Et in Arcadia Ego

Poetry is an art of imitation... that is to say, a representing, counterfeiting, or figuring forth--to speak metaphorically,
a speaking picture...
--Sir Philip Sidney, The Defence of Poesie



After it was over, Cross went on a bender. He wasn’t sure if he would; within a day, he was in the grip of it. But it only lasted a week, and as Sunday came round again, he shook it off with a resigned smile. All you can do is manage it, limit its damage, he told himself, looking once again in the mirror that he couldn’t avoid, the mirror that reflected back the credulous fool he thought, six-hundred days and nights ago, he had left behind.

What had happened to him had been too fantastic to credit, too monstrous to believe, too ridiculous to fully relate. The words that came to him as he slowly begin to put his life back in order were relieved and bereft, which he found himself repeating like a mantra to the handful of friends who know the whole story: relieved, bereft, relieved, bereft. The mantra did nothing to stop the binge, but it constrained it, and Cross counted himself lucky that it had only been a week.

After another week, Cross wrote a letter, and mailed it. He walked down the steps of the post office, gazing at the black mass of the Garden in the mist, and repeated: relieved and bereft, relieved and bereft.

Cross strove for normalcy, for routine. He was back at work, and that was, as always, more distraction than balm. When he became overwhelmed with anger, he reminded himself that he had been a willing partner in it all, and though he was the more deceived, he had given his confidence to her over and over, like any mark on the hook. Only he hadn’t been gulled for money, though the weight of his bad decisions in that regard lay on his heart like that lead apron they used for X-Rays; he had been gulled for love, pure love.

The bender put things into perspective. Cross knew he would not come out of the limbo that had been his life like a cannonball, but more like a blind man who had come to regain his sight, stumbling, cautious of the brightness and depth of the world that suddenly surrounded him. The bender had been an echo, reminding him that though he stood on the opposite shore, he was still himself, the same self that had willingly descended, thinking it was an ascent.

Or so Cross told himself. Loneliness crept back into his hours, even as he reconnected and revived old friendships. Most days, he felt he had taken a few more crucial steps toward the bliss of being alone, but then he caught a glimpse—the world forced them upon him—of what that bliss really meant; the moving parts of its machinery clanked and whirred and coldly clicked into place before his eyes, and he recoiled. But there was nothing to do about it, not now, not in the foreseeable future (as if the future was ever foreseeable: how he had come to loath the phrase—how he had come to cling to it).

One night, trying not to brood to much—Cross was a world-class brooder, an eight-time Olympic gold medal brooder—he decided to uncharacteristically do the unsentimental thing, and consign much of the evidence to the trash. But he couldn’t discard it all. The envelopes sealed with lipstick prints—lipstick traces he would have sworn under oath were hers, and not another’s—were among the things he could not destroy. Cross thought this odd, for by their very presence, their smudged and blotted reality, they should have been the most damning exhibits, like fingerprints on a murder weapon. Instead, they seemed like proof that anything true or beautiful had occurred at all.

They reminded Cross, too, of another set of lip-prints. On a piece of marbled gray paper torn from a notebook, tucked into a copy of E.E. Cummins selected poems, lived a kiss from long ago. Cross had found it there, years after, and was puzzled and disturbed that he did not know whose kiss this was. By the paper, and the volume in which he found it, he could make a guess of what year or years the lips found their way into his possession. There were any number of candidates, and not only women he dated; it could have been a flirtatious friend. He thought perhaps they belonged to Concordia (who everyone but Cross called Connie; it amused her to indulge his long insistence on calling her by her full name), and since they were talking once again in their careful, distant, affectionate way, he wondered if he should ask her if she remembered this mysterious token.

But the more Cross searched his memory, he came to think that these lips belonged to Genevieve—to Gin, who pretended she was as cool and sophisticated as a Bombay Sapphire martini but had that knowing naïvete that only the hungry and innocent can have. Gin, who had died so long ago it was hard for Cross to fully summon her in memory; she was all flirt, fire, and shadow in his mind. He could clearly remember her voice when she said “Well—shall we go?” but that was all. That was all! A woman who was more real, more present, more alive than the phantom who sealed all these envelopes on his desk was now the more insubstantial in his mind. The realization disgusted and saddened him.

Cross sat for a long while with both lipstick traces in front of him, glittering a little, all crimson and burgundy, under his desk lamp. If “Lipstick Traces” had been playing, it would have been perfect (and how often, too often to credit, did Cross find himself in a scene with precisely the right music somehow slipping into the foreground of the moment?). But, instead, something truly appropriate came up in the mix: Jolie Holland singing “Adieu, False Heart.”

Cross put what may or may not have been the signature of Gin’s kiss back between the pages of a book, and swept the what may but was not the lips of his beloved into a shoebox. Adieu, adieu, relieved, bereft, relieved, bereft.

Reader Comments (1)

And, this one too. Simple, heartbreaking, lovely.

January 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLily

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