When I was little and it rained, I thought it was the past. I’m not entirely sure how the two ideas got linked in my small kindergarten, naptime-and-graham-cracker mind, but I think it had something to do with the blurring. The world out the window seemed to run a little. To fade together and waver the way old photographs do. I would stand at the window and expect to see my great grandmother, in her dress of ivory lace froth like foam on waves, emerge from the fogged-over corner of the backyard; long trailing ropes of roses entwining in the impossible architecture of her hair like ivy vining over misty tower ruins. At her feet would be my grandfather, in short overalls, perfectly pressed, playing with a duck on a string. His name back then had been Francis, they told me, and there had been a black dog. The kind of dog, that when you’re little, looks like a pony. In fact, you think it is a pony, and when you finally see a real pony, strapped to one of those sad revolving pony sweeps at the fair, like Samson from the Bible, scarred blind and shorn of greatness, pushing out the bootless circle of his diminished yellow life in a Philistine dungeon, your heart breaks and you cry and you can’t seem to make your parents understand that it’s not that you’re afraid to ride… but that you sorrow for Nobility Lost. That you weep for glory turned suffering, for the occlusion of the Light. That your lament is Milton’s. Donne’s. Christ’s over Jerusalem. It is the cry of the soul of humanity for itself, wailing, ‘This ought not be so.
I would run out, those rain-softened, mythical afternoons, breaking loose the grip of mother-fingers fastening too many buttons, into the grey of my watery ancestry, and play with little Francis and his wooden duck. And the dog would stand sentry, its black eyes pure, deep, augured understanding, looming over my head like a benevolent, curly-backed Cerberus; and the sky would let fall its collection of days – of hours gone by, and minutes and conversations and lines of old melody, all collecting in puddles under the arching hedges – a precipitating history of the world. Ten thousand pools of ancient memory lay in the kingdom of the backyard; perfect for sailing paper boats, for startling worms from the umbrage of displacement, and for punctuating the Red Seas of all the yesterdays with giddy, raucous splashing.