A friendly December sun warmed the stone tables outside my favorite restaurant basting the park-like setting in its yellow juices. While I sipped a mocha and plumbed the deep ideas of a famous Poet Laureate, a man carrying a pet transport cage sat down at the table next to me.
A lady wearing jogging shorts walked towards me down the narrow path between the outdoor tables. She broke my concentration as the sun glared from her white thighs. I looked back to my book but her jasmine scent lifted my nose from the book again. Then someone said: “Hello beeper!”
A white cockatoo, with lemony-lime crested plume winked at me from the pet carrier. A lady in black sweats carrying two salads joined the man at the table. “Hello beeper,” she said. “Hello beeper,” the bird said again. The life that the Poet Laureate infused into the pages of his book could no longer compete with the life going on around me.
The bird’s plumage reminded me of the color of a sweater worn by a little girl in a picture on the front page of the morning newspaper. She is about six years old. Her light brown hair is parted in the middle and pulled back revealing her left ear. It is hanging down to her right shoulder, falling to the edge of her sweater. The rest of her hair flows back over her left shoulder opening her entire face to the camera, exposing her grief and sadness to a world whose attention is focused on her school, named Sandy Hook, in Newtown, Connecticut.
She is fragile, bird-like, and if I knew her name I would say that’s what grief’s name is. I would put away sad tolling bells and crepe, and sickly sweet lilies and send back to their convent veiled nuns intoning “Dies Irae,” because her day of wrath is sculpted to her face in an endless lament for her youth and her youthful friends.
I run my fingers over the newsprint but her expression doesn’t change. I wish I could reach across the mountains and wire services and hold her and tell her everything will be all right even though both of us know it won’t be all right for a very long time. The poet says in his book that pleasure leaves the mind quickly so it is hard to remember. He does not say that grief lingers. He doesn’t have to. The girl’s face says it better than any poet can. I want to say something silly to her, something to make her smile; something like “hello beeper.”
But it wouldn’t work. It may be a long time before she smiles again.