Antonya Nelson on The Walk to Paradise Garden


Through a ragged, heart-shaped patch of life they step, a couple whose hands must be clasped.  Are they going in or coming out?  They are too young, certainly, and poorly prepared for night or cold.  They’ve dressed themselves inadequately; they carry no useful tool or weapon, no provision – no umbrella, no compass, no picnic basket.  Where are the adults?

They are the dreamed inhabitants of a bedtime story, conjured by a listening child, inspired by a tired parent telling a tireder tale:  the princess and the prince.  The difficult journey.  The thorns and wolves and witches and woe that wait in the woods, the many enemies of love and light and goodness.  Et cetera, yawning ad nauseam.  The narrating parent is distracted by her own intoxicating thoughts: television, red wine, a lingering argument with the spouse, the prickling temptation of infidelity, an incendiary glance, an extended hand.

Meanwhile, the child burrows into her cave made of imagination and linens, satin and fantasy, pink and pure, the prince and the princess stepping boldly into their adventure.  They are at the mercy, ill will, and time itself.  They are at the mercy of their bored teller, who is putting herself to sleep.  Their only defense is a pair of linked hands and the fertile busy mind of desire.  The lonesome child can see it all – happy flowers, ripe berries, birds bearing bright messages for the lucky couple.  They will be resourceful, courageous, brilliant, and triumphant.

They have come from darkness; they will return to it.  They have only each other, and that is enough – a vow taken on a wedding day, a wax ornament on a wedding cake, faith like a shared leap from one void into another.

In or out: it doesn’t matter.  If they are together, un-alone, it cannot matter.  In between darknesses, there is the blessed and blinding and forgetful light.

- Antonya Nelson

This piece by comes from a new book, “Art of our Time,” which accompanies an exhibition of selections from the permanent collection at the Ulrich Museum of Art at Wichita State University.  Toni shares Wichita roots with W. Eugene Smith and much of her fiction is set there, including “Living to Tell.”  Her mother Susan Nelson, a retired English professor, grew up four blocks from Smith and her older siblings were Smith’s age.  I included her description of the neighborhood in my previous blog entry on Wichita.

-Sam Stephenson

1 Comment

  1. Richard Mitnick Said,

    May 24, 2010 @ 1:15 pm

    My father worked for the old E.R. Squibb & Sons. They used this photo in an advertisement.

    My parents found a painting of the scene and purchased it.

    I now have the painting in my house.