In this episode he follows the music to his father’s room and listens at the door. Perhaps his father can help him now? But no, it’s not to be. The canto closes with Kamal walking out of his Bel Air estate to the sound, the horrible crunch, of a book being eaten by a lawn mower (Joyce’sUlysses, which Imogene had defenestrated the moment her mother entered her bedroom).
O what grief Kamal must feel!
Please keep it brief, dear Fate! Please seal
the deed and send him on his way
before the details of that day
should make me weep! Down he comes
– the hall, the stairs; just as the wild
horse, once caught and broken, succumbs
to pulling loads, so too my child,
tethered to that wraith which hums
and croons beside him, carries on,
so spiritless. And there upon
the wall his youthful colors smear;
while golden Oscars sadly peer
like pixies at a banished faun;
‘This way’ – the calm, enticing chords
now coax Kamal down corridors
he knows so well; and lead him toward
the shadowy place he once adored
to bring fresh clothes to – a hall explored
two times each day, a door behind
which lives that grey and ghostly, kind
and powerful ﬁgure of fatherhood.
A place Kamal had often stood,
pajamas in hand, devotion in mind.
a balm, a palliative that blunts
his pain…and yet our hero feels
the sting each soulful half-note deals,
the prick of every minor chord,
the raw arpeggios which soar
straight through that threshold’s door – a gate
which once within Kamal’s untarnished
mind had loomed, as splendid and ornate
as any bronze and Bible-garnished
Florentine portal! But how that great
majestic door transforms from gold
to varnished wood. And how that old
and saintly force which once composed
the soundtrack to his daydreams grows
so distant and so deathly cold.
And worse, far worse! For more of course
now changes. Not just the source
of magic, not just his patron muse
– but all the world appears a ruse
to our deceived Kamal. A stage
of secret devices. Trapdoors. False-walls.
A box with mirrors. An iron cage
with rubber bars. And as it dissolves,
that wondrous illusion, he seeks to assuage
his pain, his loss. The Steinway ascends
in volume and feeling. Kamal attends
its call, and clasps the doorknob, raises
a ﬁst – but then, as if it appraises
his presence, the music, at once, suspends.
A horrible silence follows – jumbled
with Spanish banter, birds, the mumbled
mantras of machines outside
(when planes and mowers coincide).
His shoulders convulse; his ﬁst now falls;
a sob grabs hold his chest and hurls
him back into the steadfast wall,
from which he bounces, lurches, whirls
past movie posters, and to the squalls
of sunlight in the grand foyer . . .
and out he goes! O terrible day!
He sees the Benz, a beached black whale
all barnacled with foam. A pail
of soapy liquid blocks his way.
The Guatemalan voices drop.
A rainbow spray of water stops.
The sky is slashed with vapor trails
yet does not bleed. A migrating snail
just recently spawned from all those suds
which soak the lawn is nearly crushed
as lost Kamal looks for some blood
within that gashed yet pure, unblushed,
cerulean sphere – while stepping in mud
and tripping across a hose (he spins
to see a mocking immi-grin,
and feels the ﬂush and ﬂood of shame).
He looks once more from where he came.
The old front door; the shadows within.
but from the driveway’s cul-de-sac
he staggers toward the gates; past scenes
he’s painted countless times, the greens
and yellows, reds and oranges swimming
past his eyes; a million memoranda
mixed together, mountains brimming
above the trees, a jacaranda
weeping purple tears; and skimming
across his favorite sculpted lawn,
a giant beetle, with elytron
outspread, a driver on its shoulders.
Look up. Will his eyes behold her?
No. The verandah’s shades are drawn.
And then – just as he reaches the gate
and gazes back at his estate
one ﬁnal time: the olive trees,
the liquid gems the fountains sneeze,
the palms at play in games of catch
with swallows and jays, while shaking off
the fritillaries – a sudden dispatch!
A hollow crunch and aching cough
resounds from aforementioned patch
of grass where Genie’s book last ﬂew.
A ﬂurrysnow of printerspew,
as Joyce himself might draft a spewing
mower. And what’s my hero doing?
The gate is open. He’s walking through.
— End of Canto the First —
See the complete index of episodes from Kamal, Book One