Wet Jewels in the Autumn Sun

by Jean Bevan Weaver


When youth is lived in fortune good,
It takes for granted loving joys.
Blurred past is pleasantly perfumed
With vague and satisfying dreams.
It needs experience knife sharp
To put to death the innocence -
Of childhood’s sleep and to unveil
Unborn green hopes that will abort.


One late September Sunday afternoon,
By supper gratified, in humor fine,
My sister sat and read “Gone with The Wind”.
I lay full length upon a couch of blue
And watched soft sunlight’s golden paths adorn
The ceiling, rug, and walls in silent peace.
The telephone’s sharp ring intruded then.
Averse, Roberta reached with groping hand
To still its angry bell, her voice detached.
She listened with her brows at work, upraised,
As from a sleep she woke to quick alarm.
“What did you say?” A pause. “A moment please!
“Please wait a moment if you can! My God!”
In all my life I’d never heard a throat
Produce the awesome tone of her reply.
Dread bound my body fast in ropes of fear.
Roberta’s rising from her chair was slow.
She shook with shock as from a shower cold,
Her black eyes spewed forth shards of pain.
She breathed quick puffs of air; her mouth was wide,


A force like madness breached the pretty room
Destroying quiet peace and heartbeats slow.
On swiftly moving currents fear arose;
An unknown horror filled the place like flames
Through which our mother — beautiful, still young —
Appeared, her apron drying off her hands.
The telephone was held toward her, dumb.
She reached, and as she took it from the hand
Which held it, studied us with sweeping gaze.

I watched as caution seeped throughout her frame.
She placed the instrument against her ear.
I heard it in her rich contralto voice,
“Hello? I am. Why are you calling me?”
A heavy garment slid across and clothed
Her shrouded face in color—draining gray
As tears poured down her cheeks, a cloud burst free.
There was no sound, no sound at all until
She set the phone back in its resting place,
The noise, a gunshot in the afternoon.


Across the long bright room I heard a tear
Make contact with an object on the desk.
She sat; my sister stood. Their faces spoke.
My body screamed, what is the matter? Please.
In circles over and over again
My voice repeating loudly carried me
Til I was near, beside her tear drowned eyes.
She did not look at me or anything now.
Her face a dog—like look of patience bore,
A dog whom we had loved for fifteen years,
Last year, near death and waiting, quivering,
In silence bearing the unbearable.
That is the way my mother looked today..
She said in a metallic voice which I
Had never heard before nor ever since,
“They’re not supposed to phone the telegram.”
She looked at last at me, through me, beyond.
“He’s missing since he flew to bomb some place
In Italy. They said that they regret———”
A pause. “That he did not return from there.
“Is it September now? Can this be true?”
I saw her rise and walk with care away.
She left the room, her heels tap—tapping on
Bare floor and hot air vent. I heard the floors
Protesting squeak as she upon them stepped.
She wiped her white dry hands mechanically
Upon her apron as she had before.
My sister followed by the same set route.
The kitchen door swung shut behind each one.
Their grief was measured by receding feet.
We had not touched or spoken loving words.


Dear God, is this a long unending dream?
I’d had a letter from him late in June.
He said that he had painted large the name
On their third bomber, Walla Walla III,
For great black birds who cry in darkest night
In Africa for lady loves they’ve lost.

He said he knew he would be home by Fall.
His missions would be totaled ‘fifty then.
He’d flown to heaven by September third,
And now no hand reached out toward my hand,
No arms were there to hold and comfort me.


On trembling legs as if I bore his wounds
I sought back stairs through day’s last glow of light.
In dimness halfway up I crouched and felt
The bannister’s cool posts against my face
Pressed hard against unyielding polished wood.
My arms embraced my knees to warm, console;
Within my mind a litany was sung
For hope, for brother, friend, protector dear.
These things he was for me and teacher, too.
He taught me how to shoot a penny off,
A tree, to catch the fish in silver pools.
He taught me where blackberries grew and how
To spot a blacksnake mid the thorns below.
He showed me violets of purple hue,
Their yellow cousins growing with the moss,
And stones of gray to hold the garden’s soil.
He smilingly unhooked the fish I caught
For I could not abide to touch its scales.
He taught me how to soap and clean his boots;
They were as soft as richly gleaming gloves.
Mind’s treasures.
I’ll paint a picture now of golden sun
At peach—toned dawn, October leaves in bloom.
We rode on Sunday when the world still slept.
The autumn fields lay waiting in the frost
Beneath a cool blue pale bowl of sky
Stretched high above our heads in hushed suspense.
I see the barnyard where he stood long legged.
His bones were fine and straight and loosely hinged.
His unmarked skin was smoothly umber tinged;
His eyes and brow, his hair deep shining brown;
His hands with fingernails pale pink, teeth white.
His softly beige fresh—washed corduroy pants
Were tucked into his boots, his shirt agape
Around the pillar of his graceful throat.
America’s historic dream, in flesh,
Ill—fated to become its bloody past.
That morning I appeared in splendid dress
Of boots and breeches proudly pristine new.
He reached and scooped up mud and excrement,
He laughed and rubbed the mess into my boots.
Indignant tears burst from my startled eyes;
I kicked; he parried, caught my angry ankle
To toss, to seat my breeches deep in mud.
Contagious laughter dried the tears; he scraped,
Admonishing against my vanity.

He helped me to mount up, adjusted reins,
Spoke firmly to the mare who carried me.
We started off — walk, trot, walk, trot, canter,
The horses softly snorting to the dawn.
We held them in and took the oak lined path
Toward the stately sentinels of pines.
Deep silence rested after leather’s creak;
Soft plod of hooves on needle scented path,
A lullaby of nature’s sweetest sounds.
Our faces felt the sunlight’s slivers dance
While patterns formed of creatures’ running feet
Among the gullies’ lower depths and damps.
Through ecru fields we galloped wildly next
And felt alive and young and free of care.
This was a day when I was lost in dreams,
The horses eager to return to feed.
A bee’s sting caused my mare to bolt outraged.
Tight kneed I lost the rein. My fingers sought
And found the flying mane to cling for life.
The maddened horse knew I had lost control.
I clung. She jerked her head up, hard as steel,
To strike a blow, unseat me from her back.
I heard his horse behind us quicken pace;
Beside me firm, intent, his strong brown hand
Reached out and grasped the reins to draw us up.
I saw his face above in lace—like veil
Spun by the sun on red and gold oak leaves.
He’d made me safe. I would always be safe.


Our diner coffee, bacon, eggs, at eight With crispest
toast and juice was luxury, A happy feast of laughter,
boasts, advice.
We talked, we laughed. We choked. We talked some more.
“My God, you looked so foolish, dummy.” Taunt. “Your
dirty face and boots, your eyes like moons.” “I could
have come out of it by myself,”
I claimed. But he knew I couldn’t have. Why was it hard
for me to say thank you? I heard my whisper low at last,
“Thank you.”


Now, rising from the step, legs cramped, back bent,
An empty weary woman of nineteen,
I climbed the stairs to topmost floor — his room,
A room as neat as when he left, waiting.
A narrow bed and white, a chair, a desk,
An easel, pictures hanging on the wall
Of willow trees that wept beside our lake.
The willows were my mother’s hair,
The lake became the cup which held her grief.

One picture was bold stroked of pale blue eyes
And sharp moustache, old Kaiser Wilhelm’s face.
“I like his map,” he said, when asked, “Why him?”
I thought it looked precisely like our dad.
A window in the room stood opened wide.
I leaned and looked down at the tall green hedge.
I saw my brother coming home on nights
From late dates with the Betty he adored;
He leaped the hedge born on a summer breeze,
He felt serenely light with joyful love.
Love was a gift to give, accept, and keep
While giving back with gain — contradiction.
On cool porch steps we sat smelling the rain.
We talked of where we’d been and what we’d done,
Of needs and wants and hopes for future days.
Our dreams were both sublime and full of jest.
He wanted marriage to his tall pale love,
To draw cartoons and walk in fields of warm
White breasts, to feel their milk run through his toes,
For the rest of his life.


When war came early in December’s chill,
Our parents fought for him against his will.
His age required that they should give consent
For his enlistment as an air cadet.
“This is a family of peace, not war,”
I heard my father shout. My mother cried.
He argued that enlistment gave him choice;
If he went first, he could be sent to learn
To fly where it was safer in the air.
Did killing unseen people cross his mind?
Not then, I think, but later on it did.
My parents wrote their names in stiff defeat.
Which brings us to this tragic aftermath.
The house was still. I passed my parents’ door.
I heard low voices murmuring behind it.
Were words spoken in closeness? Did they touch?
No sound again. It was not natural.
I wandered down a hall, a tunnel dim,
To my own room and to my private desk
Whose drawer held six thin well read letters
Addressed to me in small concise black print.
He called me Totty. Dear Totty, six times;
No other called me by that nickname now.
I laid them out and took them up again.
My moist hand held them closely to my heart
As though they were his hand, his living face.
In numb despair I sat upon the bed.
Dusk oozed into the room and with it fear.
I thought, “Don’t let the darkness come, dear God.”
A prayer to the God who gives us choice.
“If he is gone forever, where are You?
“Why did You let his nighttime come so soon?”

“Why him?” Defeat. Lost hope. “Have You gone mad?”

Immeasurable frustration loosed the dam.
A mighty banshee cry belated broke.
The pain that tore my lacerated soul
Became a flood, a suffocating sea
And washed my face, my heart, my reeling mind.
I slept, left life too painful to endure.


Against my will I woke once more, to night
Whose velvet blue in every corner sat.
Next to me on the bed my sister lay.
Her breathing stopped, then fluttered back once more
Unevenly continued past her lips.
She sighed. I felt a closeness now. We’d talk.
I rose and laid upon the desk the letters.
Through indigo air space I made a path
That led down stairs, through empty rooms to feel
The knob of kitchen door, now moonlight etched.
It opened to a porch, a garden wall.
With back against its friendly stone I leaned
And tasted bitter salt inside my mouth.
My empty eyes were swollen in my face.
Awake reality is dominant.
For almost two decades I had adored
A living hero, a model male to me,
Because a loved but distant father’s mien
Discouraged coldly youthful female need.
My nightmares had been played upon sleep’s stage.
Tonight’s sky wore a gown of gauze moonlight,
A thousand stars adorned its pale, loose folds.
Sweet Williams, asters, Johnny Jumps stood dead
Beside the garden’s greenly fishless pool.
The seeds would need to be collected soon.
A clump of topaz bright chrysanthemums
Were glowing near; the spice of their perfume
A memory of every Autumn day.
A shower’d left its tears upon the hedge.
A hidden, unseen car swished by beyond.
Experience is treasure we keep safe
Within our mind’s deep copious places.
Tomorrow I would gather flowers’ seeds;
Tonight I would deposit memories.
I’d cup them in my hands like rare jewels.
I’d wet them with my lonely crystal tears.
I’d warm them in the gold of autumn sun,
Too precious to wear every day but
To take, to see, to touch when I had need,
The past on which my future would be built.
I have some guilt upon my human soul.
Permit me one regret now if you will.
The last time he was home I saw his eyes.
He looked at every thing. He knew secrets,
By then he knew that he would kill or die.

We did not laugh. He did not tease or taunt.
I never really said goodbye to him.
At pale mauve dawn he came into my room.
I feigned deep sleep so not to say goodbye.
My traitor eyes allowed a tear to fall;
He bent and kissed it where it wet my cheek.
He smiled his gentle smile and turned away.


The parents died in guilt, too soon.
The sisters had a craze to live,
Made hasty choices for much grief.
The youngest sang her mournful songs.
Two died, and only I am left.
Does death destroy all dreams? Oh, no.
I seek him yet in every place —In children’s chins, in
eyes, profiles,
In shoulders bent toward a task.
And still my heart will leap with joy
When youth with mouth and brow like his
A strong, brown hand puts into mine.
The ashes of the innocents
Have settled over all the earth.
The guns still boom and youth still dies.

Walter and Jean Bevan - 1942


Walter and his mother - 1943


Walter and sisters Jean, Roberta and Shirley