Tuesday, January 21, 2014

`Do You Ever Think of Me?'

Even in a dream he looks oddly formal in manner and dress, my only contemporary to wear tweeds, wingtips and a homburg. He spoke in sentences not merely complete but complex, long trains of dependent clauses satisfyingly resolving in sense. When he lapsed into trendy vernacular, it was italicized with irony. He made pedanticism charming and could be difficult, hidebound when it came to intellectual honesty and questions of usage. He was no respecter of conventional categories, transcending left and right, postmodern and traditional. He was singular. Chris took his own life almost two and a half years ago.

My dream was a reprise of a memory more than twenty years old, but narrated in the third person. We attended a screening of Werner Herzog’s Aguirre, the Wrath of God. The final scene with Aguirre (Klaus Kinski) and the monkeys is set on a raft rocking on the South American river. Aguirre is forever almost falling over, and the motion of the camera, the raft, the actor and the monkeys induced seasickness. As Chris and I walked up the aisle to leave the theater, we mimicked Kinski’s rocking, moving back and forth, foot to foot, and we got a good laugh out of other moviegoers. We hadn’t planned it and both of us had started rocking spontaneously. In my dream, I watched us moving herky-jerky toward the exit and saw the audience pointing and laughing at us. I felt no sense of surprise, awe, fear or displacement. Everything seemed normal and familiar. 

To my knowledge, Joseph Epstein has published only one poem, “Edward Shils in Heaven,” about the scholar at the University of Chicago who was his friend. The morning after my dream I thought of the poem and of another remembrance of Shils written by Epstein. Dream, memory, night vision – it’s as though dead friends return and render comfort, a little amusement or consolation. Epstein’s poem was published in First Things in 2000: 

“Dear Edward, sleepless, lonely, I think of you tonight
In Heaven, out for a leisurely stroll, yet ready for a fight.
Before illogic, false sentiment, sophistry you could never bend,
Now five years dead, why change, allow mere Heaven to forfend?
Master of blistering tirade, scorching academic cant,
Skewering intellectual charade with terrifying rant.
You were the best of haters and for the best of reasons,
Blasting all the virtuous clerks and all their little treasons.
A lover of courage, Dickens, Dunhill’s ink in deepest green,
Useful shops, dark thick soups, competence, spiced–up aubergine.
Has Heaven food fiery and rich enough for your ample need?
Are there good books and journals in the place for you to read?
Have you discovered an angel with your gift for repartee?
Did you abandon salty Yiddish, shift to Quaker thou and thee?
Pious agnostic, I cannot picture you sitting at God’s knee.
Sweet curmudgeon, do you ever think of me?”

1 comment:

Guy Walker said...

Wonderful Epstein poem ( a real tug of feeling here amidst, and because of, all the precise personal detail)and Kinski an insane marvel in Aguirre and in Fitzcaraldo. I loved his boggling gaze.