Otherwise the “chamber" was or might have been an exact duplicate
of the hall we'd left, but I noticed the alcoves here were different shapes,
one from another, still bare but the light, varying from gloom to radiance.
"You're too young to have seen my puppet Death of Socrates." "On vid," I said,
knowing what he meant. The characters in that tour de force of modem theater
never moved. It was all done with light, intensely alive till the final twilight scene
when the followers (in a rough circle around the central figure) come to seem
dolmens, something carved in rock, as if they just then achieve their immobility.
These tortures, murders -- here Socrates' death seemed an execution, though
drinking from the bowl there was an expression on his mobile face, which wasn't
even grave ... no matter. All of journalism's heroes, it seemed,
were here, Sawney Bean contemplating someone's liver, the Ripper of course,
Tee-lak the bounty hunter, so well lit you didn't need damp brick or forest -
Spilsbury sniffing the biscuit tin nearly made me throw up, just one more figure
in its gray niche, stains on the tin and the dilation of his nostrils, the expression
of disdain and triumph just beginning to crease his slablike cheek ... it was high art,
but not a kind I like. "Bernald's House of Vinyl," I said, "is like history at its
most intelligently imagined," offering him my lead like the whereabouts of an
arms cache to my torturer. He smiled, not a nice smile, and I saw as we
came to the last niche on the left it was curtained off. He looked almost excited,
his normal poise slightly off balance. "And here," he said, reaching as far as the curtain,
fingering its folds, with no move to raise or pull it aside. I looked expectant, telling
myself not to try to second-guess him. Was it my Werewolf? I hoped not. His slender
artist's fingers gave up caressing the brocade as if pricing it, and he looked at me
more sternly, frowning a little at the camera I still held in my hand, unused.
In tri-dee even on a page these shots were too much for our readers. I decided
to alter the mood, and chaffed him a bit about what might be behind the curtain.
He relaxed, as if this evidence of my unease were what he'd worked for. Looking
positively cheerful, nearly shrugging as if this were some mere bagatelle, nothing ultimate,
two fingers (I remember) inside the fold, thumb without, he drew the curtain. At
that moment, knowing I'd have to kill him, that's what I saw, what he'd rendered.
You know the rest, cheap wrapup in a B-vid, that one instant only fine.
Chopin, Ohlsson says, puts in an A minor like a boulder in the road, but quietly.
Irrationals were it for me in Book XI, crowding in till I bent, even broke
under it, why it has no title, Robert Bridges' hack piece the Testament of Beauty
uneasymaking presence like the vivid masks, human faces that attack me on the edge of sleep
frightening and beautifully bright against dark, triumphs of the eidetic imagination, like
(I thought yesterday) being visited by demons, Alberti bass with a Bellini top line.
Harmony isn't what I thought, I knew in Book XI. Things without names can still have faces.
"Young man, if I had your strength when I wrote that piece there wouldn't be a string
left on the piano." Dolmetsch recognized his old recorder bought at Sotheby's, left years ago on a train
platform, in a shop where he'd been asked to look at things. "That's mine!" he said,
the mouthpiece still sticking out of the bag just as he remembered it.
Personification is one thing, visitation another. An old student of mine saw godlike figures
in mist over a gorge, perhaps a river. I told him, like a fool, such were often seen, the Bowmen
of Amiens and such, and he begged me (as Olson in Connecticut did Charles Boer) to let
him in on it, as if I were one of Ackerman's Secret Masters of the World. The sun comes up
too soon for Tithonus, "tew sune" says Pound, for whom Olson conceived a justifiable impatience
for relating everything to himself. We age, Aurora doesn't, his Pisan sunset a reverse aubade.
Copyright Gerald Burns 1995-1997