Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Summer that runs through thread

An aspect of the palindrome, of
the vitality of things flowing
back or forth in two directions,
draws me (often subconsciously)
a considerable master of layers
of light as overlapping tissues,
between which a great dynamic,
too eloquent to be likened to
direct current, surges.

I saw this superb photograph of
his, taken overlooking Lake Ge-
neva and captioned to recall a
music recital; and the recital
it recalled for me had been set
the photographer granted per-
mission to suggest this view.
I did allude to it, in the an-
niversary posting of 29th ult.,
when it seemed more to the
point to be ridiculous, but
the entry defeated that pur-
pose by becoming charming,
which can never be wholly

Now with these 2 works, I only
juxtapose them, yet there are
other debts to acknowledge in
a genealogy of the impression.
There had to be Henry Miller's
trip down through the Dordogne
to Marseille, to sail to Athens
to meet Durrell and Katsimbalis;
there had to be Edmund Keeley, 
to reflect years later on their
journey; and there had to be my
college, to bring Keeley before
me, to engage and extend the 
journey of such figures, giving
no reason, and to reach into the
Alexandria of Cavafy and Durrell,
on into my generation's Cambodia. 

So many tissues overlap, the art
I admire in Lorenzo is to portray
how they are permeably, recipro-
cally activated, with light. This
hunger without hunger, then, ac-
quires expression in Merrill which
I believe also to be unburdened. I
would decline the punctilio of con-
noisseurship, always, for this.

Houses, an embassy, the hospital.

Our neighborhood sun-cured if trembling still

In pools of the night’s rain . . .
Across the street that led to the center of town
A steep hill kept one company part way
Or could be climbed in twenty minutes
For some literally breathtaking views,
Framed by umbrella pines, of city and sea.
Underfoot, cyclamen, autumn crocus grew
Spangled as with fine sweat among the relics
Of good times had by all. If not Olympus,
An out-of-earshot, year-round hillside revel.

I brought home flowers from my climbs.
Kyria Kleo who cleans for us
Put them in water, sighing Virgin, Virgin.
Her legs hurt. She wore brown, was fat, past fifty,
And looked like a Palmyra matron
Copied in lard and horsehair. How she loved
You, me, loved us all, the bird, the cat!
I think now she was love. She sighed and glistened
All day with it, or pain, or both.
(We did not notably communicate.)
She lived nearby with her pious mother
And wastrel son. She called me her real son.

I paid her generously, I dare say.
Love makes one generous. Look at us. We’d known
Each other so briefly that instead of sleeping
We lay whole nights, open, in the lamplight,
And gazed, or traded stories.
One hour comes back – you gasping in my arms
With love, or laughter, or both,
I having just remembered and told you
What I’d looked up to see on my way downtown at noon:
poor old Kleo, her aching legs,
Trudging into the pines. I called.
Called three times before she turned.
Above a tight, skyblue sweater, her face
Was painted. Yes. Her face was painted
Clown-white, white of the moon by daylight,
Lidded with pearl, mouth a poinsettia leaf.
Eat me, pay me – the erotic mask
Worn the world over by illusion
To weddings of itself and simple need.

Startled mute, we had stared – was love illusion? –
And gone our ways. Next, I was crossing a square
In which a moveable outdoor market’s
Vegetables, chickens, pottery kept materializing
Through a dream-press of hagglers each at heart
Leery lest he be taken, plucked,
The bird, the flower of that November mildness,
Self lost up soft clay paths, or found, foothold,
Where the bud throbs awake
The better to be nipped, self on its knees in mud -–
Here I stopped cold, for both our sakes;

And calmer on my way home bought us fruit.

Forgive me if you read this. (And may Kyria Kleo,
Should someone ever put it into Greek
And read it aloud to her, forgive me, too.)
I had gone so long without loving,
I hardly knew what I was thinking.
Where I hid my face, your touch, quick, merciful,
Blindfolded me. A god breathed from my lips.
If that was illusion I wanted it to last long;
To dwell, for its daily pittance, with us there,
Cleaning and watering, sighing with love or pain.
I hoped it would climb when it needed to the heights
Even of degradation as I for one
Seemed, those days, to be always climbing
Into a world of wild
Flowers, feasting, tears – or was I falling, legs
Buckling, heights, depths,
Into a pool of each night’s rain?
But you were everywhere beside me, masked,
As who was not, in laughter, pain, and love.

Valéry Lorenzo
Hôtel du Lac, Coppet
Photograph silver print

James Merrill
1926 - 1995
Days of 1964

Edmund Keeley
Inventing Paradise
  The Greek Journey 1937 - 47
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1999©

James Merrill portrait
  photographer unidentified

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