A sound I hope to hear no more
than once—faint chime, small ring
produced by a wedding ring, rose-gold, flung
five flights to the cobbles of Rue Valadon
from the closet-sized kitchen where, wrung
dry, come to the end of endurance and all sense
of possibility, I had thrown it out the window.
Hours later I’m walking by the Seine,
October sunlight, ardent blues and golds
on river and trees—the sort of light,
I remember thinking, at once so matter-of-fact
yet gorgeous enough to seem embellishment—
and I notice a young woman noticing
something glistening on the gravel path.
She bends, lifts it in her hands, and rising,
raises her eyes to mine, extending her hand
to show me, in it, a golden wedding band.
Perdu?—the only word I caught
from her question. How to tell her, yes,
I lost a wedding ring this morning;
but a different ring, and lost for good?
As I turned it over, she took my hand,
and curled my fingers around the ring, and spoke
in a fountain of French whose only words
I could discern were évangéliste and cadeau.
The first word made no sense.
But when I heard the second word, “gift,”
in that moment I was ready to believe
in that magnanimous light bestowed upon us
for no one’s acceptance or refusal,
believe in recovery, in what lies
nascent and curled within some clemency
of possibility. I could even think, holding that ring,
that she was what an angel would look like—nondescript
in denim and wool, no jewelry, canvas shoes,
and walking away . . . But then she turned,
eyes widening as she approached, speaking softly
in broken English now, yet unmistakable
in tone—a sincerity that marks the universal language
of fraud. Said she’s hungry, has no
money for food . . .
And all this happened, as true as I’ve written it;
though I’d blame no one for disbelieving.
But I’d ask, why should my capacity
for gullibility be any less than another’s
talent for deceit? I have to thank her,
who moved me from a failure to a fool.
My wife and I survived that trip;
but days afterward, returning to those paths,
I’d watch that same con played by others—
the fake finding of fake rings—
able, at least, to recognize what little I know,
how much I want to believe.
William Wenthe is the author of three books of poems: most recently, Words Before Dawn, and previously, Not Till We Are Lost and Birds of Hoboken. He has received an NEA Fellowship in poetry and two Pushcart Prizes. His other writings include essays about poetry and the libretto for the opera Bellini’s War. He teaches creative writing and modern poetry at Texas Tech University.