“Time passes everywhere, times passes, time...”
“The past never seems to lie quietly....”

Time passes and passes, and you are carried far down the river until your parents, frantically waving, disappear on the shoreline as you are carried further and further downstream, until one day, Jason Baker, a student who you don’t know from Adam, approaches as you are sitting in your empty classroom, yes, approaches you, as  you remember it now, in slow motion, he a-p-p-r-o-a-c-h-e-s  y-o-u, and he is carrying something under his arm as he approaches you, and you look up, and you say, “Hi Jason, what’s up?”, and he says as you watch his lips move and form sounds, he says, “Can I ask you if you ever knew anyone named Pearl Weissman?”, and suddenly your little boat shakes (don’t forget, you are still gripped by the strong current pushing you down the river, always the river flows, even now), and for a moment you think you may capsize, though he cannot see this, as he looks at his teacher waiting for an answer, he does not know his teacher is actually thinking, “Oh dear, I may capsize, I must hold on,” because the teacher has just been asked a question, a question quite possibly the least probable he has ever heard in thirty years in this high school in Sudbury, Massachusetts, so far from his Bronx home, yes, the teacher has been asked (and the river is still moving, it never rests, not even while he writes this poem), has been asked a question, a simple question which has pried open the lid on his entire, vast childhood, those days when he lived far down the river, and it’s all pouring out now, all the details, the thousand billion facts, and Jason is standing there, and he waiting for answer to his question, and seconds are passing, and I am gripping my boat, I am hanging on, WHO IS THIS KID?, I ask myself, is this some kind of joke, a hoax (but how could it be?) and I look up at him and I watch myself saying (holding on to my tears now with a wrestler’s grip), “Yes, Jason, I knew Pearl Weissman, she was my Godmother,” and I wanted to say, “Just who are you to ask this question of me?”, and I wanted to say, But hardly anyone now alive knows Pearl Weissman, or that she lived in the small farming town of Amenia, New York, because no one has ever heard of Amenia, and no one knows of the magical days I spent there (oh, so magical for a city boy!), and no one knows my mother went there to recover after a near fatal operation (and I remember the day at camp when I was paged to the camp office, the Camp Kinder Ring Office, to learn if my mother was dead or alive. Oh, I walked in slow motion on that day), and no one one knows the guilt I have felt at not writing to Pearl near the end of her life, no one could possibly know these things, and Jason said, “Well, we thought you might know Pearl, because, you see, my mother grew up in Amenia, her family ran the general store, and we had these books (showing me now what he was carrying), these poetry books by your mother, and one had a picture, and it looked kind of like you, a resemblance I mean, so we thought you might have known Pearl,” and now I am looking at my mother’s books, now at her picture (the picture of my late mother, and the wrestler’s grip tightens), and I am trying to follow all of this, and he shows me an encouraging note my mother once wrote to his, when she was a little girl, telling her, telling Jason’s mom, to keep writing because she had talent, and now I am really lost, thick fog is descending on the river, and I hear myself saying to Jason, “Well, thanks Jason for telling me all this. Ask your Mom if she remembers the name of Pearl’s dog?” (only then  could I really know for sure), and the next day he returns, looks at me, and says simply, “Spunky,” and I say, yes, Jason, that’s right it was Spunky,  and I smile, the river’s much calmer now, and I know that with water things can float to the surface, things long buried in the river bed, things like facts that get disgorged, simple facts trailing simple questions, and in an instant, the way a great storm can gather over a river, a few lost facts get joined to others in a huge mosaic of meaning, great emotions, no, “The Past Is Never Dead,” not when Jason Baker decides to enter your room, your empty classroom, on a day in mid-September, no special day, and asks you a question, “Did you know Pearl Weissman”, and your little boat trembles in the current, and you hang on as best you can, on the river you thought you knew, downstream from all the points you thought you had passed, and this all happened in a moment at Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School, in the midst of an introductory unit on historiography, lessons that just so intellectual (“What is Truth,” I even asked) never fathoming that my life was part of it.

It all happened on
September 18, 2002

All written material © Bill Schechter, 2016
Contact Bill Schechter