MANGO, ONLY MANGO
(for Jacob Epstein)
The Vietnamese waiter
served a mixture of luxurious
if queasy cuisines,
French and Chinese,
while you, my son,
played among the trunks of
rubber trees and bus boys’ legs
on the jungle floor
refusing your dinner
and pleading for “dessert,
The place was Mandarin,
in the elevated sense.
I asked for fortune cookies
but that was beneath them,
so I ordered green tea ice cream.
“Our dessert tonight is mango ice cream,”
said the tight-lipped tuxedoed waiter
who wore a cummerbund over a
cobalt blue shirt with crinoline sleeves,
“Mango, only mango.”
We had to eat with chop sticks,
whether we could handle them or not.
Even my ancient uncle
who had lost his right arm
in the Peloponnesian war
was refused a fork.
“You are not strict enough with him,”
my uncle said,
“You would do better to think of him
as a little less miraculous.”
You were gazing through
the darkening window
as the cosmos slowly rose outside,
streaked with our local sunset,
watching the polar bears and the penguins
moving quietly in the dim arctic wastes.
For months now
you have been in love with tusks,
of elephants and walruses,
and the saber toothed tiger,
and the horn of the bellicose rhinoceros
standing tank-like and protective
beside his blubbery wife
guarding her all night in the fantastic
habitat of your dreams.
“Don’t play with your food,”
my uncle said.
You casually raised yourself
from the jungle floor
and placed your plate upon the radiator
lining up your peas along the vents
and stood cooking them
on that peculiar grill,
looking out through the hushed
who knew where.
Outside the night unfurled like a pirate’s sail
Seagulls blew like grey rags
through the indigo sky,
and threads of smaller birds floated
in the lights of the Golden Gate Bridge
strung across the big shouldered shadows
of the dissolving hills.
Above the bridge you spotted
the two ethereal spoons of your books,
the “little bitter” and the “big bitter.”
Alone among us you knew what all the
that when you are looking up
into the night sky
you are really looking down into
that only a blind man looks up into the
It did not matter whether
you were looking up
or looking down,
all was light inside your soul.
Near the bottom of the universe
you found a tiny star set apart
from all the others,
filling up your being with light,
or filling up with yours.
There it was, your joy,
in which you knew yourself.
Fearful as I was that you would burn
your fingers in the vents
I was more afraid to tear you from the stars.
How I envied your infinite trespass,
your absolution from this gerrymandered
“He’s spilling his rice all over the floor,”
my uncle said,
but your rice was strewn among the
He picked you up and brought you
to the table under his only arm,
leaving your peas warm
and uneaten in the vents.
In front of you the waiter set a porcelain dish
of mango ice cream
with a kumquat in the center.
“He sees that cold pleasure
is just as good as hot,”
he said, and handed you a spoon.
You asked “what comes after the stars?”
“Stars,” I said.
And after that?
What could I say
that would not impair your joy?
That the stars kept on going
or that they thinned out until they were
that there was no end to them,
or that they ended?
© 2012 Henry Epstein