from From the Files of the Immanent Foundation,
Part 4, “Lucy Rescued"
— after Arthur Machen
You may call me Alanna. I am not the first to go
by that name, no, because there has always been one
and there will always be one, till the end of time.
I met the one before me, and now I am she. It was by
a pool of water hidden among the hazels, which she
turned into a pool of fire. Don’t be alarmed. Look around.
You have been taught to call them alchemical processes,
but I know them simply as nymphs. Salamanders too.
I could teach you to make the Aklo letters. I could
speak to you in the Chian language—that would be
so much easier. We could attend the Ceremonies—
the White Ceremonies, the Green Ceremonies, and
the Scarlet Ceremonies, which are the most delightful.
But I have been instructed not to tell you or show you
anything except what pertains directly to the quest.
Not the words, not the dances, not the little clay man.
When that old fool hammered the statue into dust
and fragments, I had already crossed over. Not that it
matters. You have to believe that. The young journalist
to whom he showed my notebook wondered if it were not
a curious dream, a department of poetry. I know—
for you, that means something else again. Your world
is all departments, but I tell you, where we are going
there are faces in the stones and figures like old ivory
gliding among the trees, and the glass and brass of your
electrical apparatus will be of no use at all. There is
an altar or an image at the top of each domed hill,
and they stretch on forever to the kingdom of Voor,
where the light goes when it is put out. And for every hill
there is a well. Don’t you understand? I’m everything
the librarian warned you about.
Suppose you are condemned to write sentences
forever, sentences announcing that this one comes,
followed by that one, until the place or the page is full.
Suppose it is night when you begin, then morning,
the light passing from window to window, moon, sun,
and the lamps between. Suppose it is neither terror
nor delight, but a perpetual rhythm, undulant,
insistent, like a lost melody in the sound of a stream,
or a lost palimpsest in the sands upon the shore.
Suppose the sentences you write are haunted, voices
upon occasion breaking through the even placement
of thought after thought, sign and countersign,
referent after referent in a procession before the eyes
disturbed by quirks or quarks, vacuums or voolas,
the emptiness figured as spectres or monstrosities.
Then you think she is really gone, held captive,
mute, spellbound, dancing interminably in a mindless
round. The joyless pleasure of her deathless
captors is the same pleasure they take in your sentencing,
the same impossible task: to write, to dance, to listen
forever to the same infernal music, viols and bassoons
hanging thin and yet massive in the cancellation of love.
Suppose the messenger is Hermes himself. Suppose he bears
a key to the land of the dead, takes her there to gather fruit,
flowers, for her masters in the castle at the far side of never.
Listen to me, listen to me, even if you cannot put down
your pen. There is a plan but I cannot share it with you;
the stars are not yet in alignment. You love her but I
love you, and however insubstantial, I will come to your aid.
Suppose, condemned one, that you wake now. Do not fear:
the sentences will continue. In one sphere you are writing
on and on, but in another you are already launched upon
the quest. Look in the window of this cottage, here on
the outskirts of the estate. That’s you. Now let us be gone.
By certain signs you shall know them. The rabbi
waits at the door called sleep. The laughing shadows
arrive between fear and desire. The troll child
torments you, but longs for your love, as do all
the dolls and figurines that come to life. It is midnight
in the toy shop, or it is noon in the school yard.
Here is the tailor, here is the cobbler, here is the goldsmith
with his mechanical birds. Do not believe that you have
thought too little of them—you have done as much
as you can. A letter arrives in a little basket with a few
wildflowers, tied around the neck of a Great Dane.
He is a noble beast, patient and loyal, but he cannot
accompany you. Hence the formulas, the rhymes,
the incantations. From whom do you need protection?
From the powers that threaten you come the favors
you enjoy. As you beseech them, as you plot against them,
you are bound by an ancient spell. The numbers in long
columns spell the lesson you have yet to learn.
You are always a beginner—or so you wish to believe.
Norman Finkelstein is a poet, critic, and Professor of English at Xavier University, where he has taught since 1980. He has published widely in the fields of modern poetry and Jewish American literature. His most recent critical book is On Mount Vision: Forms of the Sacred in Contemporary American Poetry (University of Iowa Press, 2010); his most recent volumes of poetry are The Ratio of Reason to Magic: New and Selected Poems (Dos Madres, 2016) and the serial poem Track (Shearsman, 2012). He is currently completing a collection of essays to be called Like a Dark Rabbi: Modern Poetry & the Jewish Literary Imagination.
More from Vol. 34, Issue 1
MC Hyland and Becca Klaver
Tomas Tranströmer, trans. Kelly Nelson
Andrew S. Nicholson
Francisco Urondo, trans. Julia Leverone
Anja Utler, trans. Dani DiCenzo