Cambridge, April 11
Am I Flora writing to Leila, or am I Julia writing to you? Am I some sage—Oedipus or Emerson perhaps—cleverly writing to the Sphinx? Am I some churchperson—not Waldo, I would judge, but Julia, I conclude—who suddenly wanted and begged the suddenly appearing Holy Communion rejected by each of these many years before as the mind of each forced a rejection of the church? This particular version or relict or relic or symbol of ancient custom or belief manifested itself in the hands of the gentle pious woman from St. Barbara’s as she opened the gleaming pyxis like a gleaming compact holding its mirror and its puff of powder. From St. Barbara’s, did she say? I moved from Mount Auburn to Woburn on the noon of April ninth. To Woburn? I told the movers I thought Woburn was the moon. It’s only a drive of twenty minutes, Ruby exclaimed when she phoned from her home in Cambridge. The movers, Adam the First Man and Geoffrey the First Crusader, floated over the potholes of Massachusetts.
From Mount Auburn? Am I then a ghost? Was I visiting your cenotaph among the grand boney trees as they struggled out of winter? Was I lying on the cold intimations of grass as I perused your poem written about the Sphinx, or shall I call it the letter of the Sphinx written to you about herself? Or was it not on but beneath the chilly hints of grass that I was lying?
It was under white sheets that I was lying. It was upon white sheets that I was lying. My body was boney, but it was a breathing, eating body, eager for air, greedy for food, yearning for corporeal and spiritual nutrition, wanting nourishment both of flesh and of mind. It had lain on the white sheets of the hospital called Mount Auburn. It had lain on the white sheets of the ambulance transporting it to Woburn. It was lying on the white sheets of the hospital denominated by the vernal promise of that substantive serving as an adjective: Rehabilitation. Into this space of April came the white-haired white-faced woman holding the white moon of food, the white disk of bread. Muriel, she said to the mother of thirteen children who was lying couched on the other side of the room, I am Barbara from St. Barbara’s, and I have brought you Holy Communion. Excuse me, I called across as she began to depart, Can you give Holy Communion to me? Compressing into a sound bite my whole religious history, known well to the students of Flora Baum, I concluded with the elucidation that although I was no longer a believer I deeply respected the Ideal. Soon I was chewing the white plenilunium, the panem angelicum, the accident of the white bread that was the substance of a body, the substance of a god. I was not a believer, I was an unbeliever, but I chewed a meaning and hungered for a knowledge and tasted a beauty.
I chew the white sheep, the Sphinx wrote in her letter addressed to me. I am the lion who speeds on four feet through the wheatfields. I leap the wall and chew the big white sheep. I chew and chew. I devour. I am the lion who lies down with the lamb. I am the woman who climbs down from the tree and strides on two feet across and across the grass. I am the winged one, the winging one, the poet of the winged words of reddest red, of bluest blue, of brightest fullest whitest white. Or am I Flora, your word of words?
Do you, Julia, she continued, need Flora as your word because her name is fragrant with flowers? Does your friend Margaret need Leila as her word because Leila in ancient tongues means night, because Margaret’s Leila, ancient and young, displays the starry black of blackest night? Are these my riddles still? Maybe they now are yours. Maybe the black night of Leila and the many-colored flowers of Flora are merely cloaks.
Something else the Sphinx said in her letter: Every answer is another question.
Did I receive this epistle on April tenth? Later on the tenth I found myself whizzing from Woburn to Mount Auburn, transported once again past those gray graves, past those white, those whited, sepulchers, glancing once again from jostling ambulance to resting garden, entering then a world of emergency and emergence. Late that night--that is, late last night--my new physician and I, as we met and exchanged names, were conversing very briefly in and of the German tongue. And is your primary language German, I inquired. It is Hebrew, she replied with a little smile as over her beautiful white countenance fell her beautiful black tresses. And how do you wish to say good night, she asked as she was leaving. In German? No, please say it to me in Hebrew. Leila tov, she said.
Copyright © 2010 by Julia Budenz.