PART ONE: THE DARK WOOD
CHAPTER 14: A THROW OF THE DICE
Thanks to my mother, I had a pretty easy time of it at the hospital. I stayed there for a few days while it was impressed on me that I must not use cannabis any more. The doctors heard me out, although of course they did not believe my story about Celan. They had a ready explanation: in the mind of a woman dissatisfied with her profession and at an age when not being married seems critical, it was only too natural that fantasies should form, and that the line between fantasy and reality should break down under stress. They made a tentative diagnosis of schizophrenia, which they later said was not right after all.
Had my excursion into alternate reality occurred in Jerusalem, the doctors probably would have been less perplexed. In Jerusalem, where so many story-lines meet, they see a lot of cases where a person with no previous history of mental illness suddenly starts believing that he or she is some character out of tradition B Jesus, Moses, the Virgin Mary, sometimes also a fairy-tale figure like Cinderella. They call it the AJerusalem syndrome.” Generally the delusional experience is euphoric; depression sets in when the patient is cured and has to go back to their everyday self. I sometimes fantasize about a class reunion of AJerusalem syndrome” patients. As Bob Dylan said: AI'll let you be in my dream if I can be in yours.”
The doctors in Seattle thought that they would try the sleep cure, in which the patient goes to sleep for several days and then wakes up free of the ideas society has found inconvenient.
Such patients have also been known afterward to fall into suicidal depression (a year later I would see a film, To Die of Love, based on an actual case in France), but this was apparently considered the lesser evil. From this my mother's intervention preserved me. My mother, whom I had so often seen reserved, diffident, tense with strangers, was suddenly all charm and competence. She manage to persuade the doctors that there was nothing abnormal in my background or history, that there was no need for drastic measures, and that they could safely release me for a visit home.
Marsha and Michael and one or two others from the commune came to see me in the hospital, and my mother had a conversation with Marsha. Marsha said that the people in the commune had been worried about me but had hesitated to call the hospital because of a certain prejudice against mental hospitals in their milieu, but on the other hand they hadn't known what to do, themselves.
I left the hospital calmer, but with ideas fundamentally unchanged. After all, they had offered no logical arguments, just the dogmatic assumption that such things could not be. As for their drugs, the funny thing is that while on cannabis I had never had a proper hallucination B however vivid the imagery, I always knew where I was in space and time B on Thorazine I very nearly did. I would be wide awake and feel as though something was sucking at my mind, trying to draw me into another world, and when I was there I was there, I didn't know where else I was. The one scene I remember shows a kind of bluff-top, light brown, where Goethe was stretched full length on the ground, leaning on his side, looking at me. In the distance below us they were working at reclaiming the land from the sea, as in that ghastly scene at the end of Faust II where the skeletal Lemurs come up from Hell to dig Faust's grave. Later, when I finally wrote the dissertation, I realized that the ATodesfuge” can be read as a commentary on that scene B that the scene from Faust can be read as an unconscious prophecy of Auschwitz.
On the visit back to Madison, I tried to talk to Don about Celan. Don said that Celan had been trying to make time circle back, whereas it just goes on in a line. It sounded a lot like Father's AYou can't live in the past.” My parents wanted me to stay in Madison, but I still would not agree and went back to Seattle.
At the hospital they had recommended a psychiatrist who they said was interested in literature and would be sensitive to my particular problems. This Dr. Strong B as with several characters in this account, his real name was even more poetically apt B turned out to be a tall, broad-shouldered, on-the-heavy-side man with a full blond beard. He didn't believe me either, mentioned Pale Fire, but thought he could help me learn to do without such fantasies. I had just finished putting together a collection of poems, which I called Antistrophes, but he didn't want to read it, or AThe Castle Cepheus”; such means of communication represented an unhealthy escape, he wanted me to deal with my problems here and now. Just at the end of the interview I saw that he was looking at me, and without either turning my eyes away or trying to stare him down, I held still and allowed the look. AWhat do you see?” I finally asked. AInfinite complexity,” he replied slowly. It was the closest we ever came to communicating.
Around that time I had a conversation with Marsha, now great with child, at the commune house. The unanimity of the world was beginning to disconcert me. I said to Marsha that I still did think Celan had called to me. She said wearily, AMaybe he did. But even if he did, you don't have to answer. Maybe Jason and I have sometimes thought that something was calling to us, too. But you don't have to answer if you don't want to. You have a choice.”
It came as a new thought that one could refuse a call from outside this reality in which we were struggling. Was that reality so satisfying and hopeful that everyone wished to live entirely within it? We had been trying to make a revolution, hadn't we?
Reva, whom I had invited over one evening in April, thought it was all hysterically funny. ALike the novice in a monastery who wakes up in the morning and decides he's Jesus Christ,” she hooted. ABoy, you really had it all figured out though. If something stuck out, you just tucked it right back in.”
A few days after my first interview with Dr. Strong, I went down to Berkeley to see Ireni. I felt sure that she would know. As soberly as I could, I explained to her what I thought had happened. She listened; as always I had the feeling that my words would not be bounced back from some shell near the surface, but were being taken inside, into some sibylline cave from which the response would come. ANo,” she said at last, AI think you needed to think so. But I do not think it is true.” Then for the first time I saw that I had been insane.
Ireni had not been unaffected by what I had gone through; she read and translated for me two poems in Greek that she had written between receiving AThe Castle Cepheus” and my visit. In AHoi Christoi” B The Anointed Ones B spirits passed through her garden before dawn, carrying Abaskets of leaden starlight.” The other was called AHe Kale Adelphe” B The Good Sister. AI think that was probably you,” she said. The good sister led her silent through a landscape of red clay hills; at the end she had a sense of her own body Alike a vessel still warm from the potter's hand.” She said the poem was about the acknowledgment of death. I wanted copies of these poems, but she would never give them to me; a year or so later she told me they were lost. I showed her AEarthwake.” The first two sections were on one page. When she had read them she thought that was all and turned away angrily: AI never told you it would be all right.” ANo, no, read on BA I turned the page for her. She read the sonnet and the three other poems. Then she said, AYour poems will be immortal. But there is something better than immortality. There is love.”
Against Ireni's denial, my belief could not stand. A sense of insupportable shame now descended on me. How could I have imagined that about Celan, how could I have used him in that manner? To have been caught stealing would have been nothing in comparison. And only now did I know how much of my life was bound up with that idea which I must now renounce, starting over with whatever might be left.
One evening Nadine came over. It was late; Ireni and Luke and Gabriel had gone to bed. We sat facing each other in the living room, I no doubt with my shattered life in my face and she with anger in hers. She did not care about Celan; she was angry with me for not knowing how to live better, for taking refuge in this sort of delusion. Somehow the issue of that night in Lafayette resurfaced between us. Nadine said, "I know you're thinking about it. But it's not it, there in the corner. It's you and me!”
Someone was practicing flute in the Alameda Tunnel; the high, wailing sound climbed the night, proclaiming emptiness. I said, "I can't see it that way.”
"Well, all right.” She stood up to go. At the door she turned and said sarcastically, "A nice, warm hug!” I hugged her.
I described Dr. Strong to Ireni, and she said he sounded all right; she seconded my hope that he would be able to revive in me a desire for life. She thought things were not too bad; I had a good appetite, and on the first day of my visit I had pulled Gabriel back from a place where he was standing that I thought might be dangerous. "When I saw that,” Ireni said, "I knew you weren't ready to give up on life.”
But the question remained: what was I to do with my life? I thought of all I had received: a good upbringing, an extravagant education at the expense of my parents and the state. How was I to pay it all back? I quoted Saul of Tarsus: "To whom much has been given, from them much shall be expected.” Ireni looked at me: "Do you really think that? It's very bad for you, if you do.”
So I returned to Seattle, resolved to accept the consensus and change myself into something that could put up with it. The prospect depressed me exceedingly. Recently I read that depression is the standard reaction of "Jerusalem syndrome” patients to their disenchantment, but at the time I had nothing to compare it with. With Dr. Strong I soon reached an impasse. It was clear that he had nothing but platitudes to offer, since he did not want to know my inner truth. One time he asked me to free-associate B just give the first image that came to mind. Obligingly, an image surfaced: Magritte's painting of a beached mermaid-in-reverse, fish above the waist, woman below. “You don't have to be quite that gross,” said the psychiatrist. Yet I did not quit therapy till the following spring. He had become a symbol to me of life, health, prosperity; moreover, I felt that in his way he liked me. I never did pay him, even after my health plan ran out. But when I tried to think, as his patient, of what I wanted in life, all I could think of was Scotch and steak. I tried to believe that was what I really wanted, even though other thoughts, improbable and sad, kept occurring to me. For instance that medieval anecdote about the jealous husband who feeds his wife her lover's heart and then tells her what it was and asks her how it tasted. She answers, “So good that I will never eat anything else,” and jumps out the window. Dr. Strong did not admit to understanding such things. But his warnings did keep me from using cannabis again until December, with one lapse. That was when I went out with Ethan.
I had met Ethan through his sister Chrissie, who was a friend of Marsha's. Marsha was very fond of Chrissie, who came from a poor background and had had some hard knocks, but who painted and wrote poetry and was bringing up a very bright little boy. I seem to remember that they were partly American Indian. Ethan had practiced some form of meditation and had recently recovered from a psychotic breakdown. He earned his living as an electronics technician. He was of medium height, darkhaired, with regular features; he wore heavy glasses. It was hard to be at ease in his presence; there was a kind of queasy brightness about him. He and Chrissie came over one night while I was still living in the little apartment in the gray house. I sang for them, and Ethan said with a kind of objective friendliness, “It's your way of making love to your audience.” Ethan said he no longer thought physical relations were important; it was only spiritual ones that counted. I seemed to recall that some painful entanglement had happened to him before his breakdown. His statement sounded sad; I did not want to accept it. But if sympathy was the ground of our brief connection, I ended by treating him badly.
Some time after that evening, we spent the day together, along with some friends of his, at an old fort on the coast near Seattle. It was an awkward day. Compulsively, I began behaving just as I always did with men whom I wanted to interest -- that is, I became a little too “scintillating,” which was especially unfortunate with Ethan, whose responses were rather slow. But he bravely dusted off his supply of those patronizing remarks which so many otherwise sensitive males resort to as courtship behavior, and which irritated and frustrated me, the more because I sensed that he was mostly trying to be helpful. In the evening we all sat around a campfire at the beach and talked. One of the other young men was a poet. He was very bitter, at himself, at others. He recited or read a poem about a suicide that ended, “I've failed you, world, goodbye.” They offered me a joint and I accepted, perhaps in the hope that it would help the communication between me and Ethan. But instead it brought back the memory of the whole thing with Celan, I understood again how I could have thought such a thing possible, only too possible. Ethan and I walked down to the waterline, I began making up a poem which I recited to Ethan as I went along:
on the beast-
forehead the blackened
fingermark of inferno:
bitter was the taste in my mouth,
bitter the tongue.
He listened acceptingly. Afterward of course I spent the night at his apartment, and fled in the morning.
Around that time, it seemed necessary to move out of the apartment in the grey house. The place was too much associated with the madness; once I had undertaken to get over the madness I could not stay there. I left without giving a month's notice; the landlord said nothing, but I could tell he felt he had been deceived in me. I found a new place by advertising in the newspaper. A student at the university answered the ad, saying that she and another woman had rented an apartment and were seeking a third. It turned out that she was studying Rumanian literature. But I did not attempt to learn more about that subject from her; we did not talk very much. My room was odd-shaped, with a double bed and a fireplace. I did nothing to fix it up, to surround myself with a meaningful array of objects. In that room I tried to think about my future, but came up with nothing very realistic. I thought of becoming a folk singer, although singing was about the last thing I felt like doing at this point. But I took voice and guitar lessons, even studied a little composition. In literature I saw no way. In March I had written to the Buffalo German Department, resigning my position. It was probably too late to take that back (I suspected they had been relieved to be rid of me); the job market was worse than ever; and without a completed dissertation (I did not even go near that subject), and with the added black mark of a mental breakdown, I might as well have applied for a berth on the next moon launch as for another job in academia. Moreover, my receptive faculties for poetry seemed to have shut down. I opened an anthology of Russian symbolist poetry but could not feel any interest in it; the words meant nothing, poetry meant nothing, that had just been demonstrated. As for my own poetry, Mother and I had each tried one set of editors, who had turned it down with businesslike cordiaility: it might have literary value, but it wasn't what they were interested in just now. To find out what was acceptable poetry I took out a book by John Berryman, which turned out to have two themes: the writer's sexual exploits with women differentiated only by their first names, and the traumas of trying to get published. Novels I could still read; they helped me to forget, aside from that episode where Anna Karenina dreams about the old peasant who appears in the book only after her suicide, bending over her body. So, Tolstoy believed in that sort of thing too...
I went on writing poetry, that is, incoherent fragments and two sonnets, the first of which was too grim to give me much pleasure of creation; but it certainly shows where I was at the time. The beginning recalls a line that is spoken by Schiller's Wallenstein at the point where all his plots are collapsing and where the only possibility of escape lies in renunciation, which is utterly foreign to his nature. He exclaims: "Show me a way out of these darkened straits,/ A way that I can walk!”
Show me a way from this dark narrow place,
a way that I can walk! for all around
I hear the rumor of my enemy's haste
and I am rooted to one spot of ground.
Roads led like spokes of an accursèd round
outwards, and these I took; but at some rim
doors without latch or key I always found,
sealed with my counterfeit, lifeless and grim B
so I am fixed. An insufficient pain
proclaims the sting to my congealing heart;
a hand still gropes, moves, carving, to impart
some name, date, circumstance; this too is vain,
since in this place none is and none may be
except my mortal foe, who dies with me.
After that, probably, came another sonnet, developing a flash I had had already in Buffalo.
I sailed once, in a dream, off distant coves:
Fair was the day, bright azure was the sea
and glittered; but whichever way I drove
it seemed the wind came round and thwarted me.
After some time I saw along the plain
sails scattered, which would beat and run and reach
to all the compass-points, yet none could gain:
that wind, false in itself, played false to each.
Then I beheld B and this dismayed me more B
we could not move; but the green scudding floor
was moving with us, dragging toward some ledge,
and vast jaws rose to snatch from the sea's edge
the frail ships, while a great voice without sound
beat on the sky: "Fools! fools! the world is round!”
The one gleam of light at this period came through my other roommate, Elspeth. She was twenty or twenty-one, and was studying to be a Montessori teacher. She was small, delicate-featured, a bit plump, with light-brown hair; she reminded me distantly of Selma. There was that kind of brightness about her that I had noticed before in people who have some contact with the spirit world, and I came to feel that she was another of those who were sent to me as guides even though I could not quite follow their ways.
Elspeth's spiritual teacher was a woman I’ll call Grace, who lived on B Meridian Street. She was a tall, robust, black-haired woman in her fifties, with a face like an Easter Island carving, a thick Cockney accent, and a mammoth heart. Her living room was all in red: red drapes, a red rug, red fans on the walls, posters of Mexican dancers in red dresses. There were various other knickknacks, none of them in "good” taste, for instance a white plastic or ceramic mushroom with a pink-and-white polka-dotted cap. The place made me want to laugh, but it also made me remember a tune I had not thought of since my confirmation class sang it in procession, in white dresses, carrying lighted candles: "Follow, follow, follow the gleam/ Of the chalice that is the Grail.”
Grace and her circle read books on spiritualistic subjects, from theosophy to flying saucers and salesmanship-through-faith; they never sorted anything out. The circle had its base on Orcus Island, where a woman whose name I forget had had a vision, a few years before, directing her to take people on spiritual "journeys.” She had taught the technique to several people, Grace among them, and Grace was now taking Elspeth on a journey. What happened was that the guide put the traveler into a relaxed state by a few introductory suggestions, and then the traveler was directed to start out, visualizing each step of the journey and reporting it to the guide. From time to time the traveler herself would interpret, at the guide's prompting. Both Grace and Elspeth urged me to go on a journey. I hesitated because I was not sure that Celan would have wanted me to do this. Then I wondered why that mattered, seeing that I was supposed to get over my delusion of a relationship with him. But I had come to this place where such things were believed in... I gave Grace a brief version of my story, and of course she accepted it without question. I related some vivid dream about Celan, and she nodded. "That's astral travelling,” she said, "You was astral-travelling with him.” On hearing that he had committed suicide, she said, "That happens. People who commit suicide very frequently hang on to someone who is alive. And now he may try to get you to commit suicide, because if he committed suicide he's on a very low level now, and if he can get someone to take his place he'll get out of there. And if you do it you won't be able to find anyone to take your place, you'll be stuck there. Because you're not as strong as he is. But if you hang on you can help him, you can send him the light-bringers.”
I heard this with a mixture of belief and doubt. That I lacked Celan's power to affect others, needed no ghost come from the underworld to tell me. But granted the premise of a spiritual relationship between us, I could not think so ill of his intentions. True, at the height of the delirium I had had some suicidal fantasies, but they had just been bubbles in the flux of wild imaginings. Basically I had understood him as urging me to live. And the word Alight-bringers” brought a poem of his to mind, “The Bright Stones,” in which he speaks to one to whom his word will come as “light-bringers,” and whom he evidently wants to reassure and encourage. The poem that follows this one in The No-One's-Rose speaks of “the heart-bright future.”
I decided to take the journey with Grace, from curiosity and a wish not to disappoint these kind people, but my reservations were borne out. For a while things went well enough. I saw a number of interesting creatures. Ed, the Valerio of that long-ago production of Leonce und Lena, reappeared as a long-legged creature out of Hieronymous Bosch. Grace said he stood for my ego. But then the path grew steeper, mountainous. I felt that I couldn't go on. “Find a bench and lie down and rest for a while,” Grace recommended. I did so, but immediately a small, round, gray-furred creature, horrible, like something out of H.P. Lovecraft, somehow recognizable as a disguise of the poet, came up and attacked me. I got up again and went on, but the imagery only got worse. Grace brought me out of the trance. She and Elspeth wanted me to come back and try again; but with a shudder, I declined.
But I became involved, a little later probably, with another spiritual group, the Ananda Marga. I had seen a poster with the society's emblem B an emblem that looked like the Star of David with another sign, one that has bad associations, inside it. I had to find out how they could combine those signs. I daresay that combination spoke to my sense of having deeply encountered both good and evil. The Margis explained to me that the evil ones had had this ancient sign, the sun-wheel, pointing in the wrong direction, which symbolized their perversion of spiritual powers. I seemed to remember Olwen, in Buffalo, telling me the same thing. The sect had a guru in India, Babaji, who was said to be involved not only in religion but in social action. The members of the sect used to chant, ABaba nam kevalam” B our Father's name is only One B by which I gathered they meant the underlying unity of all religious expression; but it also more or less identified Babaji with the Master of the Universe. However, Babaji, unlike some other gurus with American followings, did not go in for material ostentation. Moreover he had a spiritual consort and twin identity, Mamaji. The Margis had a strange word they used in greeting: Namascar. They said it meant Athe divinity in me salutes the divinity in you”; I heard it as Aname-and-scar.” Despite misgivings, I was somehow drawn to seek initiation. This was given by an avadhut (monk) from India, a thin youngish man in an orange robe with a bearded, somber, rather beautiful face. He sat alone on an Oriental rug in the middle of a room with the shades pulled down, and you went in there in your stocking feet and sat down in front of him, and after talking with you a few minutes he gave you the mantram on which you were to meditate during the first stage of your training. It was said that while the avadhut was initiating you, he was in spiritual contact with his master, Babaji, so that it was really Babaji initiating you. Before this was done, I mentioned to the avadhut that I was uncertain about being initiated, as it was possible I already had a spiritual teacher. I told him a little about Celan. When the avadhut heard that Celan had taken his own life, he spoke suddenly with great force, so that I felt for a split second as though there was something more in the room: ANo! No! He committed a great blunder!” Then he made a prediction about me, that sounded like what I had understood Celan as implying. He added, ABut you must be very brave; we all have to.” I agreed to the initiation, and he gave me the mantram. Like all the new initiates, I received a Sanskrit name: Bhagyam. He said it meant Abliss” or Ablissful,” and I took it as a rough translation of my English name. But several years later, when Bernice, a fellow-initiate, was in India, she happened to speak of me to someone there, and he told her that was not the correct translation; the avadhut in Seattle had told me that because he did not know how to explain the true one, which was Aenlightened by scar.” Bernice was especially struck by this, because that name could have been hers as well.
At the period of our friendship, Bernice (her real name meant Abee” in another language) was married to a young man named Chet, a very pleasant, good-looking, easy-going young man of half-Japanese parentage. Bernice was twenty-two that year. She was tall, slender, and extremely graceful; she had long, pale-blond hair and a round face with well-defined bones, pale lashes and eyebrows, wideset blue eyes, wide mouth; she had a funny, sweet-husky voice that sounded good in Country Western songs; she played guitar and Chet accompanied her on the bass. She wrote a song now and then, and also wrote prose influenced by motorcycle romanticism (Chet had a motorcycle), prose that wanted to be on the go, to juggle, to remain master of the situation by keeping everything up in the air. She had two sisters, and in high school she had been friends with a pair of identical twins whom she resembled; the three of them had been politically active together, even going down South one summer for civil rights work. Then her father, a wealthy contractor, had died; and some time after that she had been drawn toward a group that was more or less led by a young man, Jordy, whose last name was somewhat similar to mine. One of the first things she told me was that I reminded her of him. Just what quality Jordy had that made his friends his followers, was never quite conveyed to me. He did not try to lead the group in any specific direction. He wrote, he talked, they seemed to find that he possessed wisdom, or made them feel that significance was in the offing. Bernice was brought into the group by one of the followers, with whom she was involved. Soon Bernice and Jordy became attracted to each other. But Jordy felt a loyalty to his follower and did not want to take her away from him; at least that was how Bernice read him, for nothing was ever made explicit. Jordy was subject to attacks of despair over the state of the world. One night Bernice and her boyfriend and Jordy and one other young man were sitting in a country tavern. Through most of the evening Jordy was joking and carrying on. Then he stopped. He and Bernice looked at each other, and a silent message flashed between them: nothing to be done. Then Jordy and the other young man left the tavern and drove away with Jordy at the wheel. On the way to wherever it was they were going, the car went off the road and both were killed. At some time during this period Bernice had had an operation similar to the one I had undergone B had, therefore, the same scar. Then she had married Chet, but Jordy still haunted her.
Bernice and Chet and I moved into the jagriti (meditation house) about the same time. I needed companionship, and no longer found it with Elspeth in the same degree after the journeys with Grace did not work out. Or perhaps Elspeth had already left for England for her advanced Montessori studies. The jagriti was a large, dark, solid house on a shady street, perhaps ten blocks from the commune house where I now seldom visited. It was sparsely furnished, mattresses on the floor, but I had my own room. The rent was low, and I found out about food stamps. We ate vegetarian food that didn't agree with me, and I often felt lethargic. I could not respond to the meditation and chanting, though toward the beginning I had one spiritual experience, if you can call it that: a poem by Celan that I had not previously reflected on interrupted the mantram with a new summons. It was the one where he talks about the golem-maker, Rabbi Loew. It ends with a cut-off word, ARaBA which is evidently meant to be ARabbi”; the missing syllable (in German or Hebrew pronunciation) is another homonym of that fatal diminutive. For a moment I felt as if the top of my head had opened out into some huge cave in space. After that, nothing. They kept saying that if I got through the first six months I would begin to reap the benefits, it would be good for my writing too. My brother Jim visited me there once and was appalled an air of listlessness about me and the whole scene.
The society of Bernice and Chet remained my chief comfort at the jagriti. They were lively, sympathetic, not too fervent about the sect; they had gotten into it because Bernice, especially, had a spiritual curiosity, but she had enough other interests not to be absorbed. She had no more illusions than I did about the spiritual value of dancing around chanting the name of the guru, but B unlike me, who tended to skulk off at that point and sit hunched in a corner of the meditation room B she did it with grace and verve; and later she went to India, to Katmandu, and was thrilled with the beauty of the landscape and the artistic quality of the people's lives.
During this time I wrote a poem which I destroyed afterwards, to my regret; it was about the life of Jesus. I pictured him as trying at first to lead a normal life, then becoming aware of a growing paranoid delusion, which he resists at first, but which keeps on growing and pulling at him until one day he gives in, snaps over and becomes it. No religious judgments were made; the ending was a fate like any other. Bernice liked this poem; I guess she also knew what it was about.
The other couple who lived in the house were trying to believe everything, and I often found their company depressing. Yet I think it was the husband of this couple who introduced me to another book that, like Black Elk Speaks, was to become a mental landmark: Peter Beagle's The Last Unicorn. "Much better than Tolkien,” he told me. The title appealed to me because in the last phase of delirium I had seen myself and others as unicorns. And behold, someone had written a book about just such a transformation. The story begins when a unicorn, living alone in a wood, learns from the conversation of two hunters that she is the last unicorn in existence in a disenchanted world. She feels compelled to leave her wood and find out what has become of her people. In the course of her adventures she is changed into a young girl, and a prince named Lir falls in love with she and starts doing heroic deeds and writing poems in the hope of pleasing her. At the critical moment he sacrifices himself so that she can become a unicorn again and do battle with her enemy, the Red Bull. After overcoming, she revives him and he departs on fresh adventures as the other unicorns, released from their captivity pour back into the world, and the waste land begins to blossom again. The unicorn returns to her wood, having saved her people, yet with an immortal regret for an unfulfilled human love.
I'm not worried about having spoiled the plot of this book; it is a book one reads as one listens to music. In my mind it is shelved beside The Tempest, The Magic Flute, Leonce und Lena, Goethe's Märchen, a class to which I'd meant to make an addition with “The Castle Cepheus.” This kind of work has the Aclockwork” quality to which Kleist's “Marionettentheater” points; things work out with mechanical precision and at the same time with an ineffable grace; the plot develops unexpectedly, marvelously, and yet with the feeling of things falling into place. The Last Unicorn spoke to me of a kind of love that is related to human love yet is something more. And I also caught in it the echo of past terrors; the author is Jewish. Evidently, I saw in it a mirror of my own quest. It strikes me now that Lir, who becomes a hero and a poet for the sake of Amalthea, is something like the role I had tried to write for Michael. But then I did not draw the parallels explicitly; I was cut off from the quest and trying to live on another plane.
I used to fantasize about going off to India and becoming an avadhutika; but my life in that period would not have been a good start. It was just in those months that I read a certain modern work which I won't name; it was like wallowing in the mud of one of Dante's ditches in the eighth circle. I had read some highfalutin praise of it in Buffalo the year before. Around that time I finally managed to seduce Michael, who by then may have left the commmune. One evening we went to a bar and sat face to face in a booth, he with a fixed ironic smile, I defiantly provocative. I remember quoting to him a line from Joni Mitchell's Blue, an album which Bernice liked but which seemed to me a comedown, like that Judy Collins album, the form beginning to be lost: AYou're a mean old daddy, but I like you.” We were with a world without vision where meanness seemed the only medium of contact. My standard scenario repeated itself, a night not of passion but of going through the motions, and a precipitous flight in the morning. I do not recall seeing him again.
Yet I was starting to recover strength. The summer had yielded only the APost-Pentecost” fragment and those two sonnets, in which my exhaustion could be felt. But in September I wrote a poem that pleased me better.
SONGS MY MOTHER TAUGHT ME
I recall the time your mother got for her birthday
a doll, dressed in the prettiest clothes,
which a friend of her mother had taken weeks to make,
with finished seams, delicate embroideries,
bonnet and sash, collar all trimmed with lace,
and the first thing your mother did was to take the clothes
off the doll, and put them on the cat,
who leaped to the windowsill, dived, and was never heard from again.
I remember also how a friend of your father's family
arrived as a guest, after a day's riding,
and before he had even dismounted somebody asked him
“When are you going to go home?”
“Right now!” he answered, and gave the spurs to his horse,
and that was the last they ever saw of him.
That was how I learned to ask always “How long can you stay?”
“But what of the doll?” “Oh, the doll by itself
was nothing special . . .”
Forever, sphered in your recollected voice,
Great-grandmother leans, horrified, out of the window,
wondering what on earth she will tell Mrs. Himady,
while Grandmother cries in fright and because an action
in the logic of play has had such consequences,
and the friends stand with arms and mouths agape,
staring at the retreating dustcloud, hearing the hoofbeats
fall over the edge of dismay,
and Uncle Al, who saved his money for fireworks
and on the dawn of the Fourth sneaked out to light just one,
and the whole bag caught fire,
remains transfixed in the rockets' day-bleached glare,
the sputter of snakes, backfiring roman candles,
while the family windows, blooming with sleep and astonishment,
behold him, not magnifico, but fool.
What is it clamps on laughter
like felted hammers, a glove from behind, Mother?
What is it neither pity nor time repairs?
Getting these stories, which had so pained me as a child, into a poem felt like the drawing-out of a thorn that had long festered. It was as if I had finally mastered the sense of vulnerability by depicting it in a vivid way and in a reasonably Acolloquial,” contemporary idiom; it was like a return to the land of the living. And similarly, I could even Amaster” the death of Paul Celan:
HE HAS GONE to live in a continent
of his own making: the past.
All those years he held up his eye,
that obsidian lens by which
the dark was focused.
In the sky-split tunnels he walked,
in the Ile de la Cite,
in the blackened rose.
On the dark walls Israeli slogans
flashed their survival.
He picked up broken glass
in No-Man's-Land, where the voices
still came seeping.
And the words formed:
with the ripplemarks of his brain.
Now you may tease the earth with roses --
she will not speak of him.
Much better, one contemporary editor told me recently, than "Earthwake.” I wrote to Nadine that I had started writing poems again, Athough not with my ain heart's bluid.” But there was also a fragment called "Constellation” that ended: "They sent me to the stars/ for water.”
Late in the fall I stumbled into a part-time job in an "alternative” high school. The school had perhaps twenty-five students and six or seven faculty members, all young; it had no fixed curriculum or goals and steered largely by the whims of the students. Little was learned at the school, and toward the end of the year a lot of things got stolen. My task was to work "individually” with students; that is, I talked about life with those that felt like talking, tried to teach one girl how to play Satie's "Gymnopédies” on the piano, read stories aloud to another who was nearly blind, played my guitar, and joined in anything else that was going on.
There was still in the air a conviction, which we all understood one another to hold, that the world was moving toward some new order. It was an interregnum; we could not impose a discipline which presupposed the old order, and the new was not yet visible. We were awaiting it passively; the students, their will unsupported by outward compulsion and sapped by marijuana and other drugs and experiences that had come to them too early, had no energy to pursue anything. That very truthful song, AThe Day the Music Died,” was in the air. Had I taken the job with some hope of assisting the educational process I had seen in my brother Don and his friend Scott, back in Buffalo? But I had few hopes at that time; the job was a way of treading water while gaining a bit of independence.
Soon after taking the job I gave up all pretense of meditation and moved out of the jagriti into a small, rather dark two-room apartment. Bernice and Chet and I celebrated my Ahousewarming” by smoking marijuana, and I smoked once or twice more before leaving for winter vacation. I wrote a free-verse poem recalling that critical moment of the interview. I let myself think again in visual images, saw a prophetess bound to the world-tree, trying to give birth.
Vacation meant an interruption of visits to Dr. Strong. At our last session, which was probably no more profound than the others, I was aware of a certain affection between us; the next morning in a dream I felt the bond break, a brief pain, then nothing. I went first to visit Ireni.
The days in Berkeley were dark, and so was Ireni's mood. She showed me a book she had been reading and seemed to approve of: Janov's The Primal Scream. I read it and was disturbed by its primitivism, which didn't seem to me necessarily synonymous with authenticity; it also occurred to me that I was disturbed by Ireni's long-term interest in Artaud, for similar reasons. It seemed to me like a flight from the wisdom I knew she possessed. I could not quite articulate this, and Ireni was not receptive to my expressions of unease. She was rather uncommunicative, but I gathered that she was angry with me over last spring. She said, AIt was terrible watching you go through that. Not >you' B a human being!” And AOnce you realize death is your only enemy, you will know that you have no others.”
One evening B I think it was during that visit B we were sitting around a candle in the darkened living room, Ireni and Luke and one other visitor, and we started speaking about death. I recounted an anecdote I had read in Buber about the rabbi on his deathbed who says to his son, ADo you still see anything?” The son says AWhat do you mean?” and the father replies, AI see only the Divine Nothingness that gives life to the world.” There was a silence; then from the kitchen came a sound, as of metal on something else. A mouse probably. We all laughed nervously. But whatever it was that separated us was not displaced.
Short as was my stay in Berkeley, I managed to get involved in another pointless and joyless affair, with a young man as lost as I was, and spent the remainder of the time at his apartment. This, I learned afterwards, made Ireni angry with me; she thought I had dumped them, whereas I thought I was doing what she approved of.
I arrived in Madison two or three days before the end of 1971, and it was like many visits home. I got into a discussion with my father about Vietnam, in which he said that as a person who hadn't made a success of her own life I had no right to criticize the government and I said that what mattered was not whether I had the right to criticize the government but whether the criticisms were just. The typical exchange. One day we went out to the farm. It was a cold, gray day; we huddled around the wood stove in the farmhouse. Then my mother said to me, ALet's go for a walk.” We set out across the fields. A heavy snow lay on them, but the tops of weeds could still be seen; against the shadowless white field they looked like writing. I thought of the way the words looked on the page at the beginning of Celan’s AEngführung (Stretta).” When we returned home I said to mother that there must be a Law. A law inherent in the conditions of life on Earth, that would tell everyone what they had to do to preserve their environment and their society; it was just a matter of formulating it. My mother gave me a warning look. ANow Bea,” she said. AYou know that's a very great task. You're very smart, but you're not B Einstein.” I said that, Einstein or not, I had thought of it and would have to try it.
While in Madison I went to the University library and took out a couple of new books about Celan. One was Dietlind Meinecke's Wort und Name bei Paul Celan (Word and Name in Celan's Poetry), a long monograph, evidently a doctoral dissertation. The author had spoken with Celan a good deal, and the book contained a number of quite stunning remarks, one or two characterized by the polite unreserve that had so taken me aback at one moment. In some ways it was a typical German scholarly work, tangled up with the kind of phenomenological speculations I can never follow very far. But interwoven with such, I found many shrewd observations, remarks that presupposed an emotional reaction, even visionary glimpses, as if there were another book in there, of a quite different character. The second work was a selection of articles on Celan, put together by Meinecke and prefaced by her with an introduction that made a similar impression. The articles in the book were written from many different perspectives, but in most of them I recognized something that I myself had glimpsed or felt in reading the poems.
All this was being held in suspension in my mind, when New Year's Eve arrived.
At the start of the evening something happened between my brother Don and me which emphasized a point I had already started to get, that the music of the revolution had died. My brother would, I saw, adjust to this and go on to, as they say now, get a life. But I had never really had any other life than the revolution, however odd the figure I had cut in its procession. If the music of the revolution had died, I belonged to the dead.
Yes; I belonged to the dead. Something Celan had written came back to me, a memory of looking at a candle that was burning down. I saw myself as that candle. I had a feeling of seeing myself in time rather than in space, not as a shape appearing to others but as an inner line which Celan had perceived and which is one for all of us.
And then I understood that, regardless of whether or not he had meant to call my name, my own indissoluble name, the belief that Celan was appealing to me in his poems was not an error. The word Ayou,” which he had used so consciously, meant me as much as anyone, it meant whom it might concern. There is a Sufi anecdote which I first saw in a book at the Ananda Marga house B apparently it is also a Hasidic anecdote B about a student who comes to the master's house and knocks at the door. A voice inquires, AWho is it?”, and the student answers, AI.” The door remains shut. Years later he returns and knocks again, and again the voice asks who is there. This time he answers, AYou” B and the door opens. This, on that New Year's Eve, I finally felt that I understood. Perhaps Ireni's ANot >you' B a human being!” had also been of help. A number of perceptions from the studies on Celan that I had been reading came together in my mind, and I realized that there was something that had been said about Celan, and yet not said. I knew that, finally, I could write my Thesis.
But what about the name? Had I, after all, been wrong about that? And had I been wrong in positing some Aparanormal” communication between the poet and myself?
It was on this visit home that I learned two bits of family history that had not been communicated to me before. The first was that once in the 1950's, when my father was away on one of his field trips to South Africa, my mother had a sudden feeling that something had happened to him. She sent him an anxious cable and received the reply: AEverything fine.” On meeting him at the airport she said to him, ASomething happened to you on such and such a date, didn't it?” He admitted that on that date he had been in a road accident, from which he had been fortunate to escape with minor injuries. AHe didn't like me to talk about it,” she told me.
I felt stunned. My father was a scientist, right? He believed in truth, didn't he?
The other piece of information may not have been new to me; Mother may have told me before that when she as five years old she fell down on the sidewalk and hit her head, and lay unconscious on her mother's lap for about half an hour. During that time she saw her grandmother, who had died a year earlier, sitting beside her mother. But it was only on this visit that I thought to ask: AWait a minute. Your mother told you that her mother had promised her that if it were possible to come back she would, >but she never did?' Might that not have been her way of coming back?'“ My mother said, AThat is what I used to say to my mother. But she would always say, >We can never know.'“
My mother also spoke, then or at another time, of having once sensed the presence of a departed spirit. We had just moved into our second house in Madison, where the builder and his family had lived before us; the builder's mother had died recently. One night while Mother was sewing in the living room, AI just had a feeling that Grandma Wallace was there.” It was a very distinct feeling, one she had never had before or since.
I am too much a scientist's daughter to want to draw more than the absolutely necessary conclusions from such things. But the fact that they keep on happening to us and that we keep on setting them aside seemed and seems to me highly significant, like what Thoreau would have called finding a trout in the milk. And I could not help thinking that the history of my encounter with Celan might have been very different had I known, from the outset, that such things occur. It seemed to me that I had been insufficiently provided with the facts of life.
Early in January, perhaps while still in Madison, I dreamt of learning that Celan's second wife had been someone named Beatrice. This person was neither identical with me nor someone other than me. I saw a photograph tacked to a shelf. It seemed to be an old photograph, of someone who had lived long ago, and again I guessed that the person was not me, but someone I might try to become.
This dream may have prompted me to seek a closer acquaintance with my Original, so to speak. Until then I had read only the Inferno, where Beatrice makes only one appearance, at the beginning. I had not liked her. Her line AI am made, by God's mercy, such that the fire of your misery does not assail me” had struck me as heartless. But now I also read the Vita Nuova and the Paradiso and found myself able to identify with her. If she was articulate, judgmental, and often quite angry, these were qualities for which I had been criticized. As Plath said, ANevertheless, I am the same, identical woman.” Much of the Catholic theology she is made to spout in the Paradiso was, of course, of little interest to me. But I understood that she was supposed to represent the Divine Intellect, or Binah, that Understanding that is the Mother of community. If she appears harsh at times, that is because acts have consequences. The world is so constructed that happiness can only be achieved by surmounting the ego, and this requirement, once one accepts it, can be seen as an expression of Divine love. (Judaism also teaches that Divine love and judgment ultimately stem from the same root.) In that passage in the Inferno Virgil addresses Beatrice: AO lady of the power (virtu), by which alone (or: through whom alone) the human race can go out from the limits of the sublunar circle.” It is the power to surmount the earth, not so as to leave it behind (from the top of the skies, Dante keeps looking down on Florence and commenting on its affairs), but so as to gain perspective for wiser action. So, this was to be my role model.
The direct influence of Dante may partly explain a certain quality that enters into the sonnets written that spring: a heavy, angry quality. For Dante was an extremely angry man. Celan was even angrier, of course, but the expression of anger is checked in his poems and so they did not encourage me to release it. Moreover, anger and conflict really are not my preferred mode. At the alternate school where I was teaching, I, a chess idiot, once played a game of chess with another woman teacher, in which we tacitly agreed to move our pieces across the board without capturing each other's pieces. When we were interrupted, after fifteen or twenty minutes, all the pieces were still on the board, the two sides a mirror image of each other. But now I felt licensed or called upon to, as the phrase goes, let >er rip.
Aye, stuff your pipe and lean back in your chair,
Tell me once more that it is sweet to live,
Although the bees starve in the stifling hive,
Although the angels shudder in their sphere,
Although my ancient name is made a jeer,
Although the buzz-saws shriek in all my groves,
That eye is pierced that sought my eyes with love,
That voice is choked that called me more than fair --
No, not my tender eyes nor my fair face
I weep, whom love's name lured here to the knife:
I weep the spilt seed and the tangled wit.
I brought the silver of my lord's sweet life
That they might gladly take, who gave him praise,
And this they said to me: Look thou to it.
It is probably also due to Dante's influence that comparison with the Christian story is invited (as already in AEarthwake,” which has sometimes had as epigraph Dante's description of the upheaval at the time of the Crucifixion: AMethought the universe felt love”). But some of the energy in this poem is also that of the one to whom it was addressed: Dr. Strong.
I had gone back to him on returning to Seattle, although now I knew he could give me no guidance. But it wasn't enough for me just to tell him this and walk away. I had to stay and answer all the misprisions he had wanted me to accept; he should be forced to admit he was wrong! He should admit and rectify his errors, not only to me but to his colleagues in the therapeutic profession, who were engaged in talking people out of their souls.
I did not yet know B it is a lesson I was long in learning B that one cannot and should not force people to recognize truth, not even by means of words. I judged of the power of words from their effect on me. And I assumed, too, the right to do to others what had been done to me by means of language. But the power to compel others was (as Grace saw) denied to me. It was long before I could look back and realize that this was for the best. There is no worse temptation than to feel oneself justified after being long put down, and it was to be many years before I would understand this. As the Talmud said, AFear the slave who becomes king.”
And there was also a kind of attachment, which I must have wished to postpone breaking. Anger, too, creates intimacy. With his handsome vitality, and the impression he made of being basically a good man, he attracted me strongly. And he admitted to a certain Acounter-transference,” as he put it, though he had his Hippocratic oath well in mind. I would, in fact, have had him break it; in my rejection of his system all the boundaries it had established seemed demolished. I did not think he could make me forget the poet; rather I hoped that for the sake of what the poet wanted to bring into the world he could enter into a partnership with me, in something of the spirit of levirate marriage (that metaphor actually occurred to me). How much I actually communicated to him of this fantasy, I am not sure. And a short story written at that time revealed to me that even had he consented I could never have lived with him. It was just that I could not yet face the prospect of delivering Celan's message alone, and above all, I could not yet resign myself to childlessness.
I had not often thought about having children. No doubt I was afraid of it, and this fear played its part in my flight from real relationships. I have never been brave about physical pain. And moreover, through my mother I had gotten a glimpse of the vicarious suffering that motherhood can bring. Throughout those wretched school years, when I had been the scapegoat and the outcast, at times I'd felt my mother's pain almost worse than my own; the pain had bounced back and forth between us, becoming amplified. On the other hand, I had felt a kind of obligation to pass on my parents' goodly inheritance, and I had felt B especially that first year in Berkeley, before starting to make friends B all the horror of biological extinction. That had been part of what drove me back into therapy and all those ill-fated attempts at breaching the wall of solitude. And then, I was not completely without natural instincts. Ardan, the last of the three men with whom I had been somewhat seriously involved before reading Celan, had attracted me deeply. One day I had dragged him to Marion's house, to see the cat with her new family of kittens. I had picked up one of the kittens and held it toward him. If he had taken the kitten from me, instead of putting his hands behind his back with a rueful smile, the story I am trying to tell now would probably have ended before it began, and a very different story, its protagonist a child of Armenian-Norwegian-Lebanese-French-English-Scotch ancestry, would have begun. These same instincts were also involved in my reaction to Celan; possibly the operation I had to undergo before seeing him was due to a somatic protest against the double message of impregnation and frustration that the rhythm of the poems, as well as their imagery, had succeeded in conveying.
Years later, after a terrible film on Holocaust Remembrance Day, I said to somone, AWhat does one do after seeing something like that?” He said, AI don't know. Go out and make a baby, I guess.” And later still, in Israel, I gathered that many of the survivors had reacted just that way: as soon as they recovered a bit of strength, they set out to replace the families they had lost. It seems to me that Celan's poems are driven by exactly this impulse, only diverted into the channels of Art, which, as he bitterly observed at the beginning of the AMeridian,” is childless. What he wanted of me was not compatible with motherhood, and yet it wasn't based on any otherworldly scorn for the flesh either. Rather, it seemed that for some reason life itself, as a one-time thing, demanded this of me. My combat with, and attempt to involved, Dr. Strong was a final attempt to bargain with this fate. Dr. Strong behaved very properly, and was probably rather stunned by my morphing into Lady Lazarus in his office. Under such circumstances, it could not be expected that he would respond to my criticism of his therapeutic philosophy with an open mind.
So we confronted each other, he as a representative of the normal world and I as a representative of everything the normal world did not want to see. As Dickinson once put it, AMuch madness is divinest Sense/ To a discerning Eye B / Much Sense, the starkest Madness B A Dr. Strong's ASense” did not rest on logic; he once said to me, AIt sounds right, but you must not be saying it right because I feel a resistance.” One day, when I had emphasized the need for a bit of consequential thinking, he said, ANow I hear your geologist father talking!” To which I retorted: AMy father was an honest man!” When I got home that evening the retort turned into a song called ADevil's Train”:
My father was an honest man,
He rode the devil's train.
At the window high I saw him stand,
Saying, “When will we meet again, dear man,
When will we meet again?”
He said, “Dear girl, I do not know,
You way is long and hard.
Remember that I loved you so --
Remember who you are, my child,
Remember who you are.”
And in a year there came a man,
He drove up to my door.
He said “I've news going to make you sad,
Your father won't come no more, my child,
Your father won't come no more.”
He said, “Climb in and drive with me
To a land that's green and fair.”
I said, “Before I go with thee,
Tell me is my father there, good man,
Tell me is my father there?”
He looked at me and shook his head
As if to answer, “No.”
“Then you must leave me now,” I said,
“To my father I must go, good man,
To my father I must go.
“My father is an honest man,
He rides the devil's train.
I intend to follow through this land
Until we meet again, dear man,
Until we meet again.”
Dr. Strong, of course, was the man who Adrove up to my door” to take me to a world governed by the pleasure principle, which was supposed to be Agreen and fair,” but from which the integrity that makes true love possible is missing. The preceding summer I had heard a radio commercial:
Tijuana Smalls, baby,
For you? Maybe;
You know who you are,
You know who you are.
Not content with exploiting sexuality, the powers and principalities had managed to mock Being itself. The song recognizes that the father, though Aan honest man,” is nonetheless in league with this world of exploitation (AHe rode the Devil's train”); this was my criticism of my father for his commitment to the Establishment. The song was an attempt to bring Dr. Strong back to my father's values, in anticipation of which the final Adear man” is addressed to him.
As with Michael the preceding spring, I tried to recreate Dr. Strong as a hero; I had one dream in which he appeared as a kingly figure, his vitality completed by nobility. I also dreamed of a person about his stature and build, but dark, in a black-and-white T-shirt, with whom I was wrestling. In a third dream I saw a man in a gray business suit and glasses, with a kind of sea-air about him, who reminded me of Celan and Dr. Strong and of Botho. It seemed as if this man was asking me to marry him, and I wondered if he was joking. Then it occurred to me that the question in such cases was not AIs it serious?” but Ado I accept?”
Thus, slowly, through dreams and hempsmoke and arguments, I worked my way toward the recognition of what I needed to assume. There is a line by William Stafford that comes to mind: AI thought hard for us all.” Evidently I was meant to give birth, not to one or more individuals, but to the vision of a society that might better shelter its children. This must be undertaken wholeheartedly, with undivided attention; perhaps it even required the pain of childlessness for its motivation. My observation of Ireni and others had shown me how bearing of a child and the caring for it require a concentration I would not be able to spare. And besides, I could see that my attempts to establish a relationship with a man who could help me raise a child were doomed to failure. The only thing that made sense was to treat this nameless relationship as a kind of marriage, and have done with everything else. AFaithful unto death.”
On the night in March when I reached this conclusion, I could see for some way down the road ahead. I could see that I was going to look pretty crazy, that the conviction that Celan had indeed wanted this of me would not always be very present, and that there would be times when I would have difficulty even recalling what had moved me. At such times the only thing I would have to hold onto would be the memory of having made a promise. I promised.
It was a throw of the dice, a kind of Pascalian wager. Pascal, the reader may recall, points out that whether or not the soul is immortal, one has nothing to lose by Abetting” that it is. Similarly, I reckoned that I had nothing to lose. My personal life was not going to get better. I had no career plans. The future on which my generation had counted was collapsing, its music was dying, its dreams and its loyalties crashing in ruins with a sound of cardboard and papier maché. Perhaps I was being recruited by powers beyond the human to try and show people a better way, and perhaps not. But only the choice of belief offered any hope. By making this choice, too, I would bear witness to the existence of some spiritual causality.
Moreover, I saw that it was not necessary to regard myself as an avatar. It was only necessary to assume that Celan, watching his chance to be a director, had cast me to play this character on the stage of life. Perhaps even that assumption was not necessary; in any case I would have to bear the responsibility for deciding to act on the suggestion, wherever it had come from.
Having accepted the part, I now had to try to imagine: if an incarnation of Divine Wisdom were to descend to this world, what would she say? What advice would she have to give? By thinking in this manner I might even, with the help of heaven, come up with something useful.
That promise had, of course, to be poetically formalized. I wrote another in the new series of chimerical sonnets:
“Rest, rest, perturbed spirit --” I might betray,
But this my sorrow speaks, and she is just:
There's not an item in this world's display
To check one tear from falling on thy dust.
The wide world wears that heart, those eyes no more --
Before what vacant mirrors should I pace?
Call me no better than the frightened whore;
At the dull eyes whose blindness quenched thy light
I stand unknown and by the years defaced.
And yet -- if words have voice to make this known,
If tears have virtue yet to cleanse men's sight,
Then -- the world young once more, and I a crone,
The passing stranger in the street might see
Whose friend I was -- and thus remember me.
Late in the spring, after the second anniversary of Celan's death, I went back to Grace's house on Meridian Street. Without speaking much to Grace I lay down on the couch, by the table with its absurd plastic mushroom, and closed my eyes. I lay there for a long time, hearing, past the tears that continued to flow, the bubbling of water in the large aquarium that was in the room. Eventually Grace came in again. "I got a letter from Elspeth where she talked about you,” she said. Elspeth was in England that year, studying in a higher school for Montessori teachers, and still taking journeys. Grace read me Elspeth's letter: AI saw Bea. She was wearing a white dress and had tears streaming down her face. Somebody gave me a book called the Book of Duality and I put it into the fire and it burned up. Then someone gave me the Book of Compromise and I put it into the fire and it burned up. Then I put Bea into the fire and she didn't burn up. I am worried about her; please find out if she is all right.”
Even through my tears and confusion I wondered why Elspeth had worried about me, when her vision might have told her that I was on the right track. For I had made a choice, assumed responsibility. Between the alternatives of being mad or sane, of destroying myself or going on as though nothing had happened, of living or dying, I had found a path that had some existential integrity. I was still a long way from home, and my soul was scratched, bruised, and smoke-damaged. Nevertheless, it seemed to me that I was out of the woods.
END OF PART ONE