A CROWN FOR WHATEVER HAS FALLEN

by Kristen Case

 

1.

Patroclus learned healing, as he learned music and hunting, from the famed teacher Chiron, a centaur whose name means hand.

With my reading glasses, the world is closer, and I can see the outline of the reflective sphere at the end of each blade of the wet grass, and that the air is full of tiny insects.

Excellence, like handedness, is a dactyl, which means the stress diminishes as the sound of the word unfolds. Dactylic meter was preferred by the Greeks for the writing of elegies.

In the early years of his disease, my father compensated easily, switching from a long to a short game is squash, and from a blocky all-caps print to a fast and loose cursive.

Chiron was wounded with a poison-tipped arrow and could not heal himself.

Writing freezes nothing but is always still happening: my hand moving, your eye moving, the vocal chords of both our throats making barely perceptible movements as we voice these words to ourselves.

A tremor is a kind of occupation.

Along the road I find the feathers of the birds of this country, unknown to me but ubiquitous. The feathers are wedge-shaped and blunt-ended, with bands of black and gray. On the external side, the black mergers softly into the gray. On the internal side a muted line shows itself between, as in a Rothko painting.

Dactyl, which means, finger, is also the name of a mythical Greek race of healer magicians.

It is easy to forget that a word takes time to sound, that it may start one way and end another.

The birds say nothing and carry no messages.

In the last hours your whole body convulsed, and this was followed by something that looked like calm.

What occupied you?

The night nurse knew but was circumspect.

 

 

2.

A certain near lisp affected in moments of self-consciousness. A slight thickening.

A narrowing of the eyes as if to say, contact. Lips drawn inward in a soft line. An almost-squint.

In Shakespeare’s sonnet 30, woe is piled upon woe and moan upon moan in an unrelenting economy of loss.

The right arm extended toward the ashtray, tapping a cigarette and nodding, and exhaling, and talking.

The couplet articulates the total cancelation of long inventory of debt in a single gesture of thought, as if by magic.

The whole body leaning into the book, head propped, fingers of the left hand worrying the hairline.

I don’t remember owning an ashtray or washing one.

Shakespeare uses the auxiliary verb “can” with the verb “drown,” suggesting a special if unreliable capacity for drowning.

Cigarette between index and middle fingers; fingers slightly curled.

All losses are restored is an incantation.

Talk, breath, smoke. I can see this line: shoulder, arm, hand, cigarette.

Then can I grieve at grievances foregone recollects grief in the space of the line, adding it to itself like trauma, like debt.

Re-collect as in collection agency.

The name of the spell is dear friend.

 

 

3.

The birds are wood pigeons, family Columbidae. Like all pigeons, expert navigators.

Since I left you, mine eye is in my mind; 

At the corner of our street, an overpass, a small staircase led to the street below. Climbing or descending this staircase seemed an exercise in the occult.

In one of the myths, the Dactyls bring the alphabet. 

You often read all night, or talked, or drank.

Sometimes when I say you I mean I or he. Grief blurs the edges of everything.

Experiments have demonstrated that among other remarkable abilities, pigeons can recognize the letters of the alphabet.  

Your mind was always running, as though detached from your body, an indifferent and unstoppable force, all-consuming, all-capacious.

You missed deadlines with a kind of religious regularity.

I learn the script of their movement: noisy flutter, long dive.  From the Ancient Greek κόλυμβος ‎(kólumbos, “a diver”).

The papers, weeks late, evoked lengthy and emphatic responses from your professors, who spoke to you like a colleague even when they gave you Cs. My prompt and dutiful As seemed pallid.

You lied continually, tenderly, always believing, though you knew better. No one was ever so gentle.

The crow, or dove, it shapes them to your feature
 

Dear Messenger, please accept this alphabet.

 

 

4.

In the 1870 siege of Paris in the Franco-Prussian war, pigeons were loaded into hot-air balloons and sent to Tours and later Poitiers, where they provided the only means of communication to and from the occupied city.

For months my father thought the sudden seizing up of his foot was a running injury.

Devouring Time, blunt thou the lion’s paws

When the diagnosis came he said, at least I’m not a concert pianist, or a neurosurgeon.

During the occupation of Belgium and France in World War I, domestic pigeons were rounded up and destroyed by the German military to prevent their being used as messengers.

In a grainy home video I saw years ago, my father shoots a basket, grins, turns his back to the camera. I don’t remember anything else about the video—who recorded it, the day it was recorded, where it might be now.

On my run, more and more feathers. Now some with a pointed tip and a white line along the edge.

Only this brief sequence, perfectly assured.

 And do whate’er thou wilt, swift-footed Time

The word seizure is not etymologically linked to the word siege, but both suggest possession, an overtaking.

Running, I think, this is what it feels like when there isn’t enough air.

The pigeons cross and cross again. I have no messages for the dead today, only breath, which echoes in my ears as though not my own.

Whose words are these? Am I occupied?

Swift-footed. I have stopped tracking my pace.

 

 

5.

When you grieve two things at once the grief gets braided together.

Achilles plays the lyre, which Chiron taught him also, while Patroclus listens.

I mean two people. I mean I.

It is both obvious and startling that my hands, which are made of the past, can’t touch the past.

Temporal, asymptote, basketball, artifice, circular

Among other things, my father was a writer.

Reading his sentences, I become aware of myself as a bundle of genetic material occupied by a syntactical rhythm.

The Iliad gives each of its dead a name and a little story for an elegy. The eye moves over these marks. Little movements in the muscles of the throat.

The outside fingers of my right hand go numb after writing too long. You can see on the page where it starts.

The pigeons peck at whatever has fallen.

Avian, telegraph, elegy, circumspect, terrify

Dear messenger, please accept this breathing.

Circumspect, I telegraph. Whatever has fallen.

Whose name means hand.