Friday, October 15, 2004

Desolate and Sick

Last night, ah, yesternight, betwixt her lips and mine
There fell thy shadow, Cynara! thy breath was shed
Upon my soul between the kisses and the wine;
And I was desolate and sick of an old passion,
Yea, I was desolate and bow'd my head:
I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion.

And still the dream and the nightmare roll backwards. Sunburnt and shivering on the floor of the zeppelin's cockpit, a cold night drifting over the Red Sea. So cold at night that we had to throw ballast overboard, and so hot by noon that we had to spill our precious hydrogen. We were higher than Everest's summit. Too high for men. Klaus's eyes bulged. Little capillaries burst into red sunstars in their whites. Von Lettow-Vorbeck would just have to improvise. We turned back.

A dream of Africa. They began a battle, but the gunfire hit a bees nest and the angry bees made everyone run for it, both sides. When Lettow-Vorbeck came back, for weeks the bugs were still crawling out of his feet. And then he dwindled out of life in a little suburban house with trinkets on the mantelpiece. The Lion of Tanzania. An old man with cheap curtains and a carefully fertilized lawn.

You think you have plumbed these depths? You have not even begun.

I moved slowly into the room, and counted the shells on the floor. Only three. Those aren't bad odds. The smell of a house whose windows have not been opened in thirty years. The French windows were completely unglassed. When Louie was drunk, he'd practice throwing his bottles against them, and smashing the panes. I guess he must have got pretty good at it.

We gave Scott the money to go to Portland, to kill his lover. That was his plan. When he came back he told us about it. Ashamed. He'd made him cry, he said. He'd said mean things, and made him cry. "So you didn't kill him?" We said. "Kill him? Did I ever say that? I never said that." And he never would believe that he'd told us that. Probably a good thing, since if he had, it would have made him furious that we sent him off, confident that he wouldn't do it. Scott was one of those guys no one can ever take seriously.

And then to Nicaragua, which was in those days just a bowl of blood. Nothing but blood, red from end to end. People would go into that bowl, slip into the the blood, and -- nothing. Nothing came out.

Does it matter, then? If I am sick of an old passion? No. It doesn't matter for a minute.

When I was sixteen a woman took me into the woods behind Hendricks Butte, and we drank a bottle of wine together. She was married. I had a huge crush on her. But I never came on to her, even then, when we were both intoxicated, and when anyone would have said that was why she took me there. I wonder why not? I came on to everyone, in those days. What did marriage have to do with me, then? And what does marriage have to do with anyone who drinks on the wrong side of Hendricks Butte, anyway? I guess I got shy.

If there's one place I'd go back to, it's that place, in those woods, with that woman. Her name was Terry. I think.

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