Friday, October 14, 2011

They Say Truth Lies There

It’s 1:10 p.m. and someone coughed and a car started. Toby is finally sleeping after his tirade over the black cat from next door who walks by our ground-level window every day. I let Toby go into the hallway because sometimes that seems to appease him. Once he sees that the hallway is empty, he can imagine himself as the king of his realm, and all that he sees. But the ruse doesn’t work. He stands by the door and wants to be let outside. We never let him outside. If we did, he would panic and disappear under a bush or up a tree the first time a car went by.

And so I lift him up and open the door. I worry that he’ll jump from my arms so I try keep a firm grip. The black cat next door - a small female with a sweet and playful disposition - is just that moment scaling up the branch that leads to the above-ground patio of the house next door. I figure she’ll be alarmed when she catches view of Toby in my arms and scamper through the little cat door provided for her. But she doesn’t. She comes back down to our porch and looks up at me. She wants to meet Toby. Toby wants to meet her. It’s tempting to put Toby down and let them sniff one another, but I can’t take that chance. I bring Toby back in and put him down on the slate tile of the vestibule while I open the mailbox. It’s the usual disappointing crap. A brochure from Trader Joe’s featuring Halloween Joe Joe’s Scary Good Cookies, a bill from Birds & Blooms, thank you receipt from Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission, and a brochure announcing the ACLU of Washington’s Bill of Rights Celebration Dinner.

Far away in the distance, to the east, over Snoqualmie Pass, awaits Roslyn. Roberta and I are going there November 3rd. I’ve been invited to do a reading for Oyez Roslyn.

The last time I was in Roslyn was 1993. I was with my father. He loved the TV show Northern Lights and Roslyn was the town featured in that series. We were doing a three-day road trip. We continued east to the Palouse country where the impeccable neatness of the German farms amazed me and the soft fine dirt, called loess, that comprises the gently rolling hills where a soft white wheat is grown.

Summer was so disappointing and brief this year. I hate winter. But it’s coming. Inevitable as death. Which is one of winter’s charms. Death. Things get so beautiful when they die. Leaves do. Maybe not people.

Which reminds me of the grisly description I came across last night concerning Shelley’s exhumed remains in Edward John Trelawny’s Recollections:

The soldiers gathered fuel whilst I erected the furnace, and then the men of the Health Office set to work, shoveling away the sand which covered the body, while we gathered round, watching anxiously. The first indication of their having found the body, was the appearance of the end of a black silk handkerchief - I grubbed this out with a stick, for we were not allowed to touch anything with our hands - then some shreds of linen we met with, and a boot with the bone of the leg and the foot in it. On the removal of a layer of brush-wood, all that now remained of my lost friend was exposed - a shapeless mass of bones and flesh. The limbs separated from the trunk on being touched.

“Is that a human body?” exclaimed Byron; “why it’s more like the carcase of a sheep, or any other animal, than a man: this is a satire on our pride and folly.”

What a horrific vision. It seems unthinkable that a man of such brilliance would end like this. But we all do.

Hence: Halloween. Let’s celebrate the dead. The beyond. Don masks. Costumes. Get silly. Play tricks.

I remember trick or treating at age 9 in Minneapolis. This would have been 1956. There was no discussion of serial killers or pedophiles. People could walk freely at night without worry. Kids could go door to door, unaccompanied by a parent. I wore a Frankenstein mask. It smelled of rubber, and I had a difficult time seeing through the slits that served as eyes. I loved that mask. It was my first rubber mask, and the details were exquisite. It looked just like Boris Karloff’s incarnation of the monster.

Odd, now, to remember that Frankenstein was the creation of Shelley’s wife Mary Shelley.

Odder yet to read Trelawny’s account of Percy Shelley learning to swim:

I was bathing one day in a deep pool in the Arno, and astonished the Poet by performing a series of aquatic gymnastics, which I had learnt from the natives of the South Seas. On my coming out, whilst dressing, Shelley said, mournfully: “Why can’t I swim, it seems so very easy?” I answered, “Because you think you can’t. If you determine, you will: take a header off this bank, and when you rise turn on your back, you will float like a duck; but you must reverse the arch in your spine, for it’s now bent the wrong way.”

He doffed his jacket and trowsers, kicked off his shoes and socks, and plunged in, and there he lay stretched out on the bottom like a conger eel, not making the least effort or struggle to save himself. He would have been drowned if I had not instantly fished him out.

When he recovered his breath, he said: “I always find the bottom of the well, and they say Truth lies there. In another minute I should have found it, and you would have found an empty shell. It is an easy way of getting rid of the body.”

“What would Mrs. Shelley have said to me if I had gone back with your empty cage?”

“Don’t tell Mary - not a word!” he rejoined, and then continued, “It’s a great temptation; in another minute I might have been in another planet.”

“But as you always find the bottom,” I observed, “you might have sunk ‘deeper than did ever plummet sound.’”

“I am quite easy on that subject,” said the Bard. “Death is the veil, which those who live call life: they sleep, and it is lifted. Intelligence should be imperishable; the art of printing has made it so in this planet.”

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