Wednesday, May 2, 2007

the spinning and forgotten cinder of this earth...

Here the object is a book—-a copy of The Golden Bough that I took from my Great Aunt's house after her death. She was in my mind as I lingered outside the gated interior of Gramercy Park, looking up at the rowhouse windows to catch a glimpse of her ghostly form, at eighteen, bursting with life and creativity. We rode together, alone, in the back of a limousine on the way to the cemetery that cold November day my grandfather was buried. The trees were bare and the wind hollow but bitter. I had flown in from New York, had to choke back a backlash of tears that came hard on the tail of hysterical laughter that emerged rawly and inappropriately during the eulogy when the minister spoke of my grandfather as a family man, exacting in his ethics, a man of God first and foremost. My aunt did not seem outwardly grieved by the loss of her brother. We spoke of New York, and my writing. She asked, Why do you want to write?

It was then that she told me about Thomas Wolfe, and how when she had read those lines in Look Homeward, Angel, that she knew that all she had ever wanted to say had been said, more potently and lyrically than she could ever say it:

...she had looked cleanly, without pretense for the first time, upon the inexorable tides of Necessity, and that she was sorry for all who had lived, were living, or would live, fanning with their prayers the useless altar flames, suppliant with their hopes to an unwitting spirit, casting the tiny rockets of their belief against remote eternity, and hoping for grace, guidance, and delivery upon the spinning and forgotten cinder of this earth. O lost.

I tried to cultivate a correspondence with her. She was an accomplished playwright and composer at eighteen, who studied at Columbia University before returning home in the aftermath of a (then and even now) radical surgery—a complete hysterectomy due to cancer. I found this letter she wrote to her father, my Great Granfdather on the stationary of the New York Post-Graduate Medical School and Hospital tucked in the pages of The Golden Bough. Only now I wonder, why did she have this letter? Did she purloin it after her father's death?