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John Palcewski's Journal

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Celestial Arc
forioscribe
  Holmes I


"Now you're talking," Chuck said, peering through a loupe at one of Raymond's negative strips. "Nice shots. Especially the frozen ropes. But I'm going to run only one. Guess why."
"Because Larry Holmes is not a Muhammad Ali."
Chuck squinted. "Christ, now you can read my mind. Which do you prefer, frame 14 or 25?"
Raymond took the strip, held it up to the flourescent light fixture in the ceiling.
"The rope is clearer in 14."
"Done."

The next day in his new apartment Raymond continued unpacking and sorting through the boxes. When he got to the one marked "Eve," he paused. In it were three years worth of cards, letters, and photographs.

As he carried the box toward the closet, its bottom unfolded. A fluttering rush. The hardwood floor was covered with memorabilia.

Where was the packing tape? Over there, on the credenza.

Raymond fixed the box, then knelt down and began to refill it.

He picked up a rectangle of white cardboard, on which Eve had pasted a magazine halftone of curved-necked bird with a long, sharp beak. On the other side was a clip from The New Yorker, a poem, "Black Coat," by Ted Hughes. Underneath was her scrawled sentence. "Sweetie: Thought you'd like this."

Of course he’d liked it. Ibis was a rhyme for Hughes' reference in the poem to a brown-eyed iris. In the bird's eye was a double reflection—a connection to the poem's allusion to diplopia, and to the Plath/Hughes emotional arc as well.

Arc! A rope frozen over the head of a boxer. The apparent path taken by a celestial body above and below the horizon. Something there but never actually seen.


The stiletto beak of the Ibis was the blade that slid into Hughes' side when he thought of his dead Sylvia. Eve had deftly made a connection between the Greek goddess of the rainbow and a white bird, as well as connections on myriad other levels, such as apprehending the world through a camera's viewfinder, the difficulty of focusing in dim light, the struggle to establish a harmonious composition.

Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes were married at St George the Martyr Church in Bloomsbury on June 16, 1956. Eve had written that note to him on June 16, the Joycean day known as Bloomsday.

The card—and all the others she’d constructed—had astonished him. She laughed. “You astonish easily,” she said. He replied, yes, she was right. But then there was no getting around the truth of the matter, which was that deep down Eve had an acute artistic sensibility. More to the point, he said, he couldn't imagine why all the men in her life had never recognized this. Not even her father.

Then: A sheet of paper ripped out of a spiral notebook, probably from one of her journals. Block letters. "RAIN CHECK. Good for one apple pie!" And underneath, a drawing of teeth in a Cheshire Cat grin, her trademark. Her pies were fabulous. Thick crunchy crust, apple chunks and walnuts steaming in a cinnamon and orange marmalade glaze.

Next: Another page torn out of her journal. "June 25, Henry VIII's birthday!” she’d written at the top. And below: “Here’s a list for you, sweetie: One. We need soda. Two. Could you take the leftover tiles to basement? Three. My sister and brother-in-law are NOT coming this wk-end (see me for details) Four. I love you and want you to be happy."

And at the bottom her grinning teeth trademark.

He always got soda at WaWa, two twelve-packs at $2.99 each, cheaper even than at Acme or Giant. Also Ben & Jerry's Cherry Garcia. He wouldn't get her smokes because he would not enable a life-threatening addiction.

The tiles were for her kitchen remodeling project. She might have used spacers to keep the tiles aligned properly, but she didn't because she was in a big hurry to get the job done. So some were close together, others were far apart. Objectively speaking, it was a botched job, an embarrassment. But nevertheless he praised her work. They were large terra cotta tiles, the color of those he once saw glowing scarlet in the early morning sun in Florence. He praised her work, and in return she loved him, no doubt about it. She wanted him to be happy. So she said.

Then: A note from Eve's mother, dated July 5. "Just a few lines to say that your wedding service yesterday at Lake Eliot was the most touching thing I have ever seen. It was beautiful. I particularly enjoyed this part of the reading: 'Love makes us palaces of sweet sounds and sights.’ We all were deeply touched and I am so happy with the very evident sincerity with which you both spoke. So here's to a long and happy life together with fair winds and following seas... Love, Mother."

Raymond had put together a pastiche of quotations. The one he liked most was from Emerson, about love being “the dawn of civility and grace.”

That’s more or less what Eve told him three years later. “In this divorce,” she said, “we’ll be civil.”

Raymond rose to ease the pain in his knees, the ache in his neck. He went to the kitchen and gulped from a carton of orange juice until it was empty. He punched buttons on the stereo, turned up the volume.

Eve called them the “Diabolical Variations.” But then Beethoven’s Immortal Beloved, Antonine Brentano, had a different reaction to the music, didn’t she? She was a skilled pianist, and she fully understood the value of the great composer’s gift, his dedication on the sheet music.

Antonine spoke of “elective affinities.” That some people can instantly make a spiritual and emotional connection. That’s what he felt when he met Eve. He thought she felt the same.

Raymond resumed his kneeling position. The piano music echoed. An ascending phrase and a mirroring descending phrase, played simultaneously. He blinked. Right hand melody soaring to heaven, the left to the depths. There is no end to that man’s capacity for metaphor.

Item: A succession of 8 x 10 black and white glossies. A study he'd made of her singing and playing her guitar. She wore a white T-shirt. She sang, "You Are My Only One." Yet in none of the pictures was she looking at Raymond.

Item: Another 8 x 10 black and white glossy. This one of Buster, Eve's 10-year-old long-haired black cat, sitting wide-eyed and regal, in a cane-backed chair. The king of all he surveys. He's seen many men come and go, thus his supreme indifference.

Item: A poem of 26 lines, dark elite type on a sheet of 25 percent cotton fiber heavyweight bond paper with a cream finish, the lines not flush left but each line centered. “’The Commuted Sentence.’ By Eve Stone, for Raymond Stephens, January 12, 1993.”

He read it again. Images of melting snow on brown and rotting leaves, a lacy cover for the landscape, mournful and lovely in a stigmatic fog, a damming of the rivulets of a January thaw. She spoke of the disgrace of need, and yet being unable to define her need. And a recurring theme, one she sounded over and over again throughout the three years of their marriage: "My autonomy unquestioned and fully blessed."

Item: Another of Eve's hand-made postcards. A reproduction of an Alan Cober crayon drawing of Miles Davis. Trumpet to his lips, dark glasses. She'd penned in a street sign—78th Street.

On the other side of the card was her typewritten invitation, on blue paper, for New Year’s Eve. “I thought maybe dinner and a recitation (yours) of ‘The Dead' and more get-acquainted conversation. What say you? Call me before Thurs. & let me know."

Perhaps in her eyes he was Gabriel Conroy of Joyce’s story. And she was Gretta. The singing of "The Lass of Aughrim" reminds Gretta of her first love, Michael Furey, a delicate young boy with big dark eyes. Gretta weeps thinking of the boy shivering in the garden on a winter's night, the boy who died of love for her.

The triad: Gabriel, Gretta, Michael.

Raymond, Eve, her ex-lover.

He’d gotten out his journalist’s tape recorder and practiced reading the story. He wanted to make it perfect. And it was. When he finished, half an hour into the new year, they made love for the first time.

His copy of Dubliners had a rich, textured dark blue cloth cover, and a blue silk ribbon page marker. Gilt print on its spine. On the flyleaf he’d written, "Raymond & Eve Together. January 1."

Raymond looked up. It was still there, on the shelf.

He looked down at the cardboard box.

Someday he'll have to decide: What to keep. What to throw away.


  Holmes II




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The Spin Doctor Is IN.

Great word, nacred...which puts a positive spin on the creation of revisionist history we writers engage in when things don't go our way! As for Christmas narcosis, that topic needs some chewing over for a while. Maybe it has resonance with the stupor that followed the excesses of the Roman Saturnalia...

your piece on raymond and all the mementos was so sad, yet my hubris didn't have too much trouble incorporating all that poignancy into its own movement. at the other side of the curve. you might be interested in my post on the subject.

pavlovsgirl

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