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Marcel Proust Cruises the Bay of Corinth *

Each day old Anaximander
sat beneath the shade of youth in flower.
The famous sage had grown so old
that his lips no longer parted, nor did he smile nor seem even to understand
the play of golden hair the laughter, the sly, flirtatious games
of the loveliest girls in Corinth.

It was towards the end of his life
when as he passed folk would comment
that there was left to him at most
the wilting of three or four sunflowers.
It was in that small morsel of time preceding death
that Anaxemander discovered
the solution to the enigma of time.

There, in Corinth, by the bay, encircled by the flowering girls.
That he would shelter at noon beneath a green and blue parasol had been accepted
as a harmless eccentricity.
He had ceased greeting his age-mates, he no longer frequented the places where the old would gather,
nor did he seem to share with those in the agora
anything other than years and the snow encircling their jaws: Anaximander
would sit, mute, in the time of flowering youth,
like one who goes abroad to cure an old illness.

It began at noon in the sonorous shade of the girls of Corinth;
impassive, his parasol open, he dragged his feet to where he would sit in silence,
to where he would seat himself among them, listening to their cooing, observing the delicate geometry of knees
          the color of wheat, glancing furtively at those fugitive pink doves
that flew beneath the bridge of shoulders.
                                                                      He said nothing,
and nothing seemed to stir him beneath his parasol, sensing, among the sweet girls of Corinth, time's passage, time
           become a shower
of golden pins, resplendent as ripe cherries,
time flowing around the ankles of the flowering doves of Corinth,
time, which in other places brings to the lips of men a draught of poison which none may turn away,
here offered the nectar of an ambrosia so singular
one would have thought that time itself wished also to live, to become incarnate, to delight
in smooth skin or in the reflection of a blue-green eye.
                                                                                                                Silently Anaximander
floated like a swan each day between clouds of beauty, and endured;
there, within time and beyond it, he tasted the slow fragrance of eternity, while his cat purred beside the fire. At
           evening he would return home
and pass the night writing tiny poems
for the noisy doves of Corinth.

The city's other sages muttered ceaselessly.
More even than the harvest festival or the comings and goings of ships, Anaximander had become
the preferred topic of tiresome conversations:
                                                                                     “Always have I told you,
wise men of Corinth,” his old enemy Prodicos proclaimed, “that he was no true sage nor even of average           importance. His work?
Plagiarized. Repetitious. And hollow at the core. Hollow as a barrel of wine after the Thebans have come to taste
           the sunlight of Corinthian vineyards.”
Impassive, Anaximander walked through the streets of Corinth to the bay,
his blue parasol open above him, catching the latest news in passing:
day after day some wise old man would pass below. Day after day the sages
would be summoned by Proserpina, their ashes only
flowing towards the sea, the violet-covered waters of the sea at Corinth.

All passed, and Anaximander remained, encircled by the girls, seated beneath the sun.
A fold of Atalanta's blouse, Aglae's voice
when she sang to the heavens her hymn in imitation of the nightingale,
Anadiomena's smile, were all the sustenance Anaximander needed, and he was there, still there, when everything
           around him had vanished.

One day he saw in the distance
a small boat on the horizon of the Bay of Corinth.
Within, a little man rowed with an asthmatic's exhausted tenacity.
His head was covered with a straw hat, a white straw hat with a red band. From its confines
the little man looked out upon the entire bay and saw, on its furthest shore,
a blue parasol, a small circle as golden as the sun. He rowed
towards it. Stubborn, tenacious, whistling a tune, the little man with gloved hands
rowed ceaselessly. Anaximander began to smile. The boat, immobile on the bay,
had also conquered time. Slowly the white straw hat announced that the little man was receding into the distance

                                                        That night, shortly before retiring,
Marcel Proust, exhilarated, called from his home:

“Mother, bring me more paper, bring me all the paper you can.
I'm going to begin a new chapter. I'm going to call it
In the Shade of the Flowering Girls.

* The poem is structured around the title of the second volume of Proust's Remembrance of Things Past, A l'ombre des jeunes filles en fleur, called in the standard English translation Within a Budding Grove.

Count Cagliostro's Cat

I had a cat named Tamerlaine.
And all it ate were poems by Emily Dickinson
and Schubert melodies.

He travelled with me: in Paris
they served him on lace doilies
chocolate confections made for him and him alone
by Madame de Sevigné herself.
To no avail: he waved them off
like a Roman emperor
presiding over a night of orgies.

Page by page, verse by verse,
he wished only to chew on
old editions of Emily Dickinson's poems
and he listened incessantly
to Schubert melodies.

(In Munich, in a German pension, we met
Katherine Mansfield, and she,
who held within her all the world's
delicacy, for Tamerlaine played sweetly on her cello
Schubert melodies).

Tamerlaine passed away in the most appropriate manner:
we were on our way through Amsterdam, through the ghetto, to be exact,
and as we passed the front of the oldest synagogue
Tamerlaine stopped, looked at me with all love's splendor in his eyes
and leaped into the interior of a dark temple.

Since then, each year,
I send a bunch of poems as a present to the old
synagogue of Amsterdam.
                                             Poems that were wept one day in Amherst
by Emily, that melancholy lady,
Emily Tamerlaine Dickinson.


My name is Filemon, my family name Ustariz.
I have a cow, a dog, a rifle and a hat;
vagabonds, wanderers, with no land but the sky,
we live beneath the loftiest roof;
neither rain nor storm nor ocean nor river
keep us from wandering from meadow to meadow.
My name is Filemon, my family name Ustariz.
We never sleep twice beneath the same star;
Each day a landscape, each night another light,
A traveler today may find us near the Amazon,
and tomorrow perhaps by the Amarillo
just as the sun breaks over the horizon.
We are like clouds, but real, solid:
a man, a dog, a cow, a hat,
we sicken, we love, we hate and are hated,
vagabonds, wanderers, with no land but the sky
—my name is Filemon, my family name Ustariz—;
my own come with me, bright or in shadow,
but with their own names, their own physical shadows,
real creatures, dreams, vapors of a magic
that out of the unbelievable makes all we believe.
My name is Filemon, my family name Ustariz;
matter certainly, ciphers, smoke,
carried by the wind, hungry for the infinite,
a dog, a cow, a palpable hat;
simple, without mystery, we continue our voyage:
that's why we take to the road, I say,
and that my name's Filemon and my family name Ustariz,
that the cow's name is Rosamund of Hungary,
and that I took the dog's name from a star:
I call it Aldebaran, and it leaps, and it laughs, and it sings
like a tenor bursting his throat with song.