Found on His Body

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Burnette G. Haskell. "Found on His Body." The Californian Illustrated Magazine. May, 1893.

[Haskell was a prominent western socialist, and one of the founders of the Kaweah colony in California.]



THERE seems to be some subtle sense of dream about you when I am near; some unreal veil that hides your inmost self from me; that self, a gleam of which I used to see when, pale with passion, we gazed into each other's eyes. I remember, by all the hopes I have of thee, I do remember that then (as when in some depth of sea one looks and sees an instant's mystery) I saw beneath the swelling of your eyes your soul, and knew its history since time began, and that soul was part and parcel of my own. You cannot call it up again, you said. And yet I live—and hope. I leave this dead paper whereon the words look so dull and senseless, and I go out into the night just to pass where you are, and to breathe the same air you breathe; not to disturb you, dear; not to cause those eyes to flutter an instant, but just to pass near where you are.

I have been gone three hours. It is now 9 o'clock. I stood on the hill behind your house, but I made no noise, nothing heard me. I only staid there and wrung my hands and cried, I never cried before I knew you. Oh, my God, do you know what it is that a man should cry and wring his hands and choke in throat and yet have to keep quiet and silent?

* * * * * *

I went to those trees I love so much to-night, where once you sat with me, and there came upon me a savage hunger for you beside which starvation for food is nothing. It seems somehow as if you were slipping away from me. Oh, for dear Christ's sake, don't, don't! What can I write to make yon feel what I feel—words are dead indeed. Dear love, don't you remember, you told me you loved me once, you told me you were mine, that I had but to order and you would obey, that when I was away you felt lost, and that only when I was near did you feel content? You used to say to me that little phrase of yours with that quaint delicious air; you used to laugh like sunshine set to melody. Do you not remember, sweet love? It is impossible that you can forget. You cannot. You cannot. Alas, I cannot put my grief into words!

As an exhausted swimmer facing death, yet despairingly struggles and struggles, stretches out his hand grasping a bough which slips, slips through his fingers; only a hoarse sob welling up in his throat, just one instant before the death rattle, so I too, try to cry, hold hard my breath and clench fast on these memories, fingers so desperate, so strong, that it seems to me now for an instant that my spirit stops sinking, that it lingers again softly safe where thy love made it float. Is it true? Is this death? Or have I won the battle? To die so young and yet so old.

I have come back once more from your window. The house was alight and I looked in through the pane. You did not know it, but I saw you there with him. One look, I marked, and that was all. Your eyes wandered, as he sat there idly tuning his instrument, wandered slowly and lingeringly from his head to his feet; a kiss so tender and so sweet in every touch of the light of those happy eyes that it tore hope forever from me. And so farewell.

I did not disturb you then, did I? I tried not to. I only went in the old way and took something out; that picture of my mother that I had given you. You did not need it any more, dear, did you? And I wanted to see her grey and wrinkled face once more, just her old face once more.