Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Big Abyss

In the elevator Ciro punched the button,
asked him to wait while he delivered the mail
from downstairs. Juan saw him talking behind one hand.
On the way down Juan chattered about his father–
a stranger riding with them looked askance–
how he rode an elevator down to the floor
of the mine, turned on the lamp of his cap,
began working with hammer and chisel,
at the end of twelve hours riding back to the top,
walking home in the dark, taking a bath.
Where Ciro drove him was by the long lake
called Washington. Juan loved the switchback roads
from the Floating Bridge to lakeside along
the way to his bed. Now he had another bed.

She sat on the edge of his bed at first.
She turned on her tape deck. Longhair music,
his family would say, they liked country,
and when she said the name Elisabeth Schwarzkopf
one leg crossed over the other, he could see thigh
where the pantyhose ended and the hive began.
The worker bees would be back. Did she know
how a young man must salve his woe to heal himself?
She was old but had not begun to age.
She was the first red-haired woman he met.
No need to ask why she was there. He knew
her love of this voice lay behind sketches
she showed him before asking him to pose,
helped him forget Irene Castenada.

The song was "Im Abendrot," one of the Four Last
Songs of Richard Strauss. She moved her legs so the dress
rose well above her thighs. Juan remembered
that Irene would reach over now and cup
one hand over what lay between his legs,
waiting for him to grow as tall as she . . .
Red hair told him there were three registers
of the soprano voice–lower, middle, upper . . .
but Schwarzkopf’s voice climbed one level
above, where no coloratura went.
Could you close the door? The blonde nurse passed by
and jangled her keys as she locked them in.
She showed him her sketch, its circles and lines.
She wanted to draw the rest of him now.

Through the window, beyond its cross-hatched wire
screen he saw the football stadium, then the lake.
Come 1973, death merchants
plied their wares in the Santiago stadium,
the day Chile’s achievement was destroyed,
. . . Salvador Allende knew what it meant
to give the poor their portion of riches.
Twenty years later the kid who wrote songs
under an Aberdeen bridge before now
that his wife and their only child were gone
–well, Kurt Cobain shot himself in his head.
Reba, who disliked her name Rebecca,
kept her own clothes on. After hospital
she said he should visit her on Queen Anne.

Who doubts that he did? He found her address.
She lived alone after her mother’s death,
one divorce was enough, marriage a sham,
this night would be briefer than all his nights
walking the long streets and riding the bus
down there and back, how he loved Seattle!
She put on Schwarzkopf, then Jessye Norman.
Their voices filled the walls, her body too
restless with his after such a long sleep
between youth and age, like a mother fucked
in Thebes, but he was no Oedipal ghost,
she laughed. Working as archaeologist
in this Pacific ruin, he needed love,
she loved to free him from the big abyss.

(15 June 2011)

copyright 2011 by Floyce Alexander

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