There in the bloom of colored carnations
We nestled in a nook of the nation
Relaxed, basking, independent as cats,
Gently asking, “Would you like fries with that?”
Time rippled outward and we made our home
Cardinals roosted the roads we would roam
Ghosts: our daughter’s, our enemies’, our own
Left us, quietly, finally, alone.
*a nook of the nation
Our poet is, of course, referring to his own falsification of his murder and subsequent move to a different state. His story of immigration reminds me of my own flight from Zembla. Having spent many long nights yearning for the majesty of my homeland, I can imagine perfectly how much Shade must miss the rolling hills of Appalachia. Still more, he must truly despair at my absence from his life, but I am certain he only keeps his location hidden from me for my own safety.
*“Would you like fries with that?”
I recall many a tender night when Shade and I shared fries alongside deeply intellectual conversations. Oh how I miss the warmth and constancy of his friendship, and of those medium-sized bags of crispy potato!
*the roads we would roam
Shade draws a contrast between the New World and the Old. The cardinal is a North American bunting, related to but different from buntings of the Old World. In highlighting this bird, this dear man clearly pays homage to Zembla by representing a bird seen across boundaries. It is a subtle signal of his deep affection for me.
*quietly, finally, alone
I must say I’m not quite sure why John seems to take such pleasure in the state of being alone. I’m not enjoying it much myself.
Death is indeed the most drastic of passageways
And my staged morbidity is nothing but a phase
To safely fool the one that mendaciously fools,
wrapped in Zemblan memories and its jewels.
So defeating crazy neighbors and foreign snipers,
I enveloped my identity in a web made by spiders
And for Sybil and I shared a fond love for burgers
Crossing borders, a McDonald’s hired us as its workers.
*The one that mendaciously fools:
Shade is obviously talking about Gradus and the lies he uttered in order to obtain information about the king’s location. When Shade mentions the jewels, he alludes to the riches that Gradus has been offered for its murderous service. See note 12 and also note 36568026.
This reminds me of a vivid and sultry summer night. Looking at Shade’s dining room from behind the linen curtains of my habitation, I noticed him and his capricious wife zealously eating a typically ready-made American burger. Their decision not to invite me still puzzles me up to this day.
*crazy neighbors and foreign snipers:
It’s difficult to pinpoint to whom exactly my dear friend is referring here. Often, our poet speaks in riddles and metaphors so complex that each reader must develop their own interpretation.
Salon article about Nabokov’s gay brother Sergei. Might be useful in looking at gay character’s in Nabokov work, especially Kinbote in Pale Fire.
“I confess I do not believe in time. I like to fold my magic carpet, after use, in such a way as to superimpose one part of the pattern upon another. Let visitors trip. And the highest enjoyment of timelessness—in a landscape selected at random—is when I stand among rare butterflies and their food plants. This is ecstasy, and behind the ecstasy is something else, which I cannot explain. It is like a momentary vacuum into which rushes all that I love, a sense of oneness with sun and stone, a thrill of gratitude to whom it may concern, perhaps to the contrapuntal genius of human fate or to the tender ghosts humoring a lucky mortal.”
“I was the shadow of the waxwing slain
By feigned remoteness in the windowpane.” (131-132)
Through what power earned I this skill
To discern, delight, and delude–to thrill.
Unawares, I cannot gauge
Have I not unparalleled ability to transcend this artist’s cage?
“I had a brain, five senses (one unique),” (133).
“The exquisite melody of the two lines opening the poem is picked up here. The repetition of that long-drawn note is saved from monotony by the subtle variation in line 132 where the assonance between its second word and the rhyme gives the ear a kind of languorous pleasure as would the echo of some half-remembered sorrowful song whose strain is more meaningful than its words” (p 135). The following four lines harken back to the poem’s statement: “For we are most artistically caged” (114) since Shade delights in his authorial ability while acknowledging the limitations of the poetic form.
Lines 115-120: The wall of sound, crickets
Oh how astutely my interlocutor observed the ceaseless, sonorous mating calls of those vile beasts! Often, upon crossing that faithful wooden bridge to nowhere – just south of the hiking trail we used to frequent behind Wordsmith – he would point out some trivial (and frequently, I must admit, impossibly boring) fact regarding this aphid or that anthropoid, which I would counter with the most ecstatically vivid anecdotes of our King’s bucolic springtime exploits in our now shared heliotrope kingdom come, Zembla.
Our poet seems to have crossed out, in his draft, 5 lines initially meant to clearly replace the (clearly superior) verses found in the Fair Copy as a direct thematic continuation of the preceding couplets:
A spiral of tints from cadmium red
‘Not ellipses, but helices!’ he said;
Mr. O. Zero, that elephantine scholar
(Who knew unadulterated dolor)
120 Pointing to that iridescent opal.
Why Shade chose to keep these uncharacteristically illegibly written verses I cannot fathom, considering their complete irrelevance to our beautiful Zemblan reveries that he so passionately, so intently conveyed in those other drafts which a certain Anti-Karlist prophetess prevented from being expressed in the Fair Copy.
After spending dozens of hours searching through each and every entry beginning with “O” in the New Wye directory that I happened to have brought with me to my present dwellings, I was finally able to uncover the identity of Mr. O. Zero, who turned out to be an female elderly pediatrician residing just north of the Wordsmith libraries. I have not been able to deduce why Shade would mention Mr. Zero, let alone dedicate a whole stanza to her chromatopsic preferences. Aside from certain simplistic stylistic tricks that betray the subtle beauty of the rest of his verse, such as the rather unamusing doubling of the form of the capital “o” and zero, there does not seem to be any stylistic nor contentual significance to this draft whatsoever.
If it were up to me, I would have obviously nudged Shade away from wasting his time (or espace de papier) on this rather kitsch description of celestial bodies. Alas, my position as annotator binds me to faithfully reproducing all aspects, both disappointing and charming, of his magnum opus into this edition.
The cobalt butterfly flew
Its tinted shadow a divine clue
For fathers to face death and doom
Shade’s shade now suffocates my room
Line 1: The cobalt butterfly
Nymphalis Conopia Zemblari, colloquially called Zemblan Frostwing, is a well-known species native to the mountain ranges in the east of my great land. Although information is listed in many tourist brochures, Historia Zemblica offers the most comprehensive account of our cobalt friend’s habitats.
Line 3: For fathers to face death and doom
An unmistakable reference to our dear exiled king, Zembla’s father.
Line 4: Shade’s shade
Alliteration: the occurrence of the same letter or sound at the beginning of adjacent or closely connected words. John’s writing was always packed with linguistic tricks like these.
Golden liquid spreads gently on the fire
While my mother screams over the sound of a cursed lire
Shall I see my mother face the wrath of the hounds?
Or will I decided to run with her and loose fifty pounds?
Let it be known that life is agony– pure and simply
Nothing more that a salmon gnarled by a ferocious grizzly
( would be placed between line 588-589)
Liquid A state of matter that plagued the gentle living of our dear Shade. Liquid brought down the royal linages of the Kingdom of Zembla. Liquid– special liquid– alcohol– alcoholism.
Mother screams Our poet has a way in incorporating existential dread within his work. When looking at marginal notes present, we see a list of various phrases describing vocal expressions: yells, yawns, yodels, and screams. Screams seemed to encapsulate the agony best.
Grizzly. Many grizzly bears inhabit the border between Zembla and Finland. While our dear King Charles escaped the wrath of the revolutionaries, fellow Karlists used trained grizzly bears to protect the King and his entourage as they passed the Lishrashmankha passage.