Dan, a busboy at the Savoy, met the famous poet Emily Dickinson yesterday. He met her before and praised her, like a grown up baby. “She looks like Brad Pitt’s girl Angelina Jolie, in a long black dress,” he said.
“She and a group of dignitaries were having dinner. She faced the window looking out at amber London. And the night sky was smoky. It matched her gothic presence. I got them wine. I was manic, bouncing around the table like a lap dog,” Dan said.
“And the people she was with were poised and strategic; they had some presentation they were discussing, like the order of the speakers, her new Pulitzer, or the transportation to the school since there might be traffic.”
“Her organizer complained,” Dan said, “that it was recommended that they leave the hotel 3 hours early and that they just sit there in the green room: ‘What would you have us do for three hours?'”
Dan was reminded of the hotel in Brazil, where the houseman pulled his victim into a storage closet and made love to her even though she had doodled on herself from fear. “One moment,” he said, “you have someone’s helping hand and in the next, you have his or her passion spilling onto you as a grasp of ownership.”
“I can remember him” Dan said. “In the courtroom, he was looking at her without remorse and she was unable to look him in the eyes.”
“They had cuffed him,” Dan said, “and they lead him out after the verdict was read. His attorney was a bumbling public defender with a dirty brown suit, but it didn’t matter. The rapist was still ‘in love’ with her and she was angry, paranoid, ruined, skittish, and tender.
“So I held back waiting to recite ‘1st Rain/Cry of Faith,'” Dan said, “as it ran through my brain as the only poem I’d ever tried to memorize but I always forgot lines while I recited them. And my colleagues would laugh and so would the other guests at the table, so I kept it to myself like a kitten in my vest while boarding an airplane that might eventually escape with a whine.”
“I went through the emotions,” Dan said, “just as the article said: You meet her and undress her and that’s how it always was, like animals in clothes, it is the first thing people want to do, except of course she’s only being kind because I am one of the hired help and I am pouring water. I can’t possibly know what a couplet is or a simile; because I am not like anyone she’d care to undress with her eyes.”
“The dinner goes on like this and I get more and more disgusted with myself,” Dan said, “recognizing my station and the impenetrable facts of what will inevitably happen. Sure enough she is the first to leave. I think that I’ll never see her again. I feel like the postman in Il Postino having to borrow a line of silence, as she becomes a memory. She grants me a sweet goodbye from a distance and I hold onto it like a magician’s dove but it gets away and I am standing over the group as if they dried up and their souls evaporated. My mind followed her around the corner and I imagined her speaking from behind the podium:”
“You left me boundaries of pain
“Capacious as the sea…,”
“And I am still trying to memorize those lines,” Dan said, “of the only poem I wanted to remember:
“Silent, gliding bells of grace
“impure moments, chief alight
“The moon whose purple heart collides
“With savage curls of smoke.
“I breathe with tender stroking sighs
“The hour of my death, I cry
“In chambered thoughts of loneliness
“From miles away bewildering.
“Cold, this weather feels and cannot find.
“But when I see the eyes of love,
“Her puritan smell,
“The evergreen meandering through forest tall
“And sycamore sails in the thunderous air,
“How fine this dance withholds the tears
“And rain will fall through leaves so still,
“And on these spikes become impaled.”
Dan knows that even as he has memorized the whole poem, the timing would be wrong for him to say it. Dickinson is gone and he was not equal in standing to the party’s patronage. He thinks of Duchamp’s toilet, where replicas are now on display in a number of different museums, and so, “A toilet is still a toilet.”