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April 22, 1997

Robert Frost's Books, Ripton, Vermont, 1980

by John Sokol
-- for Shelly (1940 - 1984)

Remember that day we found his books?
We had driven twelve hours from Ohio

To visit Bette and Joe in Vermont. We were
Tourists -- there, in Ripton -- so, naturally,

We made our pilgrimage to Robert Frost's
Cabin. Deer-hunting season had just begun,

And as we trudged through the white woods,
Gunshots hammered the air and shook snow

From the branches of birches and sugar maples.
We were cold, and in love, and worried that

We might be mistaken for deer in our brown
Coats. It was thrush-hour and a few crows cawed

In the treetops. As we approached the great poet's
Cabin, you rephrased lines from his poems:

The woods are lovely, dark, and dangerous
So let's make promises we can keep,
And not get shot before we sleep.

When we reached the cabin, we were amazed
To find the door unlocked. We were timid

About going in: sacrilege, disrespect, and such.
But: Oh, why not?' When we went inside,

We kissed behind the door, then laughed,
Knowing we were thinking the same thing.

You smiled. Should we?
Well, then -- by all means -- let's!'

We closed the door and walked across
The pine-plank floor as though we were stepping

On hallowed ground. You stood quietly in
The middle of the room. You stared at the dusty

Rocking chair, smiled, then looked at me. Maybe,'
Our faces said. I put my arms around you as we

Stared at the single bed: iron; no mattress; just
Springs. Then, we looked over at the wall

With the only window, and a view of the
Green Mountains. Two smiles made it unanimous.

But, then, we saw that crate at the foot of the bed;
A well-made pine box, labeled: Robert Frost's Books.

We lifted the lid and wondered who was in charge
Of watching this historical cabin; of caring for

These precious books in a box. What ever happened
to ars longa, vita brevis? We couldn't believe

Frost's personal books were just sitting there
For some hunter to use as toilet paper or kindling:

Confucius, Herodotus, Horace, Tennyson,
Lucretius, Byron and Keats. Books on Vermont and

New Hampshire, wolves and wildlife: in a box,
On that cold, cabin floor. Somehow, we saw

Nothing wrong with the idea of making
Love in his cabin; but not in front of his books.

We left the books as we found them, replaced
The lid of the crate and closed the door of the cabin

When we left. "I wish we hadn't found his books,"
You said -- four years later -- when you were dying

Of cancer; drowning in your own fluids, in my arms
"I wish we had made love in his cabin, instead.

I'd take that memory with me, now." "I know,"
I said. "I wish we hadn't found them, either."

And, now, everyone will have to forgive me
For this, but I'd rather Robert Frost turn over
In his grave then not pay homage to you in yours:

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and you and I --
We took the one less traveled by,
And, in the end, that never made a difference.

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