Welcome to Letters From Quotidia, Episode 184. Our host is sitting in his chair reading from a book of poetry. He likes short poems and he likes poems that speak to him without having to put in too much mental effort, although it must be said that in a previous life- when he was a young man, I mean, not a previous incarnation- he took delight in foraging in many a difficult tome in order to impress- who knows? He rises now and crosses to the window where the glimmering of natural light is beginning to vanquish the artificial illumination that has transformed for a century at least our world at night-time.
How can we know the dancer from the dance? Yeats asked this question in a poem written a lifetime ago. My question is: What is left of the dance when the dancer has gone away? Islands have been the defining settings of my life: not formed in the great central land masses of the Americas or Eurasia. Ireland, Aruba, the Isle of Man, the island continent of Australia- which is huge- but small in some very important ways: there is less variation in custom and language across the length and breadth of that ancient land than between adjacent glens in the land of my birth. And finally to this island that is, according to its inhabitants, the world- Manhattan.
Finally. Finality. I won’t be leaving this place: Manhattan. I have come to value its energy (which I possess in declining quantities), its expansive optimism (which I once possessed) its sense that everything is do-able (which I know, in my case, is a fallacy). I wish for my family to … Be careful what you wish for, they say. From my mid-forties, I had started to deteriorate physically- not surprising, I had led an indulgent life. And so, the taking of an increasing repertoire of tablets at breakfast-time began. And how I railed against my admittedly deserved fate. How I wished I no longer had to work, toad-like, to bring home the bacon. And I prayed. Did I in a drunken fugue invoke the Master of Lies to answer them? I prayed for a little more time for doing the things that I wanted to really do and a little money to…to…
When I learned I had won almost $20 million on Lotto, I passed out. Everyone laughed. Why is it that we laugh when we see people fall down? Gordo certainly would have laughed had I fallen from that lighting pole. Best go for a check-up, though. Better safe than sorry. Sorry, the doctor said. I have some bad news. I had just made it out of the 20th Century only to learn that I had less than a year to live. Give or take. Maybe two years, – who can tell! Live it up, some said. What can’t you do now? Well, I can’t buy time, apparently. Amazing what we do to save ourselves when there’s a definite use-by date? Didn’t give up the smokes and booze, didn’t take up exercise, didn’t follow all that good advice that doctors love to dispense. Before the diagnosis.
And did I fall for the schemes of the cruel hoaxers who prey on those peri-mortem mortals? I did. But I caught myself on, as the saying goes, before my credulous longing for life, more life, had bled too much from my now voluminous bank accounts. And I came back to the more-or-less real world. And my research led me to the institute here in Manhattan where miracles are not for sale, but quality of life is- ; bade farewell to Sydney, flew to England where we booked a cruise, my wife and I, and crossed the Atlantic. I now have the wherewithal to indulge a long-held wish to live in Manhattan.
And I’ve seen the Yankees play! A dream come true from…long ago, you know, I played for the Yankees, in the Little League in Aruba, yeah, we called ourselves the Yankees, and we wore similar stripes and caps. God, how I loved that uniform. I was put in to bat because I was small, and, hunched over, created a miniscule shoulder to knee slot for the opposing pitcher! I could see and hit the ball too, in those long-ago days- nights mostly, under the lights at Rodgers Field near the Esso Club, one of which I almost fell off courtesy of that psycho Gordo.
There is a certain irony in the sombre fact that that I am here to die in the city that never sleeps. But the big sleep is coming. There is no cure, but I can purchase a delay in the pain that is coming as surely as the sun will rise. Can I make a bit of a confession? I’m not sticking strictly to protocol here. Eddie, the ever-accommodating Eddie, has put me in touch with another doctor who has had some, ah, problems with the pernickety accreditation boards here in the city.He has been most helpful in augmenting the approved analgesic regime. But, whether above-board or under the table- it costs quite a bit. (I wonder, do my kids think that I am in thrall to those new bumper-stickers that have begun to appear over the last while; you know, the ones about blowing the children’s inheritance?
As a baby boomer I am a part of the most selfish generation in history- according to some.) Don’t worry kids there’ll be enough left over after I’ve finished throwing all that cash at the black something that is hurtling towards me.) It’s coming for you too. But you don’t believe it do you? Not really. Yes, we booked an ocean cruise on one of those majestic liners- and not by accident either; you see, I had made this crossing before- I first crossed the Atlantic back in 1956 on that famous Cunard liner The Queen Mary when my mother took me and my sisters to re-join my father in Aruba after a visit home for her to connect with my older brothers who were staying with my aunt on the family farm. I loved that ship. I still remember getting into an elevator with my sisters- we were exploring, as I recall. Some drunken guy tousled my hair and predicted that I would someday be president of the USA. But I don’t think they’ll change the constitution- just for me.
And even if they did…I will, though, see my wife tomorrow evening. She has been away,and this mouse has been at play. She flew back to Australia to visit our grandson for his birthday. Ha! She thinks that she will surprise me when she- TAH-DAA- comes through that door, bringing my daughter and my only grandson. (Alas, my genes and chromosomes lament, that I have not more.) She doesn’t know that I know that they have landed a few hours ago and are checked in at the airport hotel. I only wish we had the space to put them all up here. I miss my wife, I miss my daughter, but there is a hunger in me for a sight, sound, touch, and smell of my grandson- I miss him more than I know how to elucidate…They’ll do a spot of sightseeing before coming here.
Eddie, he’s more than just the doorman downstairs- he’s part of the fabric of this building, where we have rented for a year, with the option of a further six months, this cosy little apartment. Eddie confided to me that earlier tonight, as I embarked on my usual evening constitutional, that he has arranged an early morning view of Manhattan for them all from the tallest point in the city- the miracle of the internet and email, eh? He knows everyone worth knowing, apparently. I must feign surprise, I suppose, when they burst into this room, as they surely will, in just a few short hours, telling me I must, when my current treatment is completed, take in the wondrous views to be had from the mighty towers of Mammon.
And Mammon has enabled me to live in this tower and how good it is! So why do I feel that I shouldn’t have this luck when so many…Catholic guilt, I guess. I wrote a poem once when I was feeling low. I was fifteen. I had read Byron’s Darkness and I had a darkness of my own to convey (although, how dark, really is the world of a teenage boy- it seemed black as pitch at the time; but now, I smile at his innocent anguish- Oh Lord! Listen to the middle-aged fogey. I have kept with me very, very little of my poetic or prosaic output. Indeed, before we came here, I consigned to long-term storage boxes of…ephemera… I supposed it should be called. At one stage, as I contemplated mortality screaming around the curve, coming straight for me, I thought I would finally put it all together in a big book- get it published. Hell, I can now afford to publish it privately and buy enough copies to get it on some hack reviewer’s list.
Then I thought a better thought. And so, I have kept nothing, well almost. This I kept. I was fifteen; I thought the world existed only for me. But even then, somehow, heard the blackness roaring just beyond the limits of perception. Allow me to read to you. It is the poem I wrote at the advanced age of fifteen years! It is called Explication:
Like a poem carved upon an ancient bone/Dug out of an ash-pit,/An outline of a heart in bog-oak/Dragged up and into the open air,/The remnants of an ancient tune/Whistling through the shaking leaves/Of the last stand of native trees/Left on a fissured plain/,Let my voice, telling of love/And letdowns, carry across/The fields of time spread/To the shimmering edges/Of eternity fringed with/A sparkling circlet of stars/Before they wink out/One by one,/Swallowed by the incurious/Blankness beyond./
Now what on earth did I know then, all those decades ago, to write such words? It was as though that fifteen-year-old boy reached through the fabric of time and space, into this room and into this heart to find them. Words. Words. Words. So many, many words: so few worth reading…writing…hearing…speaking. I love the sea and I love the ships that sail on it so, I suppose, it is no surprise that I love The Tempest where all the drowned sailors and seafarers are discovered safe and well. The girl on the desolate island finds true love and is restored to her princely patrimony, the imprisoned spirits of light are set free and even the monster gets to keep his island with the admonition that he should mend his ways. The magic of theatre. The magic of books. The triumph of the imagination.And what is left to tell? Too much. Or maybe there is nothing worth telling. I can’t decide. Time to sleep, and when I wake, I trust that all will be well. All will be well. [play Coda] [play Coda sting]
And so we leave our protagonist sleeping in his reclining chair. The dawn’s early light has now banished the stars and the stripes of the magical Manhattan lights and the forecast is for a wonderful Fall day on this the 11th day of September 2001, when this great metropolis will roar back to life and the new century, the new millennium will sail on into the promise of a glorious tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow. [end: with usual intro/outro]
Credits: All written text, song lyrics and music (including background music) written and composed by Quentin Bega unless otherwise specified in the credits section after individual posts. Illustrative excerpts from other texts identified clearly within each podcast. I donate to and use Wikipedia frequently as one of the saner sources of information on the web.
Technical Stuff: Microphone- Shure SM58; (for the podcast spoken content) Audio Technica AT 2020 front-facing with pop filter); Apogee 76K also used for songs and spoken text
For recording and mixing down: 64-bit N-Track Studio 9 Extended used; Rubix 22 also used for mixing of microphone(s) and instruments. I use the Band in a Box/RealBand 2022 combo for music composition