In 1415 Henry V of England, convinced he had claim to France by inheritance, invaded. Nearly five years later, he had defeated the French armies and took the princess Katherine as his bride to seal the treaty that recognized him as heir of France. An Invasion, An Offer At least he is young, she thinks. She would ask the messenger for his words, and to tell her his looks, the way he frowned, no laughed, at her father's meager offer. A few minor dukedoms! She already knows that he must have all or nothing. The War, the Wait Would he move over her, she wonders, as he now rides over France, slow, and sure only of a victorious outcome? Que magnifique! Surely he would make strong love after so much war? She is learning the English, to loosen her tongue from its heavy sounds, and blushes at the looseness to come. Consummation She feels his hands hot in hers, listens to his fractured French— he is nervous, bubbling like champagne! And she can only stare, think of the world they will make together, the waiting finally over.
"[s]he set up her threads on a barbarian loom and wove a scarlet design on a white ground, which pictured the wrong she had suffered." from Ovid, Metamorphoses, Book VI Procne, dear sister, into this cloth I have woven our sad story, but the white wool will dry your tears, as it has dried mine. I trust these images to you, worked on a crude loom built from twigs and vines pulled through the window. Remember our servant, old Oryia, how she taught even my stubborn fingers to weave a scene with grace? Her sharp voice comes back to me in chants: The weave tells the woman's life. The cloth reveals a woman's quality. How we laughed under her stern looks! Even her face would smile at such fine fabric, a weave smooth and pure as sand. You will recognize me in this work, in the tight squares of my weave. Do you perceive the royal ship and sails and your husband's cloak (scarlet against the white)? Father always wears stripes. I have also outlined myself with red, my tunic white with innocence. See your husband Tereus charm Father on bended knee? He convinces Father to allow a visit. Eager to see you, I hug my thanks. Now I know that the gods must be punishing us all. The omen of Mother's death is true— I have not escaped the tragedy of my birth. These red crescents show the ocean— our journey on a sea of blood. The tower rises, also colored red with the shame of Tereus's deeds. Sister, I did not know how to display his violence . . . I cannot even bear to think of it, his heaviness on top of me like a storm. Procne, I long to see your face. On the voyage, I dreamed of our talks, the walks we would take together, arms around each other's waists, our heads so close they touch. Oh, to be girls again, our only trouble setting the loom for our next tapestry. This next part is not as clear, but you must see: I screamed curses at your husband for his actions, and he cut out my tongue. This I show you, and how I bled and bled red from my mouth. I traded my jewelry for thread, and wove this sad message under twelve quarter moons. Dear sister, my story is told. Come quickly, for I am done with weeping.
A man and a woman walk the sand only they and the gulls, the sky four shades of blue, horizon a white mist. They stand in surf under a rounding moon dull as an antique coin, sand sinking under their feet. If this was a romance, they would walk holding hands, then watch green waves collapse into smooth brown planes of glass. He would stand behind her and she would lean on him while the wind touched his face with her hair. If they were strangers, they would have walked from opposite directions, each stopping to watch the cawing gulls swoop, wind-jerked, over red guts, fight over silver heads left by a fisherman. If they crossed their arms into Xs tight and hard as pretzels, eyes closed to the gulls, to the blues and browns and whites of this scene, the wind would say good-bye for them, their mouths and ears closed to this beach, to each other. Neither knows how it is supposed to go.
Twilight’s turning out the daytime sky as if it was a pilot light, blue flame fluttering into vapor, leaving the edges of heaven fringed in rippled scatter. Shadows lengthening as the last play of light is pulled down to water. Overhead, the hushed, dust-soft sweep of bats, the slow, easy lilt of wind dawdling in languor, and star’s sinking between clouds in bright idleness. Leaf-burdened branches catch and then release a cold, celibate moon into apertures of orange-yellow light. And I see how this may well be the way life abandons us at some near-distant, mystical hour. Luminous in parting, it, too, becomes a thing unburdened and, set adrift, brightly burns as it spins away from us.
- After Debussy’s String Quartet in G Minor: Third Movement Calls to mind the disquieting Lull and puddled velvet that comes just after receding tides unravel into an ampersand of foam and fall back to water, thickset in calm, aglint without motion, revealing where grief gathers as surf recoils or that hushed, holy space between breaths, with air held in a kind of peaceful penitence, neither moving in nor out, soft as wide, immaculate lawns at twilight or the momentary stoppage of the heart that comes on just as hope departs, leaving an undulant wake and fractures of light blossoming in abundance and the sound of idle water rising and what amounts to a life near- drowning taken back to shore
Gathering up this aging heart that’s loosened and fallen again, unable to rise, leaving a space inside me while watching you sleep, hurtling aimlessly into dream, after a day seaside collecting shells and snails, housing them in bright buckets and counting each one like wishes carried upon incoming tides crusted with light and then taking in, by firelight, the day as it undresses and puts on a night-time sky, with story upon story told or to be continued like your blissful lives that I pray are no less full and never-ending convinced that this earth may well be our only heaven and the best we can do is to try and hold such days close for safekeeping and keep loss at bay, and so what I’m now asking is to forgive those of us who, deep in life’s winter, watch over you and once again dream of being young while hoping we’ve bequeathed something of worth you might hold onto and never outgrow.
The ordinary thought is that our contemporaries are now alive during our own lives. But look at this stone axe, or trace your fingers across the red paint on this rock where a deer can still be seen. Or read the Odyssey, Book XXIII, where Penelope realizes that Odysseus has come home. Or witness Lear, mad in the storm, or listen to Maria Yudina playing Mozart, say the Fantasia, K. 475. Who will not find these lives overlapping with our own, their time our present moment? Who will fail to recognize the hands and the eyes that shaped these creations? The same as in the far future when something, or its robot, even from a distant world, sifts the jumbled remains of an archaic streambed or at the mouth of a glacier and finds what it believes to be some trace of the human, something from our own time, from this city before it burned, something we could not take on the long road to the north, our only hope then that someone would come to value it as we did in our day, let us say a square of bronze stamped with five words from the Book of Ephesians: “Be kind to one another.”