Noah’s flood and 40 days Moses was in the mount to receive the Law, Exodus 24:18. 40 days of the spies, issuing in the penal sentence of 40 years, Numbers 13:26, 14:34. 40 days of Elijah in Horeb, 1 Kings 19:8. 40 days of Jonah and Nineveh, Jonah 3:4. 40 days Ezekiel lay on his right side. 40 days Jesus was tempted of the Devil, Matthew 4:2. 40 days Jesus was seen of His disciples, speaking of things pertaining to God’s kingdom, Acts 1:2.
Behind the Astors’ Beaux Arts mansion
one of the summer ‘cottages’ of Newport,
built into the steep cliff
above the cooling Atlantic
were 40 wooden steps
where their servants met after hours
to dance and sing,
the signs say.
Along the Cliff Walk, this small space
(now carefully carved stone) surprises tourists,
such steep confinement for relief & festival
below such vaulted halls.
Also, how more precarious then –
how deft they had to be above ocean waves
breaking on haphazard rock slabs.
How dark it had to be, lighted how?
by candle or oil lanterns
lined up along the 40 steps?
or by the distant glow
of mansion or the moon?
Were the only-tall-white men
still in livery on these steps,
flirting with the maids?
and did the cook and governess
mingle? did the butler do it?
The signs don’t say, no echoes audible
above such indifferent noisy surf.
Now clover blows in a stiff bright wind;
tourists amble past University
Salve Regina’s backside
covered in green lawn skirt
to her hem along the Walk.
“40 is a biblical number,” one says.
“A time of trial followed by blessing.”
The signs warn against straying
from the pathway. A groom,
who tried to delight his bride by
walking in history’s footsteps,