The story arrived in the middle of the night and I was delighted, especially the way it finished with a flourish and swirled itself into a poem, like an encore to a splendid piece of music, or a wave from visiting, gracious royalty, or the whipped cream on top of a sundae.
But I had been very sick and I wanted to sleep, so I asked the story to please stick there inside my head till morning. Insulted by the suggestion to wait, I felt that story gather itself to leave with a sharp swish of its tail. Stories are like that.
I hoped for more from the poem—poems tend more towards patience—often, you can fasten them loosely to your head with a picture. But not this time. The poem followed the story. I could see it going, tumbling down the well away from me into the depths and dark distance with all its parts—a little boy named Jerome, a bouncing rubber ball, and a tiny gray elephant, looking surprised. Going, gone.
So what? said the Cranky Chorus in my head, made of old ladies and grumpy businessmen in rumpled suits. Go back to sleep. You’ve been Very Sick and what’s the use of all this midnight nonsense anyway? All these words—what’s it For?
That’s when you laugh because it becomes so much itself, a puzzle wrapped inside an answer. The people who’d ask? That Disapproving Board Of Advisers? They couldn’t ask the right question even. What’s it For? It isn’t for anything. It’s a story. It’s a poem. Itself and nothing else.