The Madwoman Who Called
on My Wedding Day

by Con Chapman

She was calling, she said, from the bowels of a library
at a college where she hid each night and slept in the stacks.
She’d been living that way for years, moving on when she was
discovered to someplace else, where she would blend in
with the scenery and pass undetected among the young.

I heard her out. She’d reached my name after running through
a directory alphabetically.  No one in the A’s or B’s or C’s before me
had listened. It was a strange tale she told, how she’d been cheated
of her inheritance—money her father had left her–by a trustee,
distant and cold, far off in California.  She said she had
no money to live on, or even fight with, because of him.

I called the fellow, a reasonable sort. He thanked me for my concern and
the attention I’d given his ward, but he said she was off her drugs,
the police had been alerted. They knew she’d come East and
were looking for her but they hadn’t found her yet.  There were too many
libraries for her to hide in in Boston, a city of books, a place such as Borges
imagined where for every rational line there were rows of senseless
cacophony, a library that was the universe the librarians in suicidal despair.

I rolled over in bed to answer the phone and heard her voice again,
more desperate than before.  They were closing in, couldn’t I help?
What had the trustee said? she asked.
She wouldn’t say where she was—perhaps I’d turn her in.

I don’t recall what I told her other than to say
I couldn’t help her that day;
another woman—the one who would
become my wife—was waiting for me
in a church.  She was not the sort who’d tolerate
a groom who’d dare to show up late
to his wedding and hers,
and so I demurred.
You’ll have to try the next name on the list, I said.

But you’re the only one who’s talked to me,
she said, and those words rang in my head
like overtones of plainsong, Gregorian chant
echoing in the chancel up to the apse,
as I repeated my vows, facing the light
streaming through a stained-glass window
thinking of her disordered mind, which kept
her running as I prepared to settle down.

Con Chapman is a Boston-area writer whose poetry has appeared in The Christian Science Monitor, Light, and other publications.  He is the author of a collection of light verse, The Girl With the Cullender on Her Head and Other Wayward Women, and poetry is kind of important, a collection of humor about poets.  He is currently writing a biography of Johnny Hodges, Duke Ellington’s long-time alto saxophonist, for Oxford University Press.
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