The difference the rain makes
by Ed Madden

xxxxxxBath, England, July 1992

Rain descends like afternoon.
There is nothing to do but find
a doorway, or a convenient shop,

or walk into the English light,
where girls in slickers of primary colors
line up a covered stairway, waiting

for the rain to stop, and we,
the newly arrived, jacketed, amble
past, our hat brims dripping.

The walkway is wet, the river roars
over the falls, and in the yellow
windows of the bridge cafes, the tourists

sip their teas, ceremoniously.
Nearby, the steam rises in wisps
from the green depths of Roman baths,

rises like memory into a chill afternoon.
There we watched each traveler
lean to dip a finger in forbidden

water -- pilgrims who disregard
the posted rules, leave a coin
for luck in a clear circle of pool,

coins silvered with forgiveness.
A way to name the past, that
is what has drawn us here, what drew

us to the guards and gates, to histories
sold, a portrait of a goddess in the postcard
shop.  Not what the rain says,

not what the river means.
Warm waters still pour from lips
of stone, grow silent in the green pools

below, hoarding archaic coins,
tokens of a time that never
was.  We, too, like the other

pilgrims, cast our thoughts in foreign
coin among the steeping dead --
regrets that drain away, that reach

the distant river, where we walk
for now, in rain, where our talk
has turned, almost naturally,

to the difference the rain makes,
to reasons why, to the way
things might have been.

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