“Mr. James’s Marvelous Thing” by Prartho Sereno

Prartho Sereno


In this week’s obituaries—Betty James,
whose 90 years are boiled down
to three paragraphs, one and a half given
to her husband Richard, the marine engineer
who fell in love with a torsion spring
when it toppled from his desk and
cartwheeled out the door.

In the picture, Betty’s holding the beloved
Slinky in her stair-step hands. Most likely
she’s been shuffling the toy—one of its many
irresistible charms. But for the picture’s sake
she’s struck a pose and it has slunk
the way of all things (we were later
to discover)—building up on one hand
before helplessly spilling over to the other.

Her part in the tale was holding it
together—the six offspring and the shiny
empire built around a creature that couldn’t rise
to a single occasion but was splendid at descent,
which was what they said about Mr. James,
or at least that’s the story Betty stuck to
till the end—that he slunk away,
down to Bolivia to join a cult.

In any case, it was only fair that Betty
share her obituary with Richard, since
it was Mr. James, after all, who gave us
the marvelous thing, and there was little
note taken of his passing (somewhere
in the Bolivian mountains, 1974).
And, truth be told, there is never a record
of what the voice says when it calls us
away from the tinseled world, which
leaves us to consider that maybe Mr. James’s
tumble south was not so much a fall as a
surrender, a call and response: to rise.

from Rattle #34, Winter 2010

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