(After W.W. Jacobs, 1902)

 

The night it happened, Mr. White and son
Had started out the evening playing chess.
The father was distracted; he’d begun
To risk his king – his usual finesse

Was missing. He was thinking of the rain,
And list’ning through the wind, to hear the gate.
He stirred a bit, and took a knight, in vain –
And watched a bishop hover. Then, “Checkmate.”

“Of all the beastly places we could choose
To live in! God, the road outside’s a mess!
We’re so far from the station, he could lose
His way – he’s never been to this address!”
And Mrs. White said gently, “Yes dear. Yes.

“You’ll win the next one.” He looked up, to see
A knowing glance between his wife and son,
And smiled a bit – how angry could he be?
He’d taught the boy to play; the boy had won.

And then, as if to punctuate the thought,
The gate banged loudly, out amid the storm.
The visitor that Mr. White had sought
Was here. He rose, put on a noble form,
And opened up the door. “Come in! It’s warm.”

Then Mr. White made introductions. “This –
is Sergeant-Major Morris. God, it’s been
What – twenty years you’re gone? I’d be remiss
To keep you standing, empty-handed. Gin?

“A whiskey?” and he motioned to a seat.
The sergeant-major seemed content enough,
Protected from the storm and off his feet,
But still, his mood was just a little rough;

Perhaps the trip had left him slightly chilled.
Well then, the fire would help. And Mr. White
Made sure the sergeant-major’s glass was filled,
And toasted him, with evident delight,
And asked if he had stories, to recite?
Outside, the rainy evening turned to night.

At dinner then, and many questions later,
The sergeant-major warmed to their attention.
He told of campaigns, close to the equator,
And plagues and wars, too numerous to mention,

And India. Strange peoples, wild scenes,
And holy men, who barely had the means
To eat, who lived a thousand-year tradition,
And things he’d seen… he’d thought were superstition.

“I’d like to go to India, one day!
You wrote to me, sometimes, of what you saw!
It sounds exciting! Different, anyway!
Was there a note about… a monkey’s paw?”

The sergeant-major shifted in his chair.
A look had crossed his features, something fleeting –
The question seemed suspended in midair.
“There was,” he said. “It isn’t worth repeating”

For sev’ral seconds then, no words were spoken.
The soldier seemed a thousand miles away.
Then suddenly, the spell was simply… broken.
“You see, it’s just a bit of – folks might say,

“hm… magic.” And he finished off his drink,
Which Mr. White jumped up to fill again.
“To look at it, you wouldn’t ever think
It’s special. But a very holy man

“Has cast a spell on it, to prove we’re ruled
By fate, and if we try to interfere,
Then grief will follow. Fate will not be fooled.
I knew you’d ask. I keep it with me. Here.”

The fam’ly leaned in close. “This paw would grant
Three men three wishes each.” The sergeant-major
Was interrupted by the son: “You can’t
Be serious! How’d you get it?”
“In a wager.”

“Well have you had your wishes then? All done!”
The sergeant-major paused and answered, “Yes.”
“And they were granted? Really! Ev’ry one?”
Again, the sergeant-major: “More or less.”

Then Mrs. White: “Oh Herbert, please! Don’t touch!
…Has anyone besides you had a try?”
“One other man. I don’t know very much,
Except that… finally, he wished to die.”

Again, a hush descended on the room.
Some seconds in, the father cleared his throat.
“Well Morris, why d’you keep it? I’d assume
You’d sell it! Must be worth a pretty note!”

“I thought of that. But people wouldn’t pay.
They’d think it’s just some shaman’s fairy tale
And want to try it out for just a day.
Then curse me, when their luck began to fail.

“The only proper place for it is there –
The fire.” …and then, as if it heard him speak.
The monkey’s paw was sailing through the air,
Toward its end. The son let out a shriek,

And fished it from the coals. “Hang on, what – ow!
The sergeant-major watched him. “Let it burn,
And put an end to mischief.” “Morris! now…
You’ve had your three! It’s someone else’s turn!”

And Mrs. White broke in. “Well then! Three wishes!
How ’bout some extra hands, for washing dishes?
The sergeant-major rose abrubtly. “WAIT!
No, DON’T! …I’m sorry. Well. It’s getting late.
That spell… the curse. It’s hard to overstate.

“It’s mine no longer. Better it were ash –
Please, White. The thing is easily abused.
Your life can turn to horror in a flash.
For God’s sake friend, be careful how it’s used.
Remember, please, you asked – and I refused.”

The sergeant-major took his coat and hat,
And left, and closed the gate, and that was that.

 

“Well didn’t he enjoy a spooky tale!
So, father. You could be an emp’ror then!
Or maybe you could have the holy grail!
Whatever you desire most! Say when!”

The father, still affected by the scene,
Was thoughtful for a bit. “The thing’s intact.
The fire didn’t touch it – oh – I mean,
I don’t know what to wish for. That’s a fact.

I think I’ve ev’rything that I could need.
We wouldn’t want to tempt the fates with greed.

The son pressed on. “Well, so then – something small!
The house! How much is left on it, today?
Two hundred pounds? Be nice to pay it all!
That isn’t greed – you’d do it anyway!”

The father smiled. “Allright then.” But the task
Had somehow got him worried now, and tense.
He brushed it off, and raised the paw. “I ask…”
And did a sum, to ev’ryone’s suspense…
“…to have two hundred pounds, and thirteen pence.”

“Good god!” He dropped the paw, and stepped away.
“…I thought… it moved a little, in my hand.
Well I… don’t see the money, anyway.
We’ll pay our bills then… like we’d always planned.”

“Oh very well then father,” said the son.
“You know, I think the story’s overdone.
Though honestly, I even had a fright.
Your face you know, you really were a sight!
I’m working in the morning, then. Goodnight.”

And just a little later, Mister White
And Mrs. White put out the mantle light.

 
Next day, the storm was gone, and breakfast tea
And winter sunlight made the kitchen… plain.
And wholesome. Humdrum. Comfortably free
Of mysteries that slink in, in the rain,
And leave us feeling just a bit… less sane.

So Mrs. White brought jam, and marmalade.
“I think they’re all a little bit the same,
Old soldiers. If you ask me, bit of shade
Would do him good in Ind’ya. It’s a shame…

“He seems the nicest man in many ways.
But holy men! I just don’t understand.
Imagine! Granting wishes, nowadays!
…Or good luck charms that wiggle in your hand!”

Then Herbert said, “I think it’s just as well.
That money would’ve made him avaricious.
Pay off the house? …and life’s a living hell!
…But thank you mother, everything’s delicious.”

He stood, and took his napkin, wiped his lips,
Picked up his tea, and took a few more sips,
And started out the door. “Oh, mother dear?
Come get me, when the money’s fin’lly here!”

 
That winter afternoon, before the sun
Had set, before the hour had gotten late,
The mother looked outside… and saw someone –
– A man – out front, considering the gate,

And pacing back and forth. She saw him check
The numbers to the houses on the road,
And pace, consider… then brush off a speck
Of lint, perhaps, and come again. He slowed,

Approached once more. And frozen to the spot,
He opened up the gate, and then stepped through.
The gate made such a racket, he forgot
For just a moment, what he’d come to do.

So Mrs. White went out, and brought him in.
He kept his coat on, frozen with chagrin,
Or sadness; and he struggled to begin:

“Good afternoon. I’ve news of Herbert White.
May I be sure that this address is right?”
The mother worked the collar of her dress,
And Mr. White responded simply, “Yes.”

“I’ve come from Maw & Meggins, the employ
Of Herb- excuse me – Mr. White, your boy.
I’m sorry, Mrs. White. Your son was caught
in some… machinery… two others fought
To get him out. We know, from what they’ve said,
It happened very fast. Your son… is dead.”

“Oh God in heaven,” Mrs. White replied.
She stared… more into space, than at the speaker.
Her husband hurried over to her side,
And as he crossed the room, his legs grew weaker.

He wobbled as he took her by the hand.
The visitor went on: “Please understand
That as a junior member of their staff,
I am… compelled… to speak on their behalf.

“No liability will be admitted.
However, certain funds are here remitted,
Made out to Herbert’s nearest blood relation:
His pay, of course, and… other compensation.

“I have some papers… legal forms, and such…”
And Mister White said, “No… no God… how much?”

He thought of last night’s little parlor scene,
A simple wish, now turned grotesque, unclean –
And jealous, spiteful fate, and grief foreseen…
The man replied, “Two hundred pounds, thirteen.”

 
The cemetery, some two miles away,
Was new, and huge, and nearly empty. Lonely.
The grieving couple had no strength to pray –
A single thought defeated them: If only.

The burial had come and gone, and yet,
Somehow the couple lived in expectation
That something might help lighten their regret…
In time, it only turned to resignation,

The hopeless acquiescence of the old,
Who have no stories still worth being heard.
Each morning, silence started to unfold;
Some days, they didn’t speak a single word.

About a week had passed, when late one night
The husband reached to touch his wife, and woke,
And found her missing. There, just out of sight,
He heard her crying, quietly. He spoke:

“There now, you will be cold. Come back to bed.”
And she replied, “It’s colder for my son,”
He listened, as she wept again. His head
Grew heavy, and her sobbing had begun

To die away. He dozed… A wild cry
Awoke him: “Love, wake up! The Monkey’s Paw!”
He sat up, in alarm. “The what? Now why…”
She came to him. “Where is it?” And he saw

Her stumble. She was laughing now. “Where is it?”
“The same place since the Sergeant-Major’s visit.
It’s by the entrance, on the bracket. Why?”
She answered “We forgot it, you and I!”

She sounded distant, somehow. “We’re not done!”
There’s two more wishes left! We’ve just had one!
We’ll bring him back! There’s wishes still! We can!
Go get it! Wish him back alive again!”

The husband flung the bedclothes to the side.
“You don’t know what you’re saying, love. He’s gone.”
She answered, “But it’s ’cause of us he died!
Now get the paw! And BRING HIM BACK! Come on!!!”

His voice began to shake. “Ten days he’s dead.
Have you forgotten now, what Morris said?
That man who wished to die? The paw is cursed!”
He’s gone! And that still might not be the worst!
She said, “D’you think I fear the boy I nursed!”

He felt his way along the hall, downstairs,
Still stricken by her face, the grief he saw,
And groped around the heavy parlor chairs,
Toward the door, where ev’ryday affairs
Hung silent – coat, and hat… and Monkey’s Paw.

“D’you have it? I can’t see you! Bring it here!”
“I do.” But he was dizzy from the fear
That even though the wish was yet unsaid,
His son already might be there – not dead,

Not living, quite – a thing become… unholy.
He stumbled. And he climbed the stairway, slowly,
And when he reached the top, he saw his wife.
He raised the paw: “I wish him back to life.”

He felt it move again, and let it fall.
Then… nothing. And he stood there in the hall;
His wife looked out the window, through the blind,
Attentive for the moment… then resigned:
Perhaps the wish had failed, and that was all.

Some minutes on, the candle flickered out.
They went to bed. And still, a ling’ring doubt
Kept Mr. White awake. Downstairs, the clock
Marked ev’ry other second – tick… then tock,
And when it rang the hour, he heard… a knock…

…Perhaps. It barely even had the strength
To overcome the clock’s relentless mark.
He lay in bed, awake, and then, at length,
It came again, and hammered through the dark.

Then Mrs. White was stirring. “What was that?”
And Mr. White said, “Nothing dear. A rat.
I think it’s on the stairs.” She said “You’re wrong!
It’s Herbert! We’d forgotten quite how long
It takes to come two miles! Get up! He’s here!”
And Mr. White was panicking. “No, dear,

“Don’t do this! Please, good Lord, don’t let it in!”
It knocked again: Pathetic, muted, thin,
But now less slowly. Mrs. White called down,
“I’m coming, Herbert!” Putting on a gown,

And fumbling for the bannister, she went,
And Mr. White came after, and he bent
On hands and knees, and tried to mouthe a prayer
While searching on the carpet by the stair,
And Mrs. White said “I can’t reach the lock!
Oh Herbert, dear, I’m trying!” And the knock
Was stronger now, and pummeling the air.
“I’m coming!” Mr. White could hear the chair
His wife was dragging now, toward the door.
He kept on groping wildly on the floor
To find the paw – he needed one wish more.

He’d found it! And his wife had reached the bar
And thrown it back! The door was just ajar –
He raised the Monkey’s Paw, and held it fast,
And breathed his desp’rate wish – his third. His last.

The door was open. “Herbert! …are you there?”
And nothing but a rush of icy air
Blew in the house. Outside the streelamp glowed
And flickererd… in the darkness, all that showed
Was loss, along the empty, lonely road.

 

– Nyack, NY.  April-August 2012

 

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