She knew Bobby in high school, tracked him down,
drove her Austin-Healey 3000 Mark II to his door.
The roar woke the neighborhood. She was a sight:
her red hair over and under, her freckled pale skin,
her long legs, her angular body, her Prussian voice.
She always wore sandals with rose-painted toenails.
She always wore dresses with nothing underneath,
snow never fell in Seattle and she would walk naked,
she said, if the gendarmes would let her parade
in her slim flesh and bones that always turned on boys
like Bobby. He was writing about Venice, nobody
was doing anything there but dying. It was a story
in the usual strange form, as though two people
were using the same page. Gus was the man’s name,
Elizabeth his wife. She was taking a summer off
from lawyering. He taught in an auditorium
in a university in the American Southwest.
His biggest course he called Amplifications of Horror,
films dealing with Rousseau and the political nature
of civilization after the invention of the social contract.
They were in Venice a week in a very different way
than Bobby and Sanchez were in Mexico City.
There were no Manuela Romas, Isabel Fraires,
the father of Manuela’s daughter and Tim Reynolds
were either on the roof writing or in a café writing.
But not in Venice. Gus and Elizabeth had a fine time.
Bobby got in gondolas and heard the water whisper,
and it was not as dark in Venice as he anticipated.
Gus and Elizabeth were very happy, after a week
they flew into LaGuardia to attend a wedding,
Gus’s friend from Stanford marrying, finally.
Gus no longer drank, told many stories of yore.
His friend was happy having Gus be his Best Man.
In Albuquerque Gus prepared his courses.
One he wanted to call Political Horror.
When the time came he taught the same course
with different films, all as close to high art
as cinema could get, Ingmar Bergman, even
Antonioni. There was this scene without words
ending L’Avventura that always gripped him,
and Sawdust and Tinsel was wholly torturous,
to the viewer of course. Gus was too much in love
to take Swedish horror seriously. One night
leaving his car and walking toward the street
to cross to where he taught beyond the grove
of sycamores this side of the College of Fine Arts,
. . . he fell dead of his heart on his right side,
where an attack could not help but kill you.
In his briefcase were notes for the night’s lecture
on Page of Madness, the Japanese classic
he preferred to The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
any day. Elizabeth said they happened to see
Kinugasa’s silent film without intertitles
in Venice, and commented it was Venetian
more than Japanese, insane asylums more apt
to be found in the watery dark than on an island.
That was how Gus summed it up but loved it
just the same. The film was lost, mind you.
Yvor Winters had seen it in his youth
and had a copy he offered to send to Gus,
and it too was in his briefcase when he fell . . .
Rebecca knew neither Gus nor Elizabeth–
Bobby’s story, after all, was pure fiction–
and she had never been in Albuquerque.
She knew a painter who lived in Venice,
with whom she lived a year or two.
Bobby had known Gus from meeting him
once and corresponding until his death.
He was talking about Western films
without their Winning of the West claptrap.
There was a new director named Sam Peckinpah,
a film called Ride the High Country, that was
his subject that night at Seattle Public Library.
Joel McCrea dies in Randolph Scott’s arms
saying, I just want to enter my house justified.
Gus compared it to the ballyhoo'd High Noon:
Gary Cooper didn’t have to worry. Grace Kelly,
he quipped, would keep house or hire a maid.
The year he died, 1971, Gus wrote to Bobby
saying he’d just viewed Visconti’s great film
of Mann’s great novella and finally understood
what it might feel like to meet your maker
in Venice: Maybe it was Dante’s portal to Hell.
Then Gus added, Death in Venice was too easy;
being there it was obvious love was the reaper.
(23 April, 2 May 2012)
copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander