Monday, November 18, 2013


You'd been aware of portals in a subliminal way for the years of your reading into those old friends, the pulp magazines, where the imagination was led to consider fantastic worlds, enough like the present reality to be convincing, different enough to be at once alarming and provocative.

Not until you were in the university, pursuing story at all levels, did you venture into a necessary portal, which in effect helped you understand the importance of all portals.  The necessary portal was a course in Victorian Literature, which you had no real reason to dread, given your familiarity with the works of Charles Dickens, his sometime chum, Wilkie Collins, and that woebegone poet, Ernest Dowsen.  

Quite possibly, it was Tennyson who caused you to consider the Victorian portal a necessity rather than a desirable one.  Even though now, with a certain mood in place and a certain alcohol-related portal opened before you, you find yourself repeating one of your favorite of Tennyson's poems, Maude.  

Come into the garden, Maud, 
For the black bat, Night, has flown, 
Come into the garden, Maud, 
I am here at the gate alone; 
And the woodbine spices are wafted abroad, 

And the musk of the roses blown. 

Such an alcohol-related portal would of course take you back to Dowsen, particularly his most famous, Non Sum Qualis eram
Bonae sub Regno Cynarae.  

Last night, ah, yesternight, betwixt her lips and mine
There fell thy shadow, Cynara! Thy breath was shed
Upon my soul between the kisses and the wine;
And I was desolate and sick of an old passion,
Yea, I was desolate and bowed my head:
I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion.
All night upon mine heart I felt her warm heart beat,
Night-long within mine arms in love and sleep she lay;
Surely the kisses of her bought red mouth were sweet;
But I was desolate and sick of an old passion,
When I awoke and found the dawn was grey:
I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion.
I have forgot much, Cynara! Gone with the wind,
Flung roses, roses riotously with the throng,
Dancing, to put thy pale, lost lilies out of mind;
But I was desolate and sick of an old passion,
Yea, all the time, because the dance was long:
I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion.
I cried for madder music and for stronger wine,
But when the feast is finished and the lamps expire,
Then falls thy shadow, Cynara! The night is thine;
And I am desolate and sick of an old passion,
Yea, hungry for the lips of my desire:

I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion.

A 23-year-old Dowsen took the title from Horace's Book of Odes, and built an imagistic tribute to the daughter of a Polish restaurateur.  Was her age at the time a sign of his admiration for the American poet, Poe, he admired?  Adele was perhaps twelve or thirteen.  Such melancholy and imagery touched you at the time.  Within months of discovering the poem, from an English actor, you were able to link it to at least two Diane's and one Lois, each of whom, you were sure, broke your heart beyond replacement.

There are far more stanzas to Maude;  Tennyson was not a minimalist.  Perhaps it was falling into the portal of required curriculum in high school, where his long, Arthurian epic, Idylls of the King, was thought to be a cultural tool you needed.  You quite liked the Middle-English revel, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, so it was not King Arthur and his lot.  And Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur was an agreeable portal, so you'd probably reckoned all along that Tennyson was the problem with Victorian literature.

Whatever the cause, there you were, and to this day, in your own short stories, you have to watch for your tendency to give some of your characters pre-Raphaelite curls.  The "there" of which you speak is the portal through which the girl, Alice, fell--into Wonderland.  Of a sudden, you were aware that many fantasies led you through some portal, into a world that was at some odds with the one from which you now write, the world of reality.

When a necessary portal is presented you, say a faculty meeting or attendance at some event you might otherwise wish to ignore or avoid, the flicker of curiosity burns into full flame.  What wonders might you discover?  What things might you witness?  Even if the event itself were to be boring, what potential might there be for some epiphany, some connective tissue you were seeking, either in a knowing or subliminal way?

 There are recognizable portals, necessary portals, and accidental portals.  Each is fraught with the potential for a different kind of adventure. 

By way of celebrating the end of most classes for the year, you ventured to a new portal for breakfast this morning, thinking to make notes in preparation for a full-out launch on a book proposal you wish to complete.  You'd picked the new place on the theory that you would not be known, thus not drawn into distracting conversations.

The moment you sat, and your order for coffee taken, you were set upon by two warning tables, each in a sense that became apparent, trying to enlist you.

The topic of conversation into which you were inextricably drawn, however much you tried to hide behind a New York Review of Books, was the relative merits of desert verses ocean.  You are a great fan of both, but if pressed--and you were pressed this morning--would come down on the favoring of the ocean.

The value of being drawn into this portal was in effect a replay of desert and seaside memories, complete with visions of people, specific places, specific things.  Your mother's egg salad sandwiches, packed for the beach in Cut-Rite wax paper ("to keep out the sand.")  Her secret was a dash of paprika and turmeric.  Picnics with Rex Puyama at the Second Mesa, replete with stacks of Navajo Fry Bread.  An incredible Thanksgiving dinner just below Hueneme Rock, with turkey, of course, but somehow, sweet potatoes and melted marshmallows.  A sunrise breakfast in the California upper desert, complete with fresh biscuits, cowboy coffee, and the eggs you'd thought to scrounge during a stop for gas the night before.  Don Petit, making the biscuits.  Jerry Williams venturing that beans tasted better with bourbon, and you, somehow finding a way to make the eggs rise, soufflĂ©-like.

After you've been through a few portals and seen the potentials for things to bring back on your return, you are less apt to be considered a responsible person, mindful of schedules and routines, more a librarian, scanning the correspondence, manuscripts, and memoirs of persons known to you and unknown.

And quite possibly resources of your own.

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