesh put space on;and his mind take off time
that you should ever think,may god forbid
and(in his mercy)your true lover spare:
for that way knowledge lies,the foetal grave
called progress,and negation’s dead undoom.
I’d rather learn from one bird how to sing
than teach ten thousand stars how not to dance
I fumbled a little over the eccentric format, but Corbin listened patiently. When I had finished, I looked up at him. His eyes were intent, and I realized we had both stopped walking. We stood close to each other, and his scent was overwhelming.
“How can something so strange,” I asked softly, “make so much sense?”
Corbin smiled, and his eyes were warm. “Do you understand even a little bit now?”
I nodded, leaning into him. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw his hand reach up to the level of my face, as if he were about to touch it. It hesitated, then dropped, and Corbin stepped back.
“We should catch up with everyone else,” he said dully.
We continued walking, but this time the silence was uncomfortable. I was about to turn to him and say something—anything—when he touched my arm and pointed to a sign.
“Madame Tessa’s Fortune Telling: $14,” it read in flashy green script. Behind it, a grubby blue tent was slumped in between a hot dog stand and one of those rubber duck games.
“I’ve never been to one of these before,” he commented, his good humor having seemingly returned. “What say we ditch everyone else and check it out?”
“Are you serious?”
“Come on,” he coaxed. “I didn’t even know these still existed.”
I looked at the sign. “Fourteen dollars to have some insane lady read my palm? I’ve got college to save up for, kiddo!”
“I’ll pay. It’ll be funny!”
I rolled my eyes.
“Fi-ine,” I sighed dramatically. “We’ll check it out.”
He led the way into the tent, holding the moth eaten flap back for me. It was stifling inside, and the heat had mixed with in the air with several unfamiliar perfumes. A small, wrinkled woman was hunched over a folding table, chopping some brown and green stalks with an unnecessarily large knife. A sad gray hound dog lay at her feet, its mouth droopy and leaking saliva. Corbin cleared his throat, and the woman turned around.
“Ah,” she wheezed. “Visitors!”
She limped over to us, the clinking of her many bangles accompanying her uneven walk. She was still holding the knife, and the dimness of the tent made it appear to have a reddish tint. Corbin put his hand on my arm as he stepped slightly in front of me.
“How can I help you?” she asked in a scratchy voice.
“We – we want our fortunes told,” Corbin said. “Er, well . . . Jordan does, anyway.”
“Ah . . . ”
She looked down at the knife as if she had just remembered it was there. I felt Corbin relax as she placed it back on the table, wiping her hands on her purple shawl as she made her way back over to us.
“My name is Madame Tessa. Have a seat in the corner.”
I took a seat and Corbin sat next to me, his elbow touching mine. Madame Tessa rummaged in a black bag for a moment before pulling out a small glass ball with some sort of creamy liquid inside. Corbin glanced over at me with raised eyebrows as she hobbled over to us and set the crystal ball on a black ring on the table.
“What’s your name, dearie?” she asked me, revealing a yellowed smile.
The wrinkled old woman ran her hands over the ball, its milky surface stirring as she caressed it. I saw her lips moving and realized that she was muttering something. Corbin’s eyes met mine again; he seemed to be holding back laughter. I shrugged and turned back to the woman sitting across from us.
Her eyes were huge as she looked up at me. “My dear, you seem to have an unusual future in store for you. I am sad to say that the thing you have dreaded since you were young will happen on the eve of your golden birthday, but on that same day you will also find something you lost a very, very long time ago. Be on the lookout for an unexpected development in your love life — it is soon to happen. Beware of a woman in red, and make sure that you always carry an umbrella.”
She looked at me expectantly, and I realized that she was finished. I choked out my thanks and we stood. She held out her hand.
“Fourteen dollars,” she reminded.
Corbin sighed and dug the right amount out of his wallet. Then we walked back over to the entrance and left the tent.
We burst out laughing as soon as we were out of earshot.
“Can you believe that?” I said with tears in my eyes.
Corbin shook his head, holding his side as he laughed. “Better start carrying an umbrella wherever you go!”
We laughed even harder. When we had finally calmed down, we looked around for the rest of our group. We couldn’t find anyone. Uncertainly, I pointed out that it had gotten much darker outside, and the air held an ominous chill. Corbin looked up at the blackening clouds and cursed.
“Looks like rain. We’d better get to somewhere with a roof.”
I felt a raindrop on my arm, then several more, as we searched for some sort of overhang. As the rain started pouring down, I spotted a playground that looked like it could provide some shelter. We sprinted toward it and climbed into a large green tube.
We were both breathing hard. The tube was cement, and it was dry inside, although a little squished. Corbin looked over at me.
“Looks like we’re stuck here,” he said breathlessly.
I pressed up against him in search of warmth, my soaked sweatshirt providing no relief from the cold. “Guess so.”
Then I giggled.
“What?” He looked at me incredulously.
“Guess I better start carrying an umbrella around, right?”
He stared at me for a moment, then burst out laughing. We laughed for several minutes, a little loopy from the adrenaline rush and the sheer absurd coincidence that had just been revealed.
“Well, maybe there is something to what that lady said,” he mused. “What about the rest of what she said? Have you been dreading anything since you were young?”
I thought for a moment. “Not that I can remember. And I’ve already had my golden birthday—that was a dead giveaway.”
Corbin was suddenly quiet. I looked up at him; his eyes were serious.
“And what about the unexpected development in your love life?” he asked softly. “Do you think that could still happen?”
My breath caught in my throat as I realized what he was implying. “Corbin, I . . .”
I trailed off pathetically. He shifted so that we weren’t touching any more, then turned to me with blazing eyes.
“Jordan, I really value our friendship, and if you don’t . . . feel the same way about me, I don’t want that to come between us. However,” he added, his eyes piercing mine, “I do want to know.”
For a second, the world spun. My thoughts crashed around in my head, tumbling and whirling too fast to discern. Then I felt my arms wrap themselves around his neck, and his lips found mine.
The rain had started up again, and the pounding on our shelter matched the roaring in my ears. I shivered as my fingers tangled in his soaking hair. His arms crushed me against him as we kissed, and when his lips finally released mine, we were both gasping for breath.
I felt his lips at my ear, and his warm breath tickled my skin as he whispered:
Death,Thee i call rich beyond wishing
if this thou catch,
I smiled into his shoulder. “Maybe the man does know what he’s talking about.”
Word Count: 2508
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