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Vijay Seshadri – Ⅳ

A Fable 




The boy and the father walked beside the donkey.

The road was gray, and dust rose to its vanishing point;

gray dust choked the leaves of the few

asthmatic cottonwoods along the dry creekbeds.

The sky was hot to the touch.

“Why not ride the donkey, as it’s too hot?”

passersby on the road suggested.

The boy and the father whispered to each other.

(They were more like brothers

than they were like son and father.)

The father got up on the donkey.

Other passersby, or maybe the same ones

doubling back—the only leisure-time activity

in that part of the world involved

walking up and down the dusty road—

said, “Selfish, selfish old man! Think of your boy,

whose legs can’t bear the insult

of this road, let alone the heat’s.”

They went on a ways the way they were,

because they didn’t want what scrutinized them

with such detachment to think they were slaves

to public opinion. Then they traded places.

A mile later, an old woman on a porch, rocking

and shading her eyes from a sun that seemed

not to dwindle but instead hammered

the sky to a thinness irreconcilable

with the laws of nature, shouted out,

“Worthless! Letting your old father walk!”

So the father climbed behind the boy,

and they both rode the donkey.

This incited an animal lover,

wearing a hat like the ones you see

in the wood-block prints of the Japanese,

to screaming flights of invective

for burdening the donkey with two bodies. So,

abashed, they got down, and they carried the donkey.

The donkey howled and evacuated in terror,

but they carried him anyway, over the undulating road

and across the boulder-studded arroyos.

They came to a town and lived there for a while,

and then moved to a larger town, and then

to the fabled city, suspended

on a plain between two mountain ranges.

They lived in a room in a house in a suburb

known for its featurelessness,

the two of them, with the donkey.

The father couldn’t work anymore—

The business with the donkey had broken him forever—

So the son went out alone in the world.

He was the one who buried the donkey,

in the dead of night, when no one was looking.

Later, he buried his father, too,

but this time in daylight, in a decent graveyard.

He didn’t care about his place in the world,

but he married a woman who did, and had children

and prospered, in a manner of speaking.

The tally of the generations begins with him

and extends down the centuries

and across the hemispheres

and numbers CPAs and bookies,

coopers and wheelwrights,

neurologists, embezzlers, claims adjusters,

and linemen for the county.

And, though diverse and ignorant

of one another, though pressed like grapes

through the bewildering human genotypes,

each of them has this one thing in common—

each knows, obscurely, unconsciously,

without knowing how he knows, that

only the complicated, ambiguous victories

are worth having, those that take place

under the sun, above

the boulder-studded arroyo,

with the dust, grayer than bone, rising on the road.




Reprinted from The Long Meadow (Greywolf Press: 2004) by permission of the author.