Excerpt from 'Now Voyagers'
Now Voyagers: The Night Sea Journey
SOME DIVISIONS OF THE SAGA OF MAWRDEW CZGOWCHWZ, OLTRANO. AUTHENTICATED BY PERSONS REPRESENTED THEREIN. BOOK ONE.
By James McCourt
TURTLE POINT PRESSCopyright © 2007 James McCourt
All right reserved.
Chapter One"There was a time," she then said, "time out of mind."
"So to begin," he replied, "at the beginning alike of the story and its solemn telling. Only what we're actually up to here in this stately room as the hour of the wolf approaches is more in the nature of the good old Invocation in Medias Résumé. And so far from our topos being of a time time out of mind, we've got it on both our minds big time and why not, so? Aristotle says. After this comes the construction of Plot, which some rank first one with a double story. That's us front and center, right down the line.
"But yes, for the listening world the standard model of the universe of fable always kicks in with Fado, fado, once-upon-a-time, Il y a, Es war, ci-fu-all requisite portal tropes of children's stories, of creation fables, of foundation protocols, and the sonorous sagas of the impossibly valiant. Nice to know we're in with the right crowd, anyway, so far as posterity goes-although enforst, parfit, whilom, and eftsoons we must forcibly abjure, lest we tip our hand too early and queer the pitch altogether. How does that sound? Yawpish enough, think you, for the general populace?"
"You've captured my attention-but the story is you always have."
The clock of the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company Tower four blocks away on Madison Square had just struck eight familiar tones, signaling the half hour, in this instance half past eleven on the signal evening of June 16, 2004. In the front parlor of 47 Gramercy Park North, two old friends had sat down together at an old walnut oval Sheraton table to regroup their forces: S.D.J. (The) O'Maurigan and the woman once known (as she would have it, but in truth known still to the knowing world such as it was) as Mawrdew Czgowchwz, oltrano diva of the twentieth century, lately registered in the civic directory as Maev Cohalen, MAPA, psychoanalyst at New York's Center for Modern Psychoanalytic Studies and psychotherapist for the cadets and teaching staff at the Police Academy on East Twentieth Street.
The friends, elected affinities and denizens both of the night and the city, had just come in from an evening at Symphony Space on Upper Broadway, having participated in the boisterous Bloomsday centennial reading of James Joyce's Ulysses. (He had enacted Simon Dedalus from "The Wandering Rocks" and she Gertie MacDowell from "Nausicaa.") Now, in their one-room preceptory they had begun the work of the midnight hour, the examination of a collection of tapes dating back forty-seven years to the nineteen fifty-six-fifty-seven theatrical season, and a dusty manuscript entitled MNOPQR STUVWXYZ, unearthed earlier in the day from what they called the press, a large mahogany cupboard on the top floor of the town house. Each looked to the other uncertainly, wondering what had they done, what were they about to do?
"Here," he then said, "is a definite beginning, lest our plan be accused of lacking the most defining characteristics of a strategy-forethought, preparation, a definite objective in mind. A manuscript in the form of an extended telegram, entailing the allegorized matter of an epic fable, has been dislodged after many decades from its hiding place in an old cupboard, and the following story, correcting the fable and forging its corrected elements into a fragment of a history is, by many separate voices, told in full, or as nearly as can be. Ought to be enough for anybody is our feeling."
"You hurried down that same evening of the sailing and had the thing dispatched shore to ship."
"Yes, There was a time, time out of mind-the opening words of the offering we found uncanny, the offering called MNOPQR STUVXYZ, unpronounceable, but immediately recognizable and clocked for what it was, that sent us on a season's merry chase after means, motives, opportunities, and mischiefs.
"The whole of it, entirely in majuscule. The longest telegram on record, dispatched from the Western Union office across Broadway from the old house, up the block from Longchamps. Shore to ship-although come to think of it now, Leo Lerman always called Manhattan itself a great ocean liner, so possibly ship to ship. And even now, understanding much that youth and ignorance caused me at the time to remark without comprehending, I find it hard to disentangle the ... etcetera. Yes, there was a time, time out of mind ... so there was."
The woman who had been Mawrdew Czgowchwz, oltrano, took up the long telegram of the allegorical text (representing her as Mnopqr Stuvwxyz) she had first read another life ago (or so it seemed, without exaggeration) while crossing the Atlantic with her then companion Jacob Beltane, oltrano, on the Queen Mary in late September, nineteen fifty-six.
THERE WAS A TIME TIME OUT OF MIND IN THE SEMPITERNAL PROGRESS OF ITAL DIVADIENST AT THAT SUSPENSORY PAUSE JUST PRIOR TO THE ADVENT OF WHAT CAME TO BE KNOWN AS MNOPQRDOLATRY OR IN CERTAIN QUARTERS ITAL STUVWXYZCHINA WHEN THE CULT OF NIRVANA MORI FLOURISHED IN THE HOTHOUSE AMBIENCE OF THE CROSSROADS CAFE ON 42ND STREET ACROSS BROADWAY FROM THE VERY HOTEL WHERE IN THE GREAT DAYS CARUSO HAD IN SOMETHING LIKE THE SACRAMENTAL SENSE RECEIVED DESTINN WHOSE PALMY LOBBY ONCE ORMOLU MARBLE AND VELVET HAD BEEN TRANSFORMED INTO A VAST DRUGSTORE AND WHERE LATELY IN CARUSOS SUITE A PODIATRIST INSTALLED STOP THERE AT THE CROSSROADS CAFE IN THE SHADOW OF THE TIMES BUILDING NOVEMBER TO NOVEMBER FOR MORI WAS A DEAD CENTER SCORPIO THE GREAT WORLDS RAW CONCERNS WERE FLATLY IGNORED
The Crossroads Café: if Manhattan was a great ocean liner, the Crossroads Café was one of the places you could cross from first down to third-to social steerage. In that it resembled a chapel, didn't it, and even if you think of it a swimming pool-other places on board for crossing up or down.
"Crossing up, crossing down: dress stage. Passing ships-there's an idea, if not quite-"
"Original. It was a dark and stormy-"
"No, it was nothing like a dark and stormy night. There was a moon."
"That there was, waning from full, viewed from ship's deck in Manhattan as well-shining across the Great Meadow in the Park. This night, though dark enough here on the street where you live, isn't stormy, not yet. But then in New York lit up the way it is, on such languid summer nights how often come torrential rain and crashing thunder, too, like on the event-driven night of the first Bloomsday itself, when and while in the aftermath of old hurts new-enacted, two famously unlikely companions ... but they've likely not yet gotten to Eumaeus uptown, so let's bide our time in sultry air and set about our business, the drawing up of blueprints for a biosphere."
"You wrote a poem about that waning moon."
"It was that cool, clear late September evening on the day they sailed away, when we looked up and saw Pagliaccio in the moon-on the wane from full to gibbous. The wan expression on him-that moue, the oval mouth, sad eyes. Who was it said, 'Look at him-he's singing "Plaisir d'amour" and he's just come to "ne dure qu'un moment."'
"And on it went, detailing how the face in the moon, eyes, nose, mouth, is formed by the shadows cast upon the light-reflecting whole by the so-called maria, specifically the ... but of course I don't remember.
"And from there on to parallel imagined voyages across those seas whose names I don't recall, to the voyage out of the second line, employing every sort of word Arisotle designated-well, there are eight of those, and I do, or could recall them and what they had to do with the words of 'Plaisir d'amour' in relation to the poet's sorrow of the moment-but why now? More important surely to consider the ambiguity of Pound's news that stays news in view of the two immediately available meanings of stay-leaving out the one that had to do with whalebone corsets. Stay as in 'Linger awhile, thou art so fair!' and stay as in stop any further thing from happening and let us have an end to news."
"The poet is clairvoyant. 'Ne dure qu'un moment'-and our moment had only just gotten under way."
"Yes, well, it's easy to make predictions, is it not-especially concerning the future."
"Yogi Berra. We had a yogi on board."
"And yet one insists there must be more to it all-pictura loquens-than tick-rock, Tag aus, Tag ein, E pluribus unum and ashes, ashes, all fall down. The cultured young cry out, 'Do tell us about-we want to hear allabouteveryfuckinglastoneofem, Notes and queries, Q. and A., relating to the many consequential initiatives with which they became closely involved. The laughs the frowns, the upsandowns all first nature to them then and not in short, in long, the works. And unlike some in the city we do have all night.
"But unlike the authors of the long dispatch again to hand-who saw themselves, it seems, not as the bowler-and-stick vaudevillians they were, but as twin rhapsodes of mock-epic caliber, exuberantly flinging out their random paradoxical teasers as substitutes for Apollonian objects of contemplation, their fiery emotional effects as substitutes for Dionysian enchantment.
"For they were clever ones, as we soon discovered. Students of Comparative Literature no less, possessed, we saw at once, as we read through their unsettling text, of adroit, cool, and penetrating insight into theme, motivation, and character, keen in their primitive, exuberant ambition to get it.
"Fresh as paint their grasp of ideas introduced in Auerbach's Mimesis, and wielding an altogether more subtle knife than those blades thrust into the hands of the slashers recruited by the semiotic vogue. Determined to represent by annotating the fluctuations of their attitudes, as well as what they perpetrate and undergo, men's characters, and women's, too.
"Cruising our ranks in unobtrusive fashion during the intermissions, then later at the Crossroads Café dissecting us all down to the bone as an experiment in adaptation and exploitation. And if as it turned out what they were not so good at as they were at allegory and the grand design was smoking out a tail, and thus did finally fall into our clutches, their like never did come about again on the line."
"Don't you think they wanted to be caught out all along? I always did."
"That they made us making them? I suppose so, except that what they seemed to think they were up to the whole time was making us up. The crust!
"That said, we, all these years later making ourselves making them making us do not unroll our design in transparently allegorical fashion. Rather we allow them to unfold themselves as does life itself, which can be either tracked or lived, but never both simultaneously, according to both the uncertainty principle and the phenomenon of self-similarity. In this we are in our fashion true to our many darlings and also appropriately postcontemporary chaotic.
"We care little for plot or for the thudding sameness and strained expectation imbedded in it, seeking to reduce all experience to a carefully tabulated, weighed, and balanced succession of ratified incidents-one fucking thing after another, culminating in the uncovering and publication of the truth that will rock the world ... right to sleep.
"For us such schemes have been weighed in the balance and found wanting, as were police reports and journalism for Sherlock Holmes. For in general it may be said of postmodern writing of serious intent that in it, the function of the narrator is just that, no less, no more-to fucking narrate, all right? To describe the fluctuations of movement. He is permitted speculation in time-slip chronicles solely on approximations of distance and duration, and of necessity, that he may be seen as anything but omniscient, on his own infirmities of character and intellect, especially those concerned with the illusion of self-determination, as they are the very ones that tend to support the more preposterous asseverations benighted readers have been encouraged to believe they have been vouchsafed as gospel, beware of the dog.
"Nothing reported concerning the fluctuations of gesture, no speculation on the motivation, or lack of same, in any character-so many spinning in an ever-narrowing gyre-may be confidently taken as read, merely as read about-candidates must write on one side of the paper only; this margin to be left blank for the examiner.
"That also said, in mitigation directly concerning the exercise of free will, and mindful of the conditions that must necessarily obtain in order that our narrator may competently answer the decorum of a legend, any and all remarks acknowledging the constant presence-in-absence of the distant, the strange, the far-out, and further typifications of the scarcely known must be accommodated-imprimatur, nihil obstat-so long that is, as no notion of roman à clef is entertained. We're out for ummediated, unadorned truth here, and not for floods of spurious verisimilitude-dreaded analog to the symptom of flooding in a psychosis.
"And a good thing at that, given the tendency of tropes to mutate-indeed mutate into life itself, taking command of the text altogether, making its story their story-so that it may be said of certain texts not so much that they are lifelike as that the reading of them is like the experience of living. No book can live two lives, mar dhea.
"Because for the slab of a thing to be read as a true roman à clef, according to the latest postmodern formulation forensic multiples: a survey, they'd want to have more keys on their turnkeys' rings than are turned clockwise on any given day up the Hudson at Sing-Sing-and that's straight from the source, sparkling and bottled on the premises in clear glass.
"Moreover, we don't care what people do-in fact they can do it in the streets if they like-alarums and excursions galore, fife and drum, and the monkey wrapped his tale around a flagpole. More power and good luck to them now there are no more horses likely to be frightened by them-certainly not the noble steeds of the mounted police. Our attitude will remain that of still, calm, tranquil contemplation with open eyes, gaze unaverted, a state which beholds the images boldly presented to it and declares 'just so.'"
"Still and all," she observed, "whoever they turn out to be, they should be doing something worthy of note to attract the world's indulgent attention-something, indeed, besides vibrating."
"Agreed, and with the proviso that we shall remain less interested in what they are up to just then than in what they are thinking of getting up to or remembering what they've gotten up to before, we don't wish to stop them, or see them stopped.
"Not for long anyway. Only long enough to freeze-frame and cut into them, to examine in cross section their motives, means, and opportunities, to arrive at some sense of their origins beyond the bounds of sense-should anybody anywhere anytime wish to know just what's going on-the accurate depiction of primal conflicts being ever better served by allegory than romance. And then, somehow, to reinstigate fluency from what has been halted.
"And in their own words, not in the words of avid narrative adepts whose accounts inevitably climax with hair-raising escapes for some-all colors and lengths of hair at that-leaving hearts beating out of chests all around the town, and for unfortunate others, catapulted bodies splayed at unnatural angles on outcroppings of jagged rock. Absolutely not. Our inspiration is drawn from Maupertuis and his principle of least action, forerunner of quantum mechanics."
"In their own words."
"Had they a brief?"
"We know they did-to follow the lead of Mawrdew Czgowchwz."
"Where to. Well, in the end I see us all together at the Grand Hotel, each in his own room, reading the emergency instructions on the back of the door, prior to dressing for the coming occasion, then going down in the elevator to the lobby to await her descent down the great staircase to get into the limousine, us following along in taxis-"
"Not you, you always rode in the car."
"Didn't I just. In any event, surely to the opera house."
"And what is she singing?"
"What else but Minnie, of course, her favorite role."
"It was-still is. You know, in murder mysteries, I've always liked best the ones with everybody gathered in one place and they each and all have a motive."
"What else, when it was yourself up there on the stage slaying them all."
"You've forgotten not for the first time either."
"How neglectful not-for the first time either."
"Like a serial killer
Excerpted from Now Voyagers: The Night Sea Journey by James McCourt Copyright © 2007 by James McCourt. Excerpted by permission.
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