Poem: They Don’t Sting When They’re Wet
“I wonder how she stands him!” was my thought
The first time that I saw them: she so quick
In every way and wit, and he . . . so . . . slow.
She so slight, so full of charm, so prim,
He so toad-like, taciturn, an oaf;
She all sparkle, like a babbling stream,
He unkempt and fetid, like a swamp.
I know some people claim that looks don’t matter,
That only fools can judge by first impressions,
But honestly, you can often pretty well tag
A person’s density or clarity of wit
At first glance by the way he looks and acts.
This guy looked dull. And act —he almost didn’t.
She, by contrast, was all looks and action.
A stimulating piece, if I must say.
They arrived or, foot (I watched them from the wall)
She striding sprite-like up the path, alert;
He plodding after at some distance, slouched.
She seemed to move as fast as he did slow,
Yet he kept up. The clod! As they arrived
She was all out of breath. He scarcely breathed.
She grasped my hand and greeted me profusely,
He simply nodded, his face expressionless,
His big sombrero bending his big ears.
She told me, blushing, that they were man and wife,
Parried two years and still no children . . . but then
At least he farmed. “And- well!” she added sweetly.
She apologized for his not saying much.
(He had said nothing) “It’s not that he’s unfriendly,
He’s just shy. And a little . . . well, you know . . .”
She smiled gently, willing to allow
For human weakness, even in a husband.
Then she added, so as not to slight him,
“But he works hard. Plows well.” The hulking oaf
Didn’t so much as blink before such praise.
Tactfully she thought to change the subject:
“Let’s talk about something pleasant.
Goodness me, What a beautiful place you have here,” arid
“Oh my, I just now noticed the roses.
Simply lovely! But don’t you get bored. living here alone?”
“No,” I said, “Quite to the contrary, I . . .”
She interrupted (perhaps it was as well):
“Just one thing bothers me: aren’t you afraid
This big old pine so close beside the cabin
Will blow over on top of you?”
I was going to say It leaned the other way —but she went on:
“Just look how it drops its needles on the roof!
My, what a nuisance! It looks nice and all that,
But one mustn’t go by looks. I’d cut it down.
Wouldn’t you, boy?” The query was to her husband.
He didn’t hear . . . or perhaps he didn’t want to.
He apparently had his mind on one small wasp
That had fallen somehow into the water trough
And was paddling as best it could with oarless legs
But getting nowhere. The big man stooped
And stuck a heavy finger in the water;
He held it there until the half-drowned bug
Caught hold of it and hauled itself to rescue.
“Ooooh!” cried his wife as the big man raised his finger.
“Get rid of it, boy! Do you know what it is?
It is a wasp!” she gasped. “They sting, you know!”
“His skin’s so tough I doubt it can get through it,”
I said to calm her down.
He looked at us
And smiling harmlessly he slowly said:
“They don’t sting when they’re wet.” (These were the first
And last words that I ever heard him speak.)
“You’ll have to forgive him,” said. his wife,
Embarrassed. “He’s still just a boy at heart.
But he works hard!” At this she turned on him
With a good-natured joke: “I hope it stings you!
It would serve you right! I wish it would!”
The “boy” didn’t hear. Instead he raised
His heavyy finger toward the sun, and stood there
Watching the wet wasp preen its soggy wings,
A look of care upon his big dull face.
I marveled at his power of affection
For anything so small-. “I think,” I said,
“He may be right: They can’t sting when they’re wet.”
“You can’t tell by appearances,” she chimed.
“Let me tell you about the time my Uncle Baldo—
Who thinks himself the world’s best weather profit—
Said, one night when there wasn’t a cloud in the sky
That because the cuckoo cried ‘coo-coo’ at dusk
That it was going to rain. He was so sure! . . .
But do you think it rained?” “No,” I answered,
“Or you wouldn’t have remembered.” “Wrong!” she whooped.
“It rained so hard and long that all the corn
Rotted on its stalks. That goes to show
How little you can tell . . .” And she went on . . .
And on and on and on. The lucky wasp
By now had dried its wings and flown away.
We watched it go, the “boy” and I, perhaps
With some small envy; who can say?
He wasn’t such a bad chap, after all;
A little slow, perhaps, but does that matter?
(The sun moves slowly, doesn’t it? Or does it?
I guess one shouldn’t judge by first impressions,
Even if . . . well, sometimes … let it be.)
For all, I didn’t weep to see them go.
I watched them down the trail. She led the way,
She with her pert, swift pace, he with his trudge.
Yet he kept up. I watched them out of sight,
Shaking my head to remember my first thought:
“I wonder how he stands her!” Was that it?