Monday, September 19, 2011
Monday, July 25, 2011
Saturday, July 23, 2011
Friday, July 22, 2011
It would be an important story. So important that I called upon all my dead heroes to help me with it. James Merrill, the first hero I called upon, said, “O, you’re using my method. First inspired, then poised to attack! Go ahead, I’ll help you with it-- whom else would you like to call back?”
I was so delighted to have contacted JM that I reverted to adolescence and said, “cummings, mr. cummings,” upon which my basic Ouija skipped out upon me the following letters: “hear/tso/proclam/a/tory/you’d/thinkitwasafidgetingantlion.”
Somewhat predictable. “Has nothing changed since your life on earth, edward estlin?” I asked him. And there was no response. I can only assume he was offended by my cavalier hand. Merrill, as ever the dutiful guide, stepped back into play. “Well, that was quick. He’s flown. But whom else? Let’s move on.”
This time I was a tad bit chancier with my choice. Since I had been indulging in his music of late, I asked for Frank Zappa.
“Expect no manifesto. I’m currently undergoing a precarious kind of global-spatial-psychotherapeutic-cosmological chemotherapy.”
“For your cancer?” I asked.
“For all the cancer I absorbed on earth which was not mine. All the cancerous filaments I exposed myself to. But this is already too much, you know, I'm out of breath. Check back with me in six months.”
Upon which JM returned. “He looks good, though; you wouldn’t be saddened. His face has fleshed out. His aura has gladdened.”
“That’s nice to know,” I ruminated, getting a wave of emotion through my eyeballs.
Spurred on by JM’s encouragement, my next choice was also musical, my old hero Sergei Prokofiev.
“Hello,” he said quietly, then, “What would you have of me?”
“An inspiration, my dear,” I announced too chummily. I realized this mistake when JM said, “Careful. Slow. He’s awfully shy.”
I took a deep breath and another try, saying, “Do you know, Sergei Sergeivich, that you and I were both born on April 23rd?”
“They never quite knew,” he answered. “They were unsure as to whether that was my real birthday or not.”
“How could they be unsure?” I asked.
“Nothing was sure. Everything was a fugitive vision. Alas, that is the way life was back then. It was our curse, yet it was what we thrived on.”
If I could have sighed through the Ouija board, I would have. All I spelled back was, “Oh.”
To which dear Sergei Sergeivich said, “But do not let my doubt fool you. If it is true that we share a birthday, if anything is true, then I congratulate you and raise a glass to your health.”
“Thank you,” I replied, and JM stepped in with, “He says you’re welcome. All covered with scales and shell-scum. Exuding notes, cadence and dance. What an odd person to have met by chance.”
“My favorite composer,” I groaned, head on hand. “Boy, this is turning into something of a let-down.”
“Quick, another!” Merrill commanded, and I found myself tremble-handed, as if JM were shaking me in anticipation.
“Virginia Woolf,” I uttered stonily, mostly out of intimidation.
“Yes, what is it?”
“That’s who I was,” she said.
“Do you have any ideas you could share?”
There was a hesitation in which I shrank, sensing that I was indeed a foolish young man.
“Well, I have many ideas, and through the current medium you’ve chosen, I suppose I could share them. I mean I could, certainly. But the question is, young person, why would I want to? What would inspire me, living or dead (and I am dead, you know) to give away my ideas, my thoughts, my words to a complete stranger? And do you know what’s most horrific about it? I had no choice but to answer your call. For all you know I may have been doing something quite important and vital on the far end of the astral plane. How presumptuous of you to have invoked me from your small and strange spot.”
“I beg your forgiveness,” I responded, “and won’t keep you.”
And Woolf was gone. Who’s afraid of her? Well, me, a little.
“She’s busy,” JM said simply. “No time for old worries, earthly concerns. Nonetheless there’s a fire inside her, and it burns.”
“So I see,” I said simply, noting the smoke sailing up from the board. “Next I’d like Fyodor. Dear Dostoevsky. What of him?”
There was a pause. Then JM: “I’m afraid the gambler is unavailable. His pockets have been used. I’d tell you what’s become of him; chances are, you’d be confused.”
“What’s become of him?” I demanded, urged, begged.
“A reincarnation,” JM replied. “Not to say reneged.”
“And who, pray tell, is he now?” --not letting him gloss this one over.
James paused, and considered, and said, “He's your lover.”
Ha-ha-ha, I thought. Sure-- all for the sake of a rhyme. “You can’t fool me, JM: My lover Amy’s nothing like him.”
“Ah, but it’s a not-her,” he drew.
“A not-her? Another? Then who?”
“Maybe you’ll know, maybe you’ll not. But be on your guard, because he’ll hit the spot.”
A crude rhyme. I could sense Merrill’s tension and chose another. It was like a cosmic fast food sampling-- tasty and infinitely unsatisfying.
“Tolstoy,” I murmured, still wondering when I would make love to Fyodor.
“Ah yes, the lover of dear Fedya,” said Leo with a broad stroke and a scent of smoked salmon and vodka and cucumbers. “You’re a good-looking young thing, but I always thought Fedya preferred the ladies... not the gents.”
Delighted, stupefied, I said, “Anything can happen. Can I call you Dyadya Lev?”
“If you must. Though I prefer, for our purposes, LT.”
“LT it is. How is life in space, and why haven’t you also been reincarnated?”
“It is not life in space, as you so perversely assume. It is life without space, for space is essentially a human distinction, and once we have shuffled off that mortal coil, space as it once held meaning becomes meaningless. Here there is no matter, no space... just rhythm and stoppage, counseling and deafness. I don’t much care for it, though to reincarnate hasn’t yet been my choice, because of the sheer terror of that transition through the womb. In all my human years I never got over the trauma of being born... what a fright it instills in you. Seems to me a more comfortable, less violent entry into living could have been fashioned by now. But perhaps I just don’t understand--”
“Time’s up,” Merrill stepped in. “We must move on.”
“He wasn’t finished!” I admonished.
“He would have talked till dawn. You've other guests, I trust?”
“Why so negative about Lev Nikolaevich?”
“He’s just a cloud of dust. He regrets his death, yet chooses not to return. After all this ambling around for years you’d think he’d learn. But he just glances around coughing, his hat doffing every so often, for chivalry, which, here more than anywhere else, is in its coffin.”
I couldn’t believe that such an industrious, energetic and charismatic man could be such an irritant in the afterlife. I would’ve thought he’d be creating new souls, new systems, new progress. Instead, he’s inert.
“But we digress,” JM did blurt.
“Flannery O’Connor,” I said.
JM said with flair, “Now we’re getting somewhere!”
“Who calls to me from beyond the grave?” was Flannery’s introductory line.
“I hope I haven’t disturbed you,” I said.
“Always glad for some company,” she said. “Well, usually. And who’re you?”
“A fan, a simple fan, trying to get inspired.”
“Have you tried Aeschylus?” she suggested.
“Ugh, too stiff.”
“Not at all,” said O’Connor. “Good loose stuff. It’ll mix those juices right up and get you going.”
“Maybe I’ll try him. Who else would you recommend?”
“Oh, Conrad. Joyce. And Jamieson.”
“Not well-known. But read and be inspired. Then there’s one other text I think you may have ignored for a while. You know the one.”
“Old or New Testament?”
“Both, silly goose. Read them both.”
Sheepishly, almost crying out of a touched and embarrassed son’s guilt and sensitivity, I said, “Yes’m.”
“Keep in touch.”
And she was gone.
“Wow,” I said. “What’d she look like?”
“Guess,” said Merrill.
“Yes,” said Merrill.
We sat together, JM and I, and there was a quiet minute between us, till I said, “Any advice from you, JM?”
He chuckled a tiny chuckle and said, “The book you’re in need of you've since taken off the shelf. When in doubt and when confused, simply kiss yourself.”
That was the poignant end to my jaunt into the world of my dead heroes. For a while afterwards I couldn’t stop hearing everything as a rhyme. As I sat down, thus inspired, to write, an unknown voice came tumbling to the front of my head, saying, “You’ve offended cummings. Why was Zappa still in pain? Prokofiev says nothing’s sure. Virginia caught a plane. Fyodor is your lover, Tolstoy is all grey. Flannery says the Bible. But what do you want to say?”
And with that I set down my pen, lay down on my bed, and wanted to cry, wanted to die, having never said anything at all.