Thursday, August 25, 2005

The Memento Mori Topic Trumps the Carpe Diem Tradition

On a sunny, almost cloudless day late in summer — not that late though — on the same day that I find my first fallen maple leaf of the season, I discover another casualty: a bumble bee, still perfectly intact, freshly dead, with a reflexive twitch still alive in his limbs, lying inert on the porch.

No more exploring of the fluorescent folds of blossoms. No more sipping of nectar and the incidental pollination. The bee is still in his work-clothes, a livery of black and gold, and is encrusted with the pollen from this morning's assignment. But his limbs, all three pairs, are folded formally over his thorax and abdomen.

Is it possible to memorialize a bee without descending into bathos? I hold the corpse, not yet dry or brittle, in my palm. Perhaps a prayer would be appropriate: God, if you exist —

but I reject this. Better to lose the wager than to hedge. The body is flung reverently into the soil at the base of the shrub where, beyond death — without any mystical speculation I can say — his atoms will undergo a transformation.

(August 25, 2005)

Saturday, August 13, 2005

To My Darling and Favorite

You are my partner, my equal, my lover, my friend.
You are the treasure of my heart and I am lost without you.

An Epitaph

In the tradition, the Moon, personified
as Diana or Cynthia, is female. Her moods and phases
are changeable. I forgot about that when I hit on the plan
to inscribe ERIC + MOLLY in the fine soil
— the regolith — of the lunar surface. There,
barring any vandalism by future tourists,
the record of my devotion to you would last forever.
Or at least for millions of years, until
like an astronaut's patterned footprint,
the markings would be degraded and eroded at last,
by micrometeorites, into illegibility and oblivion.
The obvious objection: how to get there?
I was working out the details.

You're in a relationship with an expiration date, you once said.
But the notes that you wrote and hid everywhere for me to find
in my apartment still persist. Even now I still find new ones
that I've never seen before. They say things like
"Je t'aime!" and "I love pretty pictures of you."
The ink shows no sign of fading.
Even paper was more durable than your affections.

I was never satisfied to write our joined names
in the damp sand of a beach, enclosed within the outline
of a conventional heart. The surf rolls in
and in a few seconds the work is undone.
I try again, quickly. I have to hurry to finish
before the lines are effaced again.
Still, I have come to understand why sand
is the preferred medium for lovers' promises
of permanent devotion. The lovers are hedging.
Their passions are not a matter of choice, so
who knows, really, how long it will last?

Is it self-defeating, my longing to find a permanent form
for the expression of my love for you?
Putting it in writing is no guarantee.
Writing it down only risks
the dissemination — or rather the sterile
multiplication — of so many epitaphs,
monuments to an outlived, outgrown desire.
The meanings of the words, detached like stale URL's,
flap slackly, unanchored from their original referents:
feelings that no longer exist. Traces left by the persons,
now dead and gone, that we used to be.

(August 12-13, 2005)

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Kinbote on Waxwings

Vladimir Nabokov, 1899-1977

Charles Kinbote, the fictional narrator of Nabokov's novel Pale Fire and the editor of and commentator on Shade's poem in the novel, has this to say about waxwings and about the lines of Shade's verse quoted in the previous entry:

"The image of these opening lines evidently refers to a bird knocking itself out, in full flight, against the outer surface of a glass pane in which a mirrored sky, with its slightly darker tint and slightly slower cloud, presents the illusion of continued space. We can visualize John Shade in his early boyhood, a physically unattractive but otherwise beautifully developed lad, experiencing his first eschatological shock, as with incredulous fingers he picks up from the turf that compact ovoid body and gazes at the wax-red streaks ornamenting those grey-brown wings and at the graceful tail feathers tipped with yellow as bright as fresh paint. When in the last year of Shade's life I had the fortune of being his neighbor in the idyllic hills of New Wye, ... I often saw those particular birds most convivially feeding on the chalk-blue berries of junipers growing at the corner of his house" (Pale Fire, Kinbote's note to lines 1-4).