The Veiled Lady
In the 19th Century, clever mediums
Would rap a table, making the dead speak.
Ghostly hands would hover in the air,
Heads would appear, Caesar, Napoleon.
Sometimes the whole immaterial body
Of someone’s beloved, dead daughter or sister
Glided through a room allowing swords
To pass though it. Once a husband rose
And tried to caress what was never there,
A veiled lady he thought was his wife,
While others in the room almost fainted
To see him step right through her crinoline.
D.D. Home could levitate out windows
And float above a busy London street.
Imagine sitting on the horsehair sofa
Almost hysterical, watching that miracle…
But it was done with thick plate glass and lights,
A conjurer’s trick, just like the accordion
Played by a ghost in front of Robert Browning
Who shuddered when a spirit hand reached out
And put a wreath of flowers on Elizabeth
Though afterwards he called it sham, imposture.
But that’s what I am, that’s what we all are
To one another, a trick of light and glass
Projected before an audience of dupes.
Don’t you see I’m only an illusion?
You look aghast. You think I’m cynical
But when you touch me in the dark at night
You touch biology, twitchings and snores,
Wetness, jerking muscles. Wild images
Flicker across my convoluted brain
As it constructs a person out of dreams.
That woman you say you love doesn’t exist.
Look at the way our faces have appeared
On the black glass of the picture window
Now that it’s evening, and the lights are on.
There she is, standing beside you, smiling.
Go to her. Embrace her if you can.
Now let’s go down to the floor where Marla Muse is with Maura Stanton, who is one of Scarriet’s Elite Eight, Marla?
Marla Muse (MM): Thanks, Tom. Maura, congratulations on your entry into the Elite Eight, how’s it feel?
Maura Stanton (MS): It feels great, Marla.
MM: Thanks for taking time out to talk with me, I know you’re here today at Walt Whitman Stadium to practice free-verse throws for your upcoming match to gain entry into the Scarriet Final Four.
MS: It’s no problem, I needed a break anyway.
MM: Maura, you’ve earned the nickname “The Veiled Lady” for your elusiveness and stealth out on the floor. And you have managed to conjure up almost out of thin air one of the most illustrious squads this game has ever seen. How did you attract such stellar talent?
MS: Well Marla, management has been very supportive, and we were very blessed in the draft last year.
MM: Blessed, I love it! Luck had nothing to do with it?
MS: That one’s above my pay grade, Marla.
MM: Maura, speaking of luck, you have a player who once extolled the value of luck in his generals, I’m speaking of course of Napoleon himself.
MS: Nappy is one of our starters, we get him out there at the beginning to spook the opposition.
MM: Alongside Caesar.
MS: Yes, Cheezer and Nap work wonders together, which is amazing when you consider the egos at play there.
MM: Absolutely, but I notice you don’t keep them in long.
MS: That’s correct, we put them in for the first few minutes of play, let them run up the score, then cut them loose for the night.
MM: To conquer new worlds! And yet even after they’ve left, their presence somehow lingers on throughout the game.
MS: Oh yes.
MM: Maura, your offense of course has reminded many of legendary coach William Lindsay Gresham’s famous squad from the 1940s, I’m speaking of course of the famous “Nightmare Alley.”
MS: It’s an honor to be compared with them.
MM: And of course for one season Gresham’s team featured the great Tyrone Power, and many said his best work was done during his time with the “Nightmare Alley” squad.
MS: Power never phoned it in, and he dug deep during his time in the “Alley.”
MM: Maura, this spiritualism stuff, we all know it’s fake, know we’re being manipulated, but yet we’re also susceptible. Why is that?
MS: Well Marla—
MM: Could it be because humans already believe so many things that are so patently absurd?
MS: Well Marla, I—
MM: And I don’t just mean the theists and polytheists among us, I mean the deists and atheists as well. Perhaps the irrational part of the mind can only be tempered by beliefs that are irrational?
MS: Well Marla—
MM: Or is it that humans have such a powerful need to communicate with the departed, to apologize for past sins, to correct the uncorrectable?
MM: Maura, I’m very interested in how you relate our susceptibility to spiritualist claims to our need for illusion in the realms of sex and romance. Because the need for illusion in those realms is so necessary, isn’t it?
MS: I believe it is.
MM: Especially for men, I think, since I have long noted that a man’s imaginative powers are crucial to his attaining potency, especially after a certain age.
MS: And what age would that be?
MM: Oh you kid! Twelve! But seriously, Maura, I think one of the reasons Viagra is so necessary in our time is because modern man’s imagination has become so, if you pardon the term, shriveled up.
MM: I read The Atlantic, I read the stories of couples who make over 150K a year, yet the husband hasn’t gotten an erection with his wife in over a decade.
MS : Trouble in paradise?
MM: Well put!
MS: Although I suspect husbands have always had trouble with sexual performance with only one woman over decades.
MM:The Coolidge Effect!
MS: Quite so. Even the most ancient stories tell of men who needed concubines and multiple wives to retain potency, so I don’t think it’s just a modern phenomenon.
MM: Maura, if the object of desire is just “biology, twitchings and snores,/wetness, jerking muscles”, i.e., a bare, forked creature, then how can she arouse desire in the lover?
MS: She acts upon and stimulates the imagination of the lover. It’s all in the lover’s imagination.
MM: Yes, as you say, “That woman you say you love doesn’t exist.” And yet she does—
MS: She does exist, but not as the lover perceives.
MM: I remember a woman once explaining why she loved a man, and she said, “He saw the me I didn’t.”
MS: That’s wonderful.
MM: Isn’t it? The lover can see the beloved as she never saw herself… Maura, I am so impressed with how your star center D.D. “Double D” Home and your power forward Bobby “BB Gun” Browning have managed to bury the hatchet to get to the Elite Eight, and possibly the Final Four.
MS: Well, the will to win makes strange bedfellows, and don’t forget that both of the Brownings appear in my poem. Without them, the team wouldn’t be where it is today. You see, Marla, poets must rely on other poets; it’s not like owners of hotdog stands, who can just go it alone. When she was Elizabeth Barrett, in her rookie year, she and Edgar Poe wrote to each other, a trans-Atlantic flirtation; Poe dedicated his 1845 Poems to her—but that was the year Robert came into her life.
MM: I like when you say Robert and Elizabeth “appear” in your poem. Whatever “appears” must also “vanish”…
MS: I hadn’t thought of that… Nice, Marla.
MM: Had you thought of including Yeats in your poem? He was really into the occult.
MS: I had thought of Yeats, and he was a free agent available for the season, but the Brownings were more of what I was looking for. Seances were so big in the Victorian era. Yeats is either thought of as a Modern or a late Romantic.
MM: But Yeats was a Victorian in so many ways. It’s just that the Modernists were horrified at being called Victorians…OK, let’s go now to a commercial, for the Antiques Roadshow!