Conrad Potter Aiken
Illicit - Poem by Conrad Potter Aiken
Of what she said to me that night—no matter.
The strange thing came next day.
My brain was full of music—something she played me;
I couldn't remember it all, but phrases of it
Wreathed and wreathed among faint memories,
Seeking for something, trying to tell me something,
Urging to restlessness, verging on grief.
I tried to play the tune, from memory—
But memory failed: the chords and discords climbed
And found no resolution, only hung there,
And left me morbid. Where, then, had I heard it? ...
What secret dusty chamber was it hinting?
'Dust,' it said, 'dust .... and dust .... and sunlight ....
A cold clear April evening .... snow-bedraggled ....
Rain-worn snow dappling the hideous grass ....
And someone walking alone; and someone saying
That all must end, for the time had come to go ... .'
These were the phrases; but behind, beneath them,
A greater shadow moved, and in this shadow
I stood and guessed Was it the blue-eyed lady?
The one who always danced in golden slippers?—
And had I danced, with her, upon this music?
Or was it further back—the unplumbed twilight
Of childhood? .... No—much recenter than that.
You know, without my telling you, how sometimes
A word or name eludes you, and you seek it
Through running ghosts of shadow—leaping at it,
Lying in wait for it to spring upon it,
Spreading faint snares for it of sense or sound ;
Until of a sudden, as if in a phantom forest,
You hear it, see it flash among the branches,
And, scarcely knowing how, suddenly have it.
Well, it was so I followed down this music,
Glimpsing a face in darkness, hearing a cry,
Remembering days forgotten, moods exhausted.
Corners in sunlight, puddles reflecting stars;
Until, of a sudden, and least of all expected,
The thing resolved itself: and I remembered
An April afternoon, eight years ago—
Or was it nine ?—no matter, call it nine—
A room in which the last of sunlight faded;
A vase of violets, fragrance in white curtains;
And she, who played this same thing later, playing.
She played this tune. And in the middle of it
Abruptly broke it off, letting her hands
Fall in her lap. She sat there so a moment,
With shoulders drooped, then lifted up a rose,
One great white rose, wide open, like a lotus,
And pressed it to her cheek, and closed her eyes.
'You know—we've got to end this—Miriam loves you....
If she should ever know, or even guess it,
What would she do? Listen!—I'm not absurd....
I'm sure of it. If you had eyes for women,
To understand them, which you've never had,
You'd know it too . . . .' So went this colloquy,
Half humorous, with undertones of pathos,
Half grave, half flippant .... while her ringers, softly,
Felt for this tune, played it and let it fall,
Now note by singing note, now chord by chord,
Repeating phrases with a kind of pleasure.
Was it symbolic of the woman's weakness
That she could neither break it—nor conclude?
It paused .... and wandered .... paused again; while she,
Perplexed and tired, half told me I must go,
Half asked me if I thought I ought to go....
Well, April passed, with many other evenings,
Evenings like this, with later suns and warmer,
With violets always there, and fragrant curtains....
And she was right. And Miriam found it out....
And after that, when eight deep years had passed—
Or nine—we met once more, by accident.
But was it just by accident, I wonder,
She played this tune? Or what, then, was intended?
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