Actually, the story of my father and Rowland et al. v. Snowbird Resort Inc. was stranger and more lurid than I knew. I didn’t hear all of it until the summer of 2005, when I had the idea to write a family history and visited my uncle Charles again, equipped this time with a tape recorder. When I transcribed the recording later in the summer, it seemed best to me to write it down this way, in short lines, because they were closest to his way of speaking, slowly, with a pause every seven or eight words to inhale from his cigarette or just to breathe. The short lines also made his story seem like an old song, which concerned people and events from a heroic era that had long since passed: a Song of Roland for the Thebans and their Turks. That didn’t fit badly with my own feeling about the story, which seems, from the vantage point of this difficult present, to have taken place in another world; so I left it as it was.
You already know how the story begins.
Joe Regenzeit bought the old Summerland resort,
And changed its name to Snowbird, and cleared the slopes,
This was back in sixty-five or sixty-six.
Regenzeit was greedy for business,
So he hired a man to seed the clouds,
To make it snow artificially,
And in October, 1968, we had the mother of all storms,
With something like five feet of snow.
It looked like Regenzeit’s program was going to work.
Oliver called all the old people in Thebes,
The people who had been there since forever.
Angie Gerin and Nathalie Gerer, who were best friends,
Except when only one of them was drunk.
Hattie Berenger came with her walker;
She had bad knees and never left the house.
And Gabriella Thule, our Aunty Gab,
Who’d buried two husbands and lost a third in Boston.
And Jan Engeler, whose daughter was probably a lesbian,
Who taught math to third graders in Michigan
And marched on the White House with no bra.
Gerry Roslin came down from Cairo,
You never met him, he was a hundred and two,
And spoke only langue d’up.
Pete Samson was there, from Thebes; no one liked him,
And no one remembered why. And Evie Koch, big Evie,
Do you remember her? She used to hold you in her lap,
And put your head between her enormous tits,
Until someone noticed and she had to let you go.
Even Mo Oton, who’d been in Korea, and never forgave anyone
For it, came down, and brought his son Vaughan,
A skinny, scared-looking kid with glasses.
Oliver got all the old people together
To figure out what they could do about the snow,
And Joe Regenzeit, and Snowbird, and all the people
From New York and Boston and even Philadelphia,
Who were going to invade the town, and park everywhere,
And leave their trash by the side of the road,
And buy up all the good antiques.
Mo Oton wanted to firebomb the resort, after hours,
Like the gooks were doing now in Vietnam,
Like the pinks were doing at Columbia.
Some people were for it, but no one volunteered
To throw the bombs, except Mo himself, and he had this crazy look
Like he might not bomb the place at night,
And no one wanted someone to get hurt.
Oliver suggested they take the Turks to court,
And either they’d close Snowbird down,
Or they’d get so much money, they could all retire,
And spend the winters on the coast of Florida,
Swimming with dolphins, which was your grandmother’s dream.
They talked until it seemed like a sure thing.
They’d take Regenzeit to court and burn him,
They’d show him what it meant
To mess with the old-timers, the original settlers.
“We ought to get a New York City lawyer, a real bastard—
Excuse my French—and take him to the cleaner’s,”
Said Nathalie Gerer, who knew all about the law
From her divorce. With that there was a silence.
New York meant money,
And none of them had money except your grandfather,
Whose cheapness was famous even in a town of thrifty people.
“Maybe someone from Albany,” said Aunty Gab,
“A local type would understand us better.”
“Are lawyers cheap in Albany?” asked Hattie.
Oliver shook his head. “Listen,
We can’t entrust this to some halfwit hick.
I’m going to call a college pal, lives in the city,
The shrewdest sonofabitch I hope to meet.
I’ll work it out with him, and pay for it.”
The others nodded dumbly.
They hadn’t known Oliver could be so generous.
Everyone went to the bus station to meet him,
This lawyer from New York, this sonofabitch.
They didn’t know why a lawyer would take the bus,
But it was the nineteen-sixties, people did strange things,
Even lawyers. And Oliver said he’d won a big case
Against some people in Texas
Who wanted it to rain all the time
To flood the rivers, and keep the Mexicans out.
Still, even your grandfather winced
When Richard Ente got off the bus
Wearing blue jeans and a ponytail,
Like an old radical, except this was when the radicals were young.
“Where’s he from?” asked Aunty Gab.
“New York, somewhere,” said Oliver. “Maybe Brooklyn?”
“But where’s he from?” She’d never seen a Jew before,
except on television, where everything was blurry.
Richard went through case law with the plaintiffs,
And told them what they could hope for from a jury,
Millions of dollars, maybe, if they played their cards right.
In Slutsky v. the City of New York
The plaintiff sought an injunction to prohibit
The city’s rain-making experiments,
On the grounds that his country club would suffer
If it rained too much upstate. The judge denied
The motion, because Slutsky was one person,
And New York, ten million, and besides,
Slutsky didn’t own the clouds.
“That’s bad,” Oliver said. Your father disagreed.
“Think of the law as a series of rooms,
Connected by hidden doors to other rooms;
You can go anywhere you like,
Provided you can find the door, or doors—
And doors there are, my friend. Take Slutsky.
The public-interest argument isn’t good for you,
Because you’re so (he smiled) minoritarian,
But who says you don’t own the clouds? The judge?
OK, but—ha, ha—nothing backs him up.
Maybe Regenzeit’s using up your clouds;
In lawyer-speak we call that conversion,
And you can get money for it. Dig?”
He wiped his mouth. They went through the door.
The old folks came out of the meeting laughing,
Talking about the millions they were sure to get,
And how they’d spend them.
“I’m putting on a new roof,” Hattie Berenger said,
“With skylights over every room, even”—
She blushed—“the toilet, to let the sunlight in.”
“God bless you, Hattie, you lunatic,” said Mo Oton,
“I’m going to buy myself a snowmobile
And drive all around the god damn forest
Scaring hell out of all the god damn tourists
And shooting deer. How’s that sound to you, Ol?”
Oliver laughed. “You do what you like, Mo.
It’s your money.” Marie (your mother) smiled.
She’d been sitting all along in the next room,
Reading a book by Simone de Beauvoir
And pretending not to listen.
Then he was gone. Months passed.
Our summer came, if you could call it summer,
Two months of mud and bugs and thunderstorms,
And still no sign of Richard Ente, Esquire.
Then, one day in late July, he showed up.
He looked thinner than before, if that was possible,
And his clothes were shiny, like a bum’s.
He’d been rubbed smooth like a pebble in the river.
He gave Oliver a stack of papers,
And fell onto the sofa, unconscious,
Like he hadn’t slept for days.
Your grandfather read through the papers,
And whistled. “The man is brilliant,”
He told your grandmother. “Listen:
We’re suing Regenzeit for trespass,
Because his snow fell on our land without permission;
We’re suing him for emotional distress,
Because of this thing called seasonal disorder,
And we’re going to need a psychiatrist!
Not to mention theft of electricity
From all the power lines that went down.
And battery—do you remember
When Nathalie Gerer was hit by an icicle?
Of course there were a lot of icicles,
That’s called the doctrine of foreseeability.”
“He looks like a bum,” your grandmother said.
“Are you sure he’s mentally stable?”
“Was Einstein stable? Was Joyce? The man’s a genius.”
Your grandmother bit her lip.
She was pretty sure Einstein had been mentally stable.
Oliver had a barbecue for him the next day.
It was one of the truly fine days,
One of the days when you can forget about winter,
And it seemed like we’d already won.
We sat on the porch and drank Schlager
And watched the sun set over the golf course,
And Mo Oton told us stories about Korea,
Where the gooks set pit traps, like we were animals,
And we fell into them.
“Turks are just another kind of gook,” Mo said,
“But America will always have air superiority.”
I have no idea how much he’d drunk at that point.
All this time your father was talking to the twins
And Vaughan Oton, and they were laughing,
Like he’d showed them how a magic trick was done
And they could see the box the rabbit came from
Before the magician pulled it out. Celeste was smoking,
And Vaughan was scratching at his pimples;
You could see that they were ready to love him
By the way he made them forget themselves.
Because really all it is, is rabbits,
People hiding rabbits, pulling rabbits out
Like you’re supposed to be impressed with their rabbits,
With how large they are, and how long they’ve kept them hidden,
And how quickly they make them go away again.
When you see that, that’s all people are doing,
It’s liberation, fucking liberation,
More than what they marched for in the sixties.
I sound like an old man, huh? What was I saying?
Just as the sun was going down,
Oliver put his finger to his lips.
“What was that?” He made us all be quiet.
Then we heard it, far away, across the golf course,
“That’s a white finch,” said your grandmother.
“I haven’t heard one of those in years.”
“It’s an omen,” said Hattie Berenger.
“A sign,” said Peter Samson.
“You know what?” Oliver said. “We need that bird.
That bird is going to be our symbol,
The way the Crusaders had their cross or whatever.”
See, there used to be hundreds of these finches
In the mountains, in the spring and summer,
You’d hear them everywhere.
But something had driven them away.
No one had seen a white finch for years.
And we were all a little drunk, or more than a little,
And we agreed that it was a good idea
To take some nets and see if we could catch it.
It was a warm night, and we wanted to be moving.
We took flashlights and split up into teams.
Mo and Pete and Janine Engeler
Went across the golf course one way,
Oliver, your grandmother and I went another.
Hattie and Nathalie and Aunty Gab stayed on the porch;
The kids went off together into the woods,
And took your father with them.
We stumbled around, listening for the bird,
Which always seemed like it was farther off,
On the other side of the next hill, in the trees.
We were going to give up anyway,
When we heard Mo shouting, “A trap! A fucking trap!”
Turns out he’d fallen into a sand trap
That wasn’t filled up all the way with sand.
We all gathered around to pull him out,
Which took some doing, because Mo was heavy,
And he kept shouting how he’d get the gooks,
The ones who did this to him.
We got him back to the house,
That was when we noticed the kids were missing,
And your father was missing, too.
Your grandmother was going to call the police,
But they came back twenty minutes later,
Very quiet, their eyes small like pinpricks.
They’d come this close to the bird, they said.
This close. They held up their hands.
Regenzeit got himself a lawyer,
A white-shoe type from Albany, named Baligant,
Of Baligant, Baligant and Baligant,
The second-oldest firm in upstate N.Y.,
With connections to the Rockefellers.
Baligant was a reedy little fellow
Who filled his suit about as much as a coat hanger,
And kept brushing at the knees of his trousers,
As though he was afraid of gathering dust.
He spoke to the judge for about three minutes,
And half the complaints against Snowbird were dismissed,
And Richard Ente was personally reprimanded
For bringing such stupid charges before the court.
We should have worried then.
But the old people had those millions in their heads,
And Ente was confident they’d still get millions,
Even on the allegations that remained.
He was so god-damn good at making us believe!
“The judge is in bed with Baligant,” he said,
“But not the jury! When you get your jury,
Then you’ll see what kind of case we’ve got.
Baligant’s afraid! The white Anglo-Saxon prick,
He knows the people around here are poor,
He knows whose side they’ll take. Not Regenzeit’s.”
We took him home and cooked dinner for him,
Like we had won some kind of victory.
Oliver told him to borrow what he needed:
Money, a car, and ties, did he need ties?
People round here liked it when you wore a tie.
“Ollie, baby”—Richard cracked his knuckles—
“A man has got to do things in his own style.”
He winked at the twins. “Don’t worry.”
We should have worried.
Richard moved into the Happy Camp Motel,
Down in Acra. Oliver paid the bill.
He drove around in Mary’s station wagon,
To coach the plaintiffs and the witnesses.
He taught them not to speak patois,
Not to say the winter was so noir, so trist,
Which means dark and sad, although not just dark and sad.
Langue d’up is like that. There are so few words
That each one has to cover a lot of ground.
“Say, the winter is depressing,” Richard told Angie Gerin,
“Say, it makes you feel depressed.” “What’s depressed?”
“It’s when you don’t feel like doing anything.”
“Feel like? It doesn’t matter what you feel like.
Up here, you do.” “But don’t you ever feel hopeless?”
“Hopeless? Oh, trist. Of course. Would you like a drink?”
I have to say, your father was patient with them.
When Jan Engeler threw a vase at his head
During a mock cross-examination,
He ducked. “Mrs. Engeler, imagine,” he said,
“That vase is full of hundred-dollar bills,
And you’re throwing it at Joe Regenzeit.
Do you want to do that? Because that’s what you’re doing.”
He was a good lawyer, I think, or he could have been.
Only he was always so fucked up,
Pretending he was Abbie Hoffman with a J.D.,
And here he was, telling us not to be trist
When he was more trist than anyone.
You could see it when he wasn’t talking:
His whole body folded up, like a child
Trying to sleep in the back seat of a car
On the way to a place he doesn’t want to go.
He was a child, in some ways, still.
For example. When he was driving all around,
We kidded him that there was an Indian tribe
Somewhere in the hills by Jewett, an old tribe,
Who’d been there when the first Rowlands came,
And hated Rowlands for driving them upland.
We told him they had sworn to take revenge
And that their memory was very long:
Could still be coming, we told Richard. Watch yourself.
Richard’s eyes got very, very big.
“Indians? Man, I’d like to meet them.
Those people are in touch with things we don’t know about,
Like, forces in the earth, and powers we’ve forgotten.”
He rubbed the leather thong around his neck,
With a silver charm on it, that he bought in Taos.
Tourist work. We had real silver from great-uncle Othniel.
“Be careful,” Oliver said, his eyes sparkling.
“If those Indians find out you’re the Rowlands’ lawyer,
They’ll torture you for sure. Pull off your nails.
Set fire to your feet. Now that would be a trial.”
Richard laughed. “A man is never free
Until he’s free from prejudice,” he said. What a sucker.
The twins were in their last year of public school,
And they were much too smart for public school,
But Oliver wouldn’t send them to private school,
Because it cost too much and they were girls,
And that was how the trouble began.
The twins had practically nothing to do,
So they drove around with Richard Ente
Listening to Gautier del Hum,
Whose oldies show was always on the radio.
They translated the old folks’ patois,
They helped him to keep track of documents
And took notes. He taught them shorthand.
That was what they told us, anyway.
As the fall wore on, we heard stories
About Richard and the twins, and sometimes Vaughan,
Turning up in places where they shouldn’t have been
People saw the four of them in Saugerties,
Shopping for records and smoking cigarettes;
They turned up at the V.F.W. hall,
Drinking gin and tonic at the bar
And laughing at the old-man tunes on the jukebox.
Vaughan had his arm around one of the girls,
And Richard had his arm around the other.
Something bad was going to happen, that was clear,
The question was what, and how bad it would be.
There’s a word for that in our language.
Estultie, the way you stand open-mouthed
As the baby falls, the car goes off the road,
The building catches fire and you don’t move,
Because you’re afraid to break the spell,
Because you’ve seen bad things before,
And you want to know how bad a thing can get.
The only one who didn’t see it was Oliver:
He was in his basement, restoring furniture,
Or walking the golf course with a net,
Hoping to catch his white Canadian finch.
It started snowing just before Halloween.
Three days later Oliver heard a noise in the woods.
He went out with his net—there it was,
The supposedly extinct Canadian finch,
Singing on a bough just out of reach.
He waited, almost afraid to breathe.
The bird sang on. Or twittered, really,
As though there were another Canadian finch
In earshot, or even in existence.
Oliver tiptoed up, shocked by his luck,
Just two months before his case went to trial!
He wondered if he could introduce the finch
As evidence that there was something in Espy County
Worth preserving from the long winter.
He crawled toward the tiny white bird
Perched over an enormous field of white
And reached out slowly, slowly with his net,
And caught the fucker, bang!
He held the net closed
And the bird fluttered like crazy against his hand.
“Mary!” He ran back to the house. “My god, I got it!”
He tore through the empty kitchen, to the living room,
“Celeste? Marie? You won’t believe it—”
He couldn’t believe it either. On the rug,
The Turkish rug, as though his very furniture
Had gone over to the other side,
Two bodies moved. One of them was Richard’s.
And the other—those knees, those arms,
The hair spread out under the coffee table
Which he had made himself, from lumber,
Belonged to his daughter—to his daughter—
A half-smoked joint still burning in the ashtray.
The bird got out in the confusion that followed,
And flew around the room, shitting madly,
And while Oliver was trying to catch it again
Richard got his clothes on, and ran outside.
A car drove off. Oliver caught the bird,
And put it in an upended cardboard box,
With a paperweight on top, and holes for air.
He lay his head on the kitchen table,
And Mary found him like that when she came in
From shopping for their dinner, his eyes open,
Not moving at all. That’s estultie.
Mary smelled the pot-smoke in the air,
Saw the upended furniture,
And didn’t have to ask what had happened.
“You idiot,” she said. “Where are they now?”
Richard was not what you’d call a confident driver.
In New York, when he was sixteen,
He’d taken lessons from an ancient Greek
Who kept one hand on the dual steering wheel
Even as he appeared to be asleep.
The lessons ended on the Jersey Turnpike,
When Richard looked at the speedometer,
And saw he was doing eighty-five
And the Greek hadn’t said a thing.
Richard saw his own death then,
Whirling around him like a wind.
He closed his eyes. When he opened them
They were parked at a rustic-style rest stop.
The Greek was saying never, never, ever
Operate a motor vehicle,
You crazy man, you lunatic, you jerk!
Richard could hear him shouting now
As he drove out Route 23
In Oliver’s new yellow Karmann Ghia
Past Windham, past Ashland, past East Jewett
Toward a grey gap in the mountains: the sky.
Richard Ente turned on the radio,
To make the shouting voices go away,
And there was Gautier del Hum
With the greatest hits of the nineteen-fifties,
Richard turned the knob
And the car went all over the road,
But god damn it, this was torture,
These people singing about the past
And not knowing it was the past.
And Richard’s fingers still smelled like the girl
Who had been… who was… who said she loved him
And bit his ear until the blood came
And told him she was moving to New York
Where they’d begin again, the two of them,
Not young or old, just people, they were people.
People could do anything. God damn truck!
Richard swerved to his side of the road.
He pushed buttons at random, started the wipers,
Defogged his rear. Gautier played on,
Spinning the past for people with no future.
Richard had to stop the car.
He had to escape from Gautier del Hum,
Who seemed to be pursuing him,
Like a revengeful ghost, like Oliver.
My god. What had he done to Oliver?
Oliver took off in Mary’s station wagon,
Death in his mind. He had no gun,
But he wouldn’t have used one if he did;
He wanted to kill Richard with his hands,
To pull him apart, if that was possible,
The way you pulled apart a chicken.
No death would be too good for Richard,
Who had broken every code of friendship.
Oliver remembered how they met,
(He wasn’t at the Happy Camp. Where next?)
At college, when Oliver was a senior
And Richard a sophomore who didn’t know anyone.
How he took Richard under his wing,
And set him up with girls from Albertus Magnus.
Richard wasn’t any kind of ladies’ man;
Oliver saw him once in an arboretum,
Trying to get a girl’s bra off. The Marx Brothers
Couldn’t have done a worse job of it,
Not all four of them trying together.
Had Richard fumbled at his daughter’s bra?
Or had she helped him take it off,
Charmed by his incompetence? Death. Death!
(He could be in New York by now. Or Canada.)
Oliver turned on the radio. Gautier del Hum
Reminded him that the hits would keep coming,
The hits were always coming,
And it was Oliver‘s fault,
For thinking he could get a lawyer cheap,
For trying to fix Richard up
The way he fixed old furniture:
Here a touch, there a touch, kind words
And back into service with you, broken thing,
Still broken thing. He would destroy him.
No more fixing now. The Ford sped forward
Into the grooves of Oliver’s mountains,
Sure as death. Wait. What was that light?
In the old days it would have been a tragedy,
But this was America in nineteen sixty-nine
When nothing bad could happen to anyone,
When everything was going up, and up, and up.
The wagon hit the Ghia pretty hard,
And spun it right across the road,
Into a snowbank, where it stopped.
Oliver climbed out of Mary’s Ford
And went to see what the hell he’d hit—
His brand-new sportscar, totaled now,
And both vehicles insured in Oliver’s name!
He must have wondered whether he would have to pay,
And whether his premiums would go up a lot,
While your father sat there in the Ghia,
Seeing stars through the windshield and wondering
Whether they were really in the winter sky.
“Richie?” Oliver said at last. “Richie, why did you stop?”
Richard Ente looked up at Oliver.
“I had to change the station, Ollie.
Those god damn oldies, you know?” “I know,”
Oliver said, and took his friend’s hand
Through the window, which was rolled only halfway down.
Everything was wrong, everything out of control
And falling apart. Oliver’s car was totaled
And Richard Ente was in the hospital,
Being checked for internal bleeding.
Everyone was against Oliver Rowland, even his family,
Even his own daughter! But that, at least, but that
Was something he could do something about.
He came in on a whirl of snow,
His hands balled up, his jaw stuck out,
Shouting, “Celeste! Celeste Marie! Where are you?”
The twins were on the living room sofa, both of them dressed
In the same outfits. Both were reading.
“Yes, father?” they both looked up. “Is something wrong?”
“You know damn well there’s something wrong.
One of you…” Oliver pointed at one of them, then the other.
“One of you…” His finger hung in the air
Like the arrow in that paradox,
Dividing the space between them, dividing it again.
Years before that, the twins had broken a bowl.
A Chinese bowl, that came from China,
A Chinese man gave it to great-uncle Othniel,
Who collected pottery and crap like that.
The twins were playing and one of them knocked it over.
The two halves lay on the living-room floor
Like an opened shell, the inside smooth and white
And priceless. Oliver caught them then.
“Which one of you did this?” he screamed,
His voice cracking with anger. “Which one?”
The twins pointed at each other.
“It was her,” Celeste said. “No, her,” said Marie.
“Her, I swear.” “Daddy, it was her.”
“Was not.” “Was too.” They knew how to keep it up,
And nothing Oliver threatened made any difference,
Once they agreed to something between them.
Oliver never punished them for the bowl,
Because whichever one he punished might be innocent,
And if he punished them both he was sure to be unfair.
“Go to your room,” he growled, and that was it.
He cradled the pieces like almost weightless infants,
Carried them down to his basement workshop,
And glued them back together, not perfectly,
He never did anything like that perfectly,
But close—you’d always see a line
Running down the center of the bowl.
Oliver wanted to punish his daughter
For letting Richard Ente do that to her,
And wrecking both his cars,
And putting his lawyer in the hospital
Two weeks before the lawsuit went to trial,
And for the look she’d given him,
When she got up naked from the floor,
A look that said, I’m happy that you saw this.
Oliver wanted to do something terrible,
To lock her in the basement for forever,
To make her wear a scarlet letter,
Only what letter of the alphabet
Was bad enough for what she’d done?
He wanted terribly to punish her,
To make himself forget the way she looked,
But which one had done it? As far as Oliver knew,
The twins looked the same when naked,
And neither one admitted anything.
He called them whores, he threatened them.
He would disown them, he’d send them away.
They didn’t care. They were leaving anyway,
They weren’t going to community college,
They were moving to New York! They were artists,
And they hated, hated, hated, hated him,
And he would be lucky if he ever saw them again.
But they were there the next day, and the next,
And the day after. Oliver was relieved;
He figured it had been an empty threat,
As empty as his had been. When he found out
The real reason why the twins stayed around,
He’d wish he had punished them. Too late.
There was no one left to punish then.
Everything that seemed like madness until then—
The finch, the cars, Richard and the twins—
Pales in comparison to the madness now.
Oliver is too cheap to rent a conference room,
So he and Richard Ente
Barricade themselves in Oliver’s study
Where they set up a kind of headquarters.
We hear them shouting on the telephone,
“It has to! It god damn has to!” “There’s no time!”
It would cost too much to hire an assistant,
So Oliver does the job himself,
Taking photographs of snowbanks and of children,
Calling weather stations all over the country,
Typing reports as if he were a secretary.
He sat in the basement in an old cardigan,
Banging on an IBM Selectric with two fingers,
A pencil in his mouth to make corrections with.
Clack! Clack! Silence. Clack! Silence. And so on,
Only sometimes he sat there doing nothing,
Resting his head in his hands, his eyes half-open,
Then with this mad determination,
He started typing again—made more mistakes,
Stopped, bowed his head until it almost touched the keys
And shook, like there was something burning in him,
Something burned down almost to nothing.
Everything pales in comparison to the fire
That ran through Oliver Rowland, consuming him,
A fire of remorse for what he thought he’d done:
He was the one who hired Richard Ente
And was a lousy father to his girls,
And should have sent them off to private school!
Proud Oliver, hateful Oliver,
You could practically see the words flashing on
The inside of his skull. Grim Oliver.
Richard Ente laughed at his discomfiture.
“Lighten up, Ollie! We’re going to win.”
He wasn’t hurting. As the trial grew near
He seemed to grow, as though what we’d seen of him
Up to that point was only a shadow or a reflection
Of the real, enormous Richard Ente,
As if he were a planet whose light side
Had always been turned away from us.
I should have hated him.
Oliver was burning down to nothing,
And Richard didn’t fucking care!
He drank Oliver’s wine, and now and then
He shouted “Ha!” to no one in particular,
And made a swinging motion with his hands,
As though he held a sword, and with it hacked
A swath through the assembled armies of darkness,
As represented by Baligant, Baligant and Baligant.
And each time he did it, my father flinched,
As though Richard had struck him.
The prick. I should have hated him.
Where were the twins in all this?
They went out most nights with Vaughan Oton,
In his ungodly green Ford Galaxie.
What harm could they do in a car like that?
Let them go, I thought. I didn’t know then
That one of them was spending every night
With your father at the Happy Camp Motel;
Maybe both of them were. Maybe Vaughan was too.
I don’t think that there was any evil
Of which Richard Ente wasn’t capable.
But, as I said, I didn’t know.
You have to understand, no one knew Richard.
I was his friend, but I knew nothing about him,
Not where he went, not what he did,
Not where he was born or his mother’s name.
God knows what kind of life he’d had up to that point,
But he had certainly learned to keep secrets.
I’m not excusing myself, you understand.
I’m only saying: I didn’t know.
The case of Rowland et al. v. Snowbird, Inc.
Lasted just two days. One by one
Richard’s witnesses spoke and were undone.
Dr. Lawrence Schrank, a dwarf with golden hair,
Who was apparently the nation’s leading expert
On seasonal disorder,
Who exposed rats to artificial winter
For generations, and observed that the offspring
Of seasonally challenged rodents, God, God only knows
Why I remember this stuff, were smaller
Than those of the control group, went first:
“Winter and the rat are natural enemies.”
He offered graphs to prove it. “And humans?”
Asked Baligant. Schrank said, “They’re like rats.”
“Some humans, maybe.” The jury laughed with Baligant.
Nattie Gerer said icicles were dangerous,
Like pointy teeth, all around her house, dangerous!
Baligant declined to cross-examine.
Poor Evie Koch who tried to drown herself
Because the snow was so trist (Richard winced),
Had tried to kill herself at least three times before.
Twice in the summer.
“It was so chaud!” So what? “So, you know, hot.”
Gerry Roslin didn’t speak a word of English,
And Pete Samson admitted he’d been skiing
With his family five times since Snowbird opened.
“I love it up there! Uh…” “Thanks,” Baligant said.
Jan Engeler lost her nerve and wept
When Baligant asked if she’d been a good mother.
She admitted that her daughter was queer
And dressed up like a railroad engineer,
And had a girl named Charlie. Then she
Threw her handbag at Mr. Baligant.
One by one the plaintiffs took the stand,
And were cut down. Now only Oliver was left,
And Dr. Lance Goldzing, the author of
A three-volume History of American Weather.
Oliver Rowland appeared before the court
In his best suit, which he’d bought in England,
On his honeymoon twenty years before.
It didn’t fit—he’d lost so much weight
He looked a little bit like Baligant,
A coat-hanger-man, a skeleton.
He carried a box covered with a cloth.
He’d gone through his testimony with Richard
A hundred times. This is a community,
He was supposed to say, we’re trying to survive.
A community. No mention of a box.
“Um, Oliver?” was Richard Ente’s first question.
“What have you got there?”
Oliver lifted the cloth off. It was the cage,
And in it was the white or Canadian finch,
Looking none too well after three months
In captivity. “Ladies and gentlemen,” Oliver said.
“Oliver!” Richard Ente hissed. “Put it away!”
Too late. “When I was a little boy,
“The woods were full of lovely birds like this,
Which sang on autumn evenings, and in spring,
Bringing the woods to life with their song,
A kind of whit-de-whit-de-whit-de-woo.”
“Your honor,” Richard said. “Ssh,” said the judge.
“Don’t interrupt the witness.” Oliver went on:
“This was the bird of my childhood, and before
I was born, it was my father’s bird,
And before that my father’s father’s bird.
Now it is almost gone. Will it survive
A year of snow?” “Ollie!” “Ssh!”
“What right does one man, or a group of men,
Have to drive the song of my childhood away?
By what law does Regenzeit banish my past?
Look at me: I am an old man.
I have nothing but that song now, and…”
Oliver struck the cage. “And that man…”
The wood gave way. The bird got free.
“That man has dared to take away…”
It flew up to the empty gallery.
“To take from all of our community…”
It was no use. The judge cleared the court,
And the bailiff went for a ladder
To catch the bird, or chase it out the window.
I took my father’s arm. As we left the court,
He looked back at the bird, perched up there,
And whispered, “Sing.” Then we went out.
I drove Oliver home. He was shaking
With fever, and wouldn’t speak.
Mary put him to bed. She said he fell asleep
Almost as soon as he lay down,
And though she watched him all that night,
He didn’t wake up once, or even stir.
The next day I went back to court.
A dozen reporters from Hudson and Albany
Had staked out places in the gallery,
Because they’d heard about the bird,
And they hoped that something else would happen.
Dr. Goldzing was there, and Baligant,
And all the plaintiffs and their families,
And the judge, whose name I can’t remember—
Something like duvet, but not duvet.
Richard Ente wasn’t there yet.
At ten o’clock he still hadn’t showed up,
And the judge said, “Well, the plaintiff rests.
Mr. Baligant?” He didn’t need to say much.
Afterward, the reporters
Stuck around to ask the plaintiffs questions:
Was it true that there had been a bird?
Was it true that Oliver was mad?
And was it winter that drove him mad?
“Absolutely,” Jan Engeler said. “It’s so noir.”
Richard Ente never came to court.
He never came back to Thebes, in fact.
It was as if the ground had swallowed him up.
We found out later that he’d gone to Acra,
The afternoon Oliver gave his testimony.
He smoked at least two joints, and did some coke—
That was another of our bad habits—
And watched television until after midnight.
There was a show about a robot on,
And Dick sang, “I am a robot man,”
“I’m a robot in love,” and laughed hysterically.
He wouldn’t talk about the trial, or Oliver,
Or anything but how his robot heart
Was beating with mechanical love,
And how one day he wanted to have kids,
But he was a robot—robots couldn’t breed.
He woke up early the next morning.
He took a shower like a human being,
Put on his lawyer suit, packed his briefcase,
Waggled his hands mechanically goodbye,
Got in a rented car and drove up Route 23.
It was eight a.m., probably, the twins said.
They left the room—one or both of them—
About an hour later.
Oliver felt better the next day.
He asked Mary how the trial was going,
And whether we had won yet? Mary tried
To keep him from finding out we hadn’t won.
Of course he found out anyway,
Because the case was in the local news,
Snow Trial Just A Snow Job, they said.
Local papers love obvious jokes.
Oliver took it well. He seemed almost relieved
To have the whole thing over with,
To have Dick out of his life for good,
The long winter was nothing in comparison.
Mary, who I’ve said almost nothing about,
Patient Mary, who hated Dick as much as anyone,
Agreed that it was better he was gone.
“Maybe he went to see the Indians,” she suggested.
Oliver laughed at that. “The Indians!
I hope they got their revenge on him.”
He laughed until he almost couldn’t breathe
And went back to bed. For days afterward,
You’d hear him say “Set fire to his feet!”
Or “Scalp him!” or something like that.
It seemed like he was going to be himself.
It might have been as if nothing happened,
Because Regenzeit’s weather program didn’t work.
That winter was like every other winter,
The snow fell as it always fell,
Too much, too soon, too long.
Then we found out Richard Ente was wrong:
Either he wasn’t a robot, or robots could have kids.
Soon Marie was throwing up—
You want a beer?
Listen, why don’t we stop here.
I’m worn out, and, I mean,
You know how the story ends already.