Someone sent me The Lovers from a Tarot pack; I put it in The Allegory of Love
as a bookmark, plaidy back, benevolent figure blessing from a cloud he and she,
both with their plant, behind them a silly-looking mountain. A pity Beardsley
or Beerbohm never designed a pack. I belong myself (having just finished Busman's Honeymoon)
to the Wimsey Period, the twenty years before I was born, read Sayers's Introductory
Papers on Dante in high school, a tip from the Dominican sister who taught us biology.
Forgot some since, but knew it was planarian, not nematode. She also
recommended Beaver, whose textbook covers lamprey, mollusc, everything in terms
of biological functions, each a chapter, like books of poetry divided into kinds.
Yesterday I saw an installation, so-called -- forty paired finches in cages
(each with its little nest) suspended in the atrium of a downtown mall
by braided black cords lowered each morning I imagine to feed them, under them
a black dais speckled with seeds we're supposed to ignore, copper rectangles flat on
the perimeter with wire thick as baling wire to hang them if you wanted, facing up
toward the birds etched with alternating messages -- an agreement on their care and
a pleasant quote from Rilke, misspelling his first name, on how our writing should be
innocent as a chirp. You buy a cage to help an art charity. Peep. Designed
by a printmaker apparently who thinks that everything repeats and anything hung
at various levels in space addresses space. The birds were lovely, especially
one tiny white pair with orange bills, but I liked them all. Later in another part
of town I saw one big as eight finches crushed together flit from one bush
to another, the belly black with large white spots also flecking brown wings and a green
overmantle as if it'd spent too much time under all those cages. It looked valuable.
Gravity operated in both cases, the yellowbilled one on Hawthorne having to fly
to fly, the three-story long cords doubled down to tie like ropes in theaters to bars
by the dais a cage to the mind we were neither to look at nor not (like art),
the finches happy in their heights, like caged finches anywhere.
Or say it's like dance, as Valéry imagines it, as able to express the mythic.
Be with your legs and upper body, the angle of head on neck, Medusa, reducing
myth not to a set of relations but presences, Karloff's mummy incorporated
into a dance, different though that is from finches hung unimaginatively at
different levels, invisible rectangle punctuated (rather than described by) couples,
Dante-Beatrice, Poe-Virginia, or Sade solitary in his madhouse suite. No mind
without its metaphor, no pair sans dummy eggs cooling in the nest, emblemed fertility.
The mountain is a cone, or two together point to point as in Yeats, hourglass, thing
passing into another, ordered contraction and expansion, dance of a sort,
more like a mudpie, pattie, on a flat stone (perhaps slate), trailing water.
Agnes stirs tana leaves with a miniature whisk. "You have risen, Charis. It is well."
Words intrude, as I imagine the stucco plain-featured heads found in Egyptian tombs,
so like wig-blocks, as filled with jewels, invariably ignored by robbers (Five Napoleons).
You don't, says Valéry, wake to find the dreamed treasure at the foot of your bed.
A match packet with its legs bent, so to speak, could scuttle across a table, a tana leaf
rolled into a cigar make ill the dinner-jacketed smoker (fiddlings with the Calabash in
White Zombie). The black dancer who stood perfectly still on the topless stage,
fully clad, was dancing. She knew it, smiled, would've been wrapped in linen bands.
Life is in them as "cooking" is incipient in the mudpie. Chirp. Pretend something.
Now pretend you have not pretended it, this tree once a woman pursued by a god,
as meaning may be instanced in a word or crucifix, tag at rosary end, prayer-wheel canister,
Sade playing solitaire with tarot cards, bitter fates inferred from his cant of head by us.
"The vultures will pick the flesh from your bones, after Charis learns of your treachery."
Chaney's boy breaks into the temple basement, unstoppable till buried under tons of rubble,
Lon Senior torn to pieces near the Opera. A splash in the Seine. A tarot card floats up,
chitter of finches in the garden behind Notre Dame, tereu, Eliot says, tereu.
Copyright Gerald Burns 1995-1997