The Rags of Time - By Maureen Howard


My family—husband, Mark Probst; brother, George Kearns; daughter, Loretta Howard, incalculable thanks for their support and correction. Richard Powers for his generous editorial reading; James Longenbach and Joanna Scott for their care and honesty with a work in long progress, this last of my Seasons. Binnie Kirschenbaum for her spirited commentary. My agent and friend, Gloria Loomis, patient with me over the years; and Paul Slovak, my gifted editor, at once exacting and imaginative. I am indebted to Jeri Laber, Patrick Keefe, Mohammet Yildiz, Harish Bhat, George and Sonya Tcherny, Cleo Kearns, Brenda Maddox, Ann Weiss mann, Ed Park, Paul La Farge, Bradford Morrow, and to Drs. Iris Sherman and Mary Anne McLaughlin for their consultation; to the Mercy Learning Center for letting me camp on their porch, and the Bogliasco Foundation for a residency at the Villa dei Pini.

Love, all alike, no season knowes, nor clyme,

Nor houres, dayes, moneths, which are the rags of time.

—John Donne, “The Sunne Rising”

Central Park


In soul-baring confessional writings (maximum honesty with regard to oneself), the third-person form is better.

—Max Frisch, Sketchbook (1970)

In God We Trust. She notes these words inscribed on a five dollar bill she sticks in her pocket, heads for the park. Odd, how she no longer sees the motto on twenties and tens, on every coin in her purse. Did she ever believe in that trust? When the patrician voice of the president declared a date that will live in infamy; when her brother was drafted during the conflict in Korea; perhaps held that tarnished belief when she marched with thousands against the wars in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos. Even then believed, though her trust was in the marching, not God on a dull penny, in the slogans and songs, trusting something worthy would come of her effort, more than camaraderie or the glow of self-satisfaction. Her picture had been snapped with the hippie academics. She’s in the tie-dye T pushing through the police barrier, storming onto campus when Governor Reagan punished children who stepped out of line, said oh no you don’t teach your dispiriting lessons against the war, not on my watch. These days she would not be sure of her footing if herded into the courthouse in Santa Barbara to be charged with unlawful assembly.

The Sixties were so performative! This contribution from her daughter who lives nearby.

What does that mean?

Well, she can no longer march. In Central Park she walks the short distance set by her failing heart, delights in a warm day, an amber wash of Indian Summer.

She would like to know who proposed the motto In God We Trust, and when unseasonable days were first called Indian Summer, as though knowing might steady her flip-flop pulse. These are almanac questions with almanac answers available on an Internet service. Suppose, just suppose, this time round the easy answers will not heal by way of distraction. I am outraged. She repeats this phrase in the lilting, stage center voice that entertained students in the classroom and readings of her work in years past. I am outraged. What crimes are they committing at their Black Sites? Delivered to her husband, her brother, to Cleo and Glo—whoever will listen, and they are outraged, too, repeating the day’s dreadful news. We have not been given the full count of the injured. She is caught up in gestures of dollars and cents where In God We Trust came into her story—on green-backs, coinage in the pocket of her old black coat, though it’s her credit card that registers the small donations of her protest. So it goes.

She is still in her bathrobe at noon, her flighty gray hair unwashed, strange crust on her cheek, a new hillock of puffed flesh on the wrinkled map of age. She turns from the mirror. Not much for mirrors anymore. Let the body play out the days with a handful of pills adjusting the heartbeat, thinning the blood. Till well after noon she stays in her back room writing the last of her seasons, Fall with its showy splendor. She predicts year’s end may be her end, but that’s one of her stories. Her body will float on a bier of books and first drafts down the Lethe, or bob in Olmsted’s Lake, which appears at a distance, an elegiac vision she may have to revise, a cold wind ruffling the glass surface. Seldom given to self-pity. Consolation is across the street in Central Park with its Bridle Path, Pinetum, Reservoir Track, all that prospect