Sunday, March 26

Trials of Campbell's Hero.

A boy, never unaware of war and its consequences, waits always for the day of battle and of war. Endurance hardens him to discipline but mercy tempers his unhappiness with a true pity and longing for peace.

War comes, indeed, he is called to battle as a man, and his heart, so heavy already, is wrung by the necessity of war. He is duty-bound to go, though, and raises the necessary strength within himself to go on. He leaves his home without a backward glance. Falls into a sleepless routine of riding, cleaning armor, planning strategy, sending messengers, eating, and sitting late into the night by a campfire.

Rains begin to fall, making the ground slippery and muddy; the men's morale is low. Soon they begin to travel uphill, taking shelter in caves at nightfall--there are wolves in the hills. They are able to stay one night at an abbey, but some of the soldiers are uncouth and destroy some of the abbey's good possessions. A skirmish, a battle, and the disapproval of his father all dishearten the knight. A further battle turns out better, but the banner bearer falls and the enemy cheers. Finally word comes and messengers go back and forth about the deciding battle.

Finally, the dawn of the last battle arrives, and when the armies align, the enemy send their starving children out first, hordes of starving children, and behind them arrows and crossbow bolts. The soldiers are drawn and haggard with fear and exhaustion, and are easily defeated without many deaths--a few desperate men die before the knight finds a strategy to win them over. Why had none before noticed the desperation with which they fought, and why their bands were so swift, so fierce, so small?

Takes a handful of knife-wounds from a traitor who is gaining power from the prisoners, more than power, and the knight is taken slowly back to the monastery, back to the castle for recuperation. The castle is being run by women and old men; all that is left from the war when so many men were still at the border. He feels out of place, useless, and helpless to do anything for himself. People patronize him, fear him, and nobody seems to know what he has gone through. One of the king's younger sons is set to page for him, and eventually he finds occupation in writing, piecing and repairing his chain mail, and riddling.

One night, sleepless, finds him in the chapel. The floor is cold, the fires are out, and once again he feels outside in the wind with the wolves surrounding him in a deadly heat, a fire that consumes to ash his very bones. Waking, he finds his wounds reopened and that he cannot stop shaking. Only then can he rest. Unable to return to his room, someone finds him and helps him back with a promise not to reveal what happened, what he said in his delirium, or that he himself reopened his wounds.

Word finally comes of his deeds; his father returns, the men return, and he is held in high honor---much to his chagrin. A feast is held, a solution is found to the starvation of the people, and the seasons begin to change slowly to autumn.

The soldiers find him less grim, more patient, and less angry. This is strange, and requires new acquaintance to be made--not to mention that his men have been shifted from leader to leader, that they have experienced things he had not. One afternoon finds him copying books and not feeling the drive or need to train himself for a battle already won--but then, battles against this sort of thing are never fully won.

Sleepless, one night, he walks among the gardens of the castle, to the outer fields, to the fringe of the forest, and sees a unicorn which charges at him, but is at the last moment that the beast is diverted and distracted by the sound of a maiden singing from a window. They walk the short distance to the wall, where lighted windows can be seen, and a fog begins to appear near the ground. Suddenly a man's voice cries out, calling for the knight, and he looks over to the sound. The maiden's voice stops, her light disappears, and when he looks back, the unicorn is gone. Returning the call to the guards, he tells them he was sleep-walking; they understand as no one has been himself after the war, and let him go without a word.

In the ensuing celebrations, a tourney is held, and he fights in it--showing his men that he has not forgotten them, that he will come back. His father looks to him for strategy in feeding, housing, teaching the people, and on a view of what did happen at the castle while he was absent. The other knights yet think well of him for having protected the people--even though they were once the enemy--above his own life.

Somehow the story ends with a feeling of purpose and of mystery, of something beautiful that he cannot quite touch but is haunted by.

Monday, March 20

In desperate need of stocking caps and chapstick.

He heaved an eternal sigh, shut the bathroom door behind him, and decided to head for the kitchen for some prune juice. The light was already on, and a second source of light was on the table; an open laptop. A woman crouched behind it, clutching a mug of what looked to be tea but might possibly have been whisky. She was staring at the lighted computer screen with a thoughtful look on her face.

"Hey." He opened the fridge and scanned the shelves and door for the bottle he'd seen earlier. The third source of light made the shadows in the room dance and multiply.

"Mm."

"Got any cups?"

"On your left." She rapped her fingernails on the ceramic mug.

"What class are you working on?" he asked.

"No class." She paused and said more quietly, "I'm writing."

He snorted with laughter and shook his head. For a moment she was distracted by the way the hems of his flannel pj bottoms, a size too big, fell across his toes.

"What's so funny?" She asked expressionlessly.

"Are you serious?" He watched disgustedly as the brownish liquid ran into his glass.

"What . . . "

"I mean, you think you're a writer because you sit here late into the night and stare at your blank computer screen?" He capped the bottle and looked over his shoulder. She cleared her throat and peered at him through smudged glasses, finding herself unimpressed by his unaccountably hairy chest.

"I sit at my computer and look at the blank screen all night, you sit on the toilet and don't shit all night. Do I have any problem with you?"

At this point he was half-through chugging a pint of prune juice and managed to set the cup down before losing his mouthful to the garbage disposal in a sudden fit of laughter and its consequent coughing.

"That's right, feed the alligators," she said dryly to her computer.

Sunday, March 19

Nostalgia in iambic pentameter.

There's part of me loves the American
midwest, although I've never had a home
there (what's it like to have a home someplace,
anyway, I wonder?) except my family
is all from there, so we go back
for holidays when we can make it (word
choice: "make it home"?).

                                        The fields and small
towns are comforting, their colors bright but
not the same way as Paris or Naples;
or Venice, Edinburgh, and Cologne,
for that matter.

                 What matters seems to be
singing familiar songs on Sunday mornings
in buildings with carpeted stairs that creak predictably,
glancing over familiar candies and soda drinks
at the gas stations, men that sometimes
wear over-alls, and the women framed by
frequent faded gingham cloth while their
hair is wispy in summertime heat as they
can and preserve fruits and vegetables.

It sounds so unrhythmic, so banal as to be unpoetic
(word choice: there is nothing that is unpoetic here;
how can you say something is unpoetic when it
comes from you?) but you have to realize that if there is
nothing poetic about such earth and familiarity,
where is the poetry in all your wars, in all
your cities so great and grey, your people
so proud--even in the best sense--your grandiose
adventures, men who sit in dusty studies
or actresses entrancing as they tell
the same story night and night after dawn?

Something in me has a wanderlust
that keeps me from calling anyplace home
and close to that there is a part
that wonders if I've just left home behind
for this.

         So I trip the cobblestones abroad
and wonder if I'll ever find the sweet
and solemn ideals that are rooted so deep
in a memory that's never existed here anyhow.

(Comments: Too idealistic. Are you being
nostalgic or just plain ironic? And do your relatives
call you a city kid like mine do when I go back home?)

Friday, March 17

William lived in the attic room of his parents' house in town and visited his great uncle in the country, on Sundays.

Eccentric uncles can certainly prove their nephews lucky in more ways than dying rich and eccentric great uncles only more so. For instance, his favorite waistcoat (his only waistcoat, actually, which belonged to his only suit) was given to him by his great uncle Edmund Godfrey Vaughan. Said uncle also assumed that Daimler-Chryslers were still in production and that bowler hats were the height of fashion.

On his 15th birthday, Uncle Vaughan has presented his grand-nephew with a volume of poetry--ancients to the romantics--that William read religiously. On his 16th birthday, William's great uncle gave him a pocket watch, beautiful and antique but still in perfect working condition.

"How delightful," said Mr. Dufay, William's father. "Amazing that it still works. Ha ha! And we got you a wrist watch. Imagine that."

Mrs. Dufay smiled and did not ask to touch the timepiece.

His 17th birthday was spent in Italy on a school trip that William was loath to join, but miraculously on the third day of the misadventure a telegram was delivered to him at the breakfast table of his hotel and he was informed that arrangements had been made with the school and some old friends that William might stay in Venice and spend two days in the city with a man who would help him pick out a painting for Great Uncle Vaughan's smoking room (in which he never smoked, but drank port on Thursday evenings).

"Poor man probably wanted to go himself," said Mr. Dufay; "but he's old, now. I'm surprised he thought to ask you, Billy--he's got an attic full of antiques, you know."

The of evening of William's 18th birthday was spent quietly in Great Uncle Vaughan's smoking room with their respective glasses of port and special cigars. That night was the first night that William ever smoked a cigar and the last night for Vaughan; his old lungs were going out and he did not want to remember coughing over his last cigar. It was a strange sort of goodbye to William as he went away to college after his first year at home. William's 19th birthday was still spent at his great uncle's house, as he came by train to see his uncle. They walked the country lanes behind the house and talked about the world, then went inside for tea and crumpets. For William's 20th birthday, his uncle bought him a second fountain pen (his first was a gift for his 10th birthday).

"He wants to make you into a gentleman," said Mrs. Dufay to her son, smiling and thinking about the overstuffed leather armchairs she used to curl up in on days she was home sick from school.

"I don't know about your uncle. Has he always been this . . . completely off his rocker?" This from Mr. Dufay to his wife. She nodded. "He never lived in the roaring, jazzy twenties, though," said Mr. Dufay. It was a question--she shook her head, still smiling.

The 21st birthday was the oddest, William thought, in a series of birthdays, which always ended in farewells. Great Uncle Vaughan had William fitted for two three-piece suits, a tuxedo, and bought him shoes for each ensemble. The pocket watch fit nicely on the waistcoats, his fountain pen sat comfortably in his pocket, and one of a set of monogrammed handkerchieves was always in another pocket. A bowler hat, a top hat, an old fashioned tweed hat were all fitted exactly for him. Driving gloves, white gloves, and a pair for round the town. The crowning touch was a walking cane with a silver head--Vaughan could not find one anywhere and so gave William one that used to be his own.

"Will."

"Yes, Great Uncle Godfrey?"

"No--not 'Great Uncle Godfrey'. Now you are a man. What should you call me, now that you are a man?"

"I don't know." Will paused and blinked a moment, closing the slim volume of poetry on his index finger to keep his place.

"You will call me Edmund Godfrey, because that is my name." Vaughan caught his breath; he was very old. He cleared his throat after a moment, bringing William's attention from the fireplace to his lined and weary face.

William smiled--in fact, he grinned--at his great uncle. "I'm honored to meet you, Edmund Godfrey. I'm still William." They laughed softly for a few moments, until Edmund Godfrey began to cough. William brought him another glass of water.

"William. Will."

"Yes, Edmund Godfrey."

"I am very sick, and--"

"I know."

"Alright, then. That's over."

"I thought maybe I'd stay the season out, if I could manage to persuade my parents."

"Yes. I thought maybe you would stay for the opera."

"For the opera. Yes, I think--what is playing near here?"

"You should see Faust." He coughed. "Faust is playing."

"I would like to see it."

Wednesday, March 15

Experiment in characters.

He was the kind of person who knew precisely when he was particularly good-looking and although he never tried to take advantage of the fact in a malicious way, it was a trait he enjoyed considerably when it discomfited people who wanted things from him.

A reporter once took took him by the arm at a rather noisy, bright public function and began to question him about his political views in light of the upcoming something-or-others. At first he tried to pull away but she only gripped harder; it was too big of a crowd to move very fast, though, and soon he realized that he was stuck next to her.

She uncapped her pen and positioned her notebook awkwardly. "Now, can you tell me what you think about the issue in the light of the remarks about social reform raised by--"

He smiled at her.

"--by the candidates--"

He tilted his head at just the angle that might suggest he was listening but also allow a lock of hair to fall gracefully across his forehead. Since his pale face was already flushed from the heat of the crowd, it created a very striking effect. "I'm sorry, can you repeat that?" Very polite, octave slightly below his normal tone.

"Can you--I mean, do you . . . " She glanced up, flushed, and shifted her weight to her other foot. "What do you think," she began more softly, "about the . . . "

He persisted in smiling politely and looking down at her as if he was actually listening to her. She let go of his arm to smooth her hair back.

He put his hand up to stop her. "Just a sec." He looked up and waved, yelled to somebody across the room who couldn't hear him.

"I have to join my friends," he said nicely, as she looked up at him through her eyelashes. Her expression turned apologetic. "Oh . . . oh, okay."

He smiled one last time. "Bye." Grinning, he began to push his way slowly through the crowd. "Bye!" she said, waving with with her hand that had the uncapped pen in it.

Escape! Free escape from reporter! He found the keg and somehow managed to get another plastic cup full of disgustingly pee-smelling "lite" beer. Free!