December 2007


Sarah and I made a visit to the Edgar Allan Poe Museum here in Richmond. It was a dreary, rainy, melancholy day—perfect, in other words, to visit Edgar. In the middle of the place is the Enchanted Garden, said to be fashioned from the descriptions in a couple of Poe poems, one of which is a favorite of mine, “To Helen.” There are two Poe poems so named. This one was sent to Sarah Helen Whitman, unsigned, untitled. She took it to a friend for a “psychometric reading.” You see in the photo how much she liked it. That Poe was quite a charmer, I must say.

TO HELEN.

I SAW thee once — once only — years ago:
I must not say how many — but not many.
It was a July midnight; and from out
A full-orbed moon, that, like thine own soul, soaring,
Sought a precipitate pathway up through heaven,
There fell a silvery-silken veil of light,
With quietude, and sultriness, and slumber,
Upon the upturned faces of a thousand
Roses that grew in an enchanted garden,
Where no wind dared to stir, unless on tiptoe —
Fell on the upturn’d faces of these roses
That gave out, in return for the love-light,
Their odorous souls in an ecstatic death —
Fell on the upturn’d faces of these roses
That smiled and died in this parterre, enchanted
By thee, and by the poetry of thy presence.

Clad all in white, upon a violet bank
I saw thee half reclining; while the moon
Fell on the upturn’d faces of the roses,
And on thine own, upturn’d — alas, in sorrow!

Was it not Fate, that, on this July midnight —
Was it not Fate, (whose name is also Sorrow,)
That bade me pause before that garden-gate,
To breathe the incense of those slumbering roses?
No footstep stirred: the hated world an slept,
Save only thee and me. (Oh, Heaven! — oh, God!
How my heart beats in coupling those two words!)
Save only thee and me. I paused — I looked —
And in an instant all things disappeared.
(Ah, bear in mind this garden was enchanted!)

The pearly lustre of the moon went out:
The mossy banks and the meandering paths,
The happy flowers and the repining trees,
Were seen no more: the very roses’ odors
Died in the arms of the adoring airs.
All — all expired save thee — save less than thou:
Save only the divine light in thine eyes —
Save but the soul in thine uplifted eyes.
I saw but them — they were the world to me!
I saw but them — saw only them for hours,
Saw only them until the moon went down.
What wild heart-histories seemed to he enwritten
Upon those crystalline, celestial spheres!
How dark a woe, yet how sublime a hope!
How silently serene a sea of pride!
How daring an ambition; yet how deep —
How fathomless a capacity for love!

But now, at length, dear Dian sank from sight,
Into a western couch of thunder-cloud;
And thou, a ghost, amid the entombing trees
Didst glide away. Only thine eyes remained;
They would not go — they never yet have gone;
Lighting my lonely pathway home that night,
They have not left me (as my hopes have) since;
They follow me — they lead me through the years.
They are my ministers — yet I their slave.
Their office is to illumine and enkindle —
My duty, to be saved by their bright light,
And purified in their electric fire,
And sanctified in their elysian fire.
They fill my soul with Beauty (which is Hope),
And are far up in Heaven — the stars I kneel to
In the sad, silent watches of my night;
While even in the meridian glare of day
I see them still — two sweetly scintillant
Venuses, unextinguished by the sun!

I hope everyone had a Merry Christmas. Much to my regret, I never knew Sarah’s dad, Ben, but he took up painting late in life, and this is one of his pieces that hangs in our bedroom. I never tire of looking at it. As a boy he lived on Forest Hill Avenue where the streetcar is passing. That tiny little guy making his way to the park just may be him.

Sarah goes to Barcelona for three weeks, and I get the little guy pictured below, a Catalonian tradition called a canager. Shitter, I believe, is an accurate translation. The tradition is to put him somewhere in the nativity scene. I’ll spare you his bare backside or any puns on Anne Lamott renaming her fine book on writing. Sometimes you just get the perfect gift, you know? When Sarah and I spent Christmas Eve in Naples a few years ago, the nativity market was one of the highlights. There, the nativity scene often included this oversize baker lurking by the camels and wise men like he was waiting to pull a pizza out of the oven. What would you put in your nativity? Don’t you just love Christmas?

The conclusion of R3, my Christmas story, is now available on Strange Horizons. I hope everyone’s getting a snoot full of the Christmas spirit—and I don’t mean shop till you drop.

For those of you who’ve inquired about God’s campaign, he does have plans to return to the campaign trail once he figures out what Romney means by freedom needing religion and religion needing freedom and all the other God blather that’s going on. “It’s embarrassing, all this talk about me,” he says. “What about the issues?”

I just finished participating in the Appomattox Regional Governor’s School annual festival. It has become one of my favorite events of the year. The faculty are great. The students are absolutely incredible—smart, funny, talented, charming. The next time someone tells you how screwed-up today’s youth are, stop by this place. Thank you guys for having me!
And while it has nothing to do with ARGS, my fiction led me into the subject of trapeze this morning, and this picture made me smile:

As part of the Appomattox Regional Governors School Writers’ Fest, I’ll be reading at Sycamore Rouge in downtown Petersburg (a very cool place) with Connie Biewald and Clay Chapman. I’m not familiar with Connie’s work, but Clay is a reader not to be missed. I plan on reading a somewhat abbreviated version of R3 for the holiday season. The readings start tonight at 6 pm and go till 9:30; I’m scheduled for 7:00. There will also be a few numbers from the Rouge’s current production of The Velveteen Rabbit between readings for a totally surreal evening. Here are directions. See you there.

The Christmas event you’ve all been waiting for, I’m sure. I’m most proud to have a Christmas story published in Strange Horizons. Here’s the link for the story: R3
To get you started, here’s the first paragraph:

R3

With the Soviet Union out of business now for a century, you’d think people would quit telling the joke, the one with the punchline “Rudolph the Red knows rain, dear.” But no. I bring it out in people. I’m not him, I make that clear. My creators never got the rights to claim I’m Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, the most famous reindeer of all. I’m R3, the second most famous. You’re supposed to say that “R three,” by the way. It looks like “R cubed” to me, but marketing says different. What do I know? In my pre-R3 days I flunked math, flunked everything, got in trouble, went to jail, which is how I ended up volunteering to transfer my wasted intelligence into a faux red-nosed reindeer who shows up every Christmas season like blizzards in Buffalo.

[Read the rest here]

After three long weeks in Spain and France, Sarah returns today. It’s been awful lonesome here without her.

I was in the mood for some hard-hitting political content this morning. Stay cozy.

I have decidedly mixed feelings about Christmas. I’ve always loved the story, still do. Some of the spinoffs—Dickens, Seuss; Schulz and whoever committed that Drummer Boy, not so much. My dad used to work in advertising with the guy who wrote “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” as an ad assignment for Montgomery Ward’s, and the Capraesque story of how he wrested the rights from the company in a jury trial was part of our Christmas lore. I loved the decorating. My mom made stuff out of trash—pie pans, styrofoam from Alka-Seltzer bottles, the humbler the better. We sprayed white fluffy chemical snow all over the tree and the den. I loved it. I still like the decorations. Growing up in Texas, I didn’t know that colorful displays were “tacky”; it took Virginians to tell me that. They have a Tacky Christmas Light tour here with people riding around in limos gawking at the displays of the tasteless. The default Virginia decoration are these wimpy single candle lights in every window. I always thought of the lights as sort of electric Joy to the World, and if you’re in Hosanna to the highest territory seems to me a candle ain’t going to cut it. Which brings me to the songs, the carols. What I like about this is it’s the same set of songs every year, positively medieval, like those same stories about King Arthur and his pals. What I don’t like about it is it’s the same songs every year. Some of them, I insist, should never have made it into the canon. “Jingle Bell Rock.” Even typing the words cause me anguish. “O Holy Night!” on the other hand, has me all soft and squooshy. I believe Henry James covers squooshy in The Varieties of Religious Experience. No. What’s gone wrong with Christmas for me is that it’s become the great celebration of consumption, capitalism triumphant. The drama of the season has nothing to do with Jesus, Rudolph, even frigging Charlie Brown, but with you, you lard ass. Are you going to go out there and spend some serious dough or not? Do you care about the American Way of Life? Then you better go rack up those negative savings or there’s no telling what adjustments the market might make, and then where will you be? Kind of gives you a warm glow, don’t it? You can see what I mean by mixed feelings. Not that they weren’t always there. I remember hunting for and not finding a particularly desired gift and cursing my parents for failing me, only to get the damn thing on Christmas morning. It had been hidden in the trunk of my dad’s car, along with the boxes of drug samples that made it doubly off-limits to me. You got your train kid, it was riding around with the Dexedrine. Now how do you feel? Ho! Ho! Ho! Thankful? Ashamed? Like I said, mixed feelings. The part I like best, of course, is the peace on earth, good will toward humans, and the rest of the biosphere while we’re at it. So I hope you’re enjoying your holiday. Give everyone you love a hug.