Rather, it is in the shorter history of America,

not England, not Italy, that we find ourselves

in the perfect middle of a rainy, summer afternoon

inside a 1930s shingled boathouse long since

beached on a low hill out of water’s reach,

and plumbed and electrified for habitation.

No effort has been made to hide its origins.

Old masts and spars wait in the overhead rafters.

Blocks and tackle, coiled in figure eight knots,

loop from hooks on the wooden walls’ open studs.

The faded blue transom of Will o’ the Wisp,

my mother-in-law’s 1920’s childhood Sneakbox,

hangs on its traveler over the west window as if

the bow and midship had sailed off into the dark wood.

The person concerned sprawls in a Bean shirt

and Top-Siders in an easy chair by a slow fire

crackling like balled up paper uncrumpling,

the length of him spilling on and on out over the ottoman.

He is meeting Isabel Archer, Madame Merle

and Gilbert Osmond while Duke Ellington’s smooth

rationalizations slide out of speakers in a tease

of intrigues and blue notes played behind the beat,

major chords changing to minor, piano and sax

entwining. The face of our reader, caught in the fiction,

softens. The corners of his mouth turn up

just so. His hand rests on the top of his head.

His hair is silver. Ellington segues to Scott Joplin

to Bernstein. Firelight collects on his glasses.

He is in the pleasure of fine distinctions and

complicating clauses that match his own parsing of matters.

I want to stroke his cheek, but hesitate to break the spell.

He is both far away, and close enough to heave to

with, “Listen to this!” and ”Ohhh. But this!”

and reads paragraphs, whole sections aloud

before he’s off again. Or, he fetches up somewhere

in the middle distance wondering at “all these

oversexed characters!” (He reads little new fiction.)

As if in answer, Rhapsody in Blue rises up out of the clarinet

crying. But he’s back in Rome beside the crinkling fire,

jazz working the room, shingles muffling the rain,

the sounds of a summer afternoon composing themselves

like time and happenstance entering and rippling in a human.

— Mary Stuart Hammond