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This is part four of the long poem "Let Me Tell You a Story." Although it contains a number of references to the larger poem, it can stand alone. 

 


There is only one story

by Ken Sanes

                             There is only one story,
whether it is told by a lyric poet or dramatist,
or a writer of epics or novels,
or a reciter of myths and folktales.
The story is filled with beginnings and endings,
and it is forever coming to a climax,
which is why, somewhere in the telling,
young lovers are always sneaking off
to profess their love,
and young soldiers, imbued with ideas of glory,
                    are dying in battle.
We all know what the story is about
because it is our story,
with a change in the verbs and nouns
to hide the truth
                               and enrich the meaning.
It is a story about adventurers
on a ship that travels the oceans
searching for a lost island
or an undefiled heart,
or something as simple as a pile of treasure,
with rubies and gold coins
locked in a wooden chest.
Of course, the story also includes pirates
who try to steal the treasure
because there really are pirates
or else there are rivals
or earthquakes or stubborn fathers
who refuse to accept the destiny
of love for their daughters.
But it is also a story about people
who get carried away by their own foolishness
in endearing ways --
mocking, gossiping, fighting and pretending --
then melting into each other’s arms
in moments of truth and reconciliation,
so we can laugh and cry without regret.
And it is about a man in control
of everyone but himself,
who refuses to see the truth
until he drags down the people around him,
as he is besieged by doubts
and can’t find a foothold
                                                in a turning world.
Of course, the story has many facets,
and it can be told in many ways.
Sometimes it is about a crisis of conscience,
which leads to a moment
when everything changes,
or about a journey into the depths
where the monsters of myth and sexual nightmare
lurk in the recesses of cave walls.
And very rarely it is about life as a puzzle,
in which the pieces of speech
are merely sounds
that seem external to the human world.
Whatever the specifics,
we know it is about a basic aspect of life,
which is that every desire has a counter-desire,
and every goal has an obstacle,
just as each of us has an adversary,
in the world and in our selves,
who stands in our way, vowing to get revenge.
We are familiar with the details,
but we’re not certain what kind of story it is,
which is why we mix it up in the telling
and are always ready to hear it again,
even though we know it by heart from the inside,
like the young boy who is almost pleading
before he goes to sleep.
“Please,” he says to his indulgent father.
“Please tell me the story.”
 

 


The first line of the poem, "To Juan at the Winter Solstice," by Robert Graves, begins, "There is one story and one story only / That will prove worth your telling,...."

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