Carole Maso: excerpt from “The Bay of Angels,” a novel-in-progress

 

Only Music

Larks, doves, starlings in the great house and no one there to witness their blurred music.

The child cries, having been turned into a bird prematurely, more than once. The children cry at the strangeness. Oh yes, more than once–a bird–each time–or was it an angel? Winged music.

In Bonn, the violin case left open. In Berlin the cello confiscated (that word). The square all but deserted–fled is–stopped mid chord–in the interval that failed…that music. Left mid passage.

Fled is that music.

First step of the child and no one there to see. First word and no one. The predicted da, but no one. Words sucked, aspirated backward into look: the safety zone! A dark forest.

A congregation of word nymphs. In a forest of da da da, a shimmering chorus, forest of voices singing da. What’s that? Soul grove.

The children’s choir singing without conductor. The children’s orchestra playing.

The children. The children playing in memory.

The children remember…they put a tick and a tock in the bed with the new kitten Schnitzel so it might be consoled by the tick not miss…

its mother so much.

In preparation for the bone marrow transplant I am practising not missing so much.

Holding in my hand a kind of lantern now as the anesthesia comes on. The illuminated swan box–beautiful, beautiful–(is that you Mother with your floating body shaped like a heart–your improbably long neck–the blue white of your feathers–you give off a strange light. I carry you with me now wherever I go.

A burial grove. As they land on earth at last, at last. The piney forest floor.

See how light filters through the trees. How light comes and goes. Green-gold, Gold-last, Never die.

A forest grove of hearts, souls, the patter through the leaves. A green and downy sheet of sounds. You make a most extraordinary music. A beautiful music–boots cannot drown out, soldiers cannot outcount. We remember…hiding inside every leaf. Shining through the paper thin. Chlorophylled awhile.

Even a half century away, the mother cannot bear the sound of counting. Memory locked in the structure of blood.

Ready or not here I come! The Germans staged a jolly Hide and Seek. Birds swooning. Those who had gone before trying to warn those who would come after. Ready or not. But we’re not ready yet. Every leaf. 93, 94, 95, 96, 97, 98, 99, 100! Ready or not.

Just hum. When they confiscate (that word) the violin just hum. Just sing. All the parts. Here I come.

When they confiscate the voice in its box, fall into white. Snow still falls in this forest like music. Snow fall on every branch. Snow falls on the unmarked graves, marking them.

Adagio: a child draws a swan in snow. A woman writes the letter D in air…remembering. In a hospital bed.

And who’s that playing Fur Elise on a phantom keyboard now?

A winged music.

In preparation for my bone marrow transplant I am. Infinity of swan in a blue (night is falling) box… you are dying, Ava Klein…tulle, sequins, a velvet curtain parting…an outdoor production of Swan Lake…the dance performed en pleine air.

Not so fast.

Gerhardt takes out the swan box fingering the heart shaped body, floating–in its permanent twilight–Mother. Now viewed through a kind of cobalt light. My twilight swan come here now as a saving thing–sever a vein. Her impossibly long neck. Her body like a heart.

Not so fast.

In the marrow of the bone where they inscribe messages–love letters of sorts–the blood’s secret code. Mother. Future of blood. Strategy of blood.

The memories of blood: they were forbidden to keep carrier pigeons in the Occupied Zone lest a message be sent, lest a message get through. But there the day of the Liberation one thousand, thousand birds released, cover the sky.

The wing beat hallucination. The perch deserted. How are you feeling Ava Klein?

It’s nice of you to inquire. I am busy making bird boxes in the manner of the great Joseph Cornell, fashioned of last things–in the event of. Out of the last available scraps. Collecting this and that from this hospital room–feathers from the pillows, diamonds from the hospital gown. From the clock, a tick, a tock. In the the bodies of birds the children are alive again–how quickly they fly–having just deserted their perches. And they long, long for their lives back, their see saws and counting games and rhyming games and Mother, Mother, Mother! Their desire makes a dolorous sound. Locked in the blood. The trees begin to toll. Mother we are starving.

And the Croatian Mother Goose passing through mutters bury, bury, bury the bread, bury the bread.

They are shy at that age–coquettes–turning their heads to the side and looking down, their hands crossed prettily in their laps–and after what has happened to them–no words for it–still–cross it out cross it out, keep crossing it out–what has happened to them–birds breaking in our hearts.

This precarious perch. Fashioned from a drinking straw. I am fashioning a story out of this and that. Largely for consolation.

Bury the bread, bury the bread–

But we are starving.

In preparation for my bone marrow transplant I am holding a lantern. A bell of suet. A complete array of band-aids and drinking cups. I am braiding the wigs. Throwing caution to the wind. Memorizing her recipe for challah. Mother, who has donated to this project, her blood. I am very busy fashioning bird boxes in the names of the great–

Joseph Cornell roaming in otherworldly loneliness, collecting his loot at the edge of this scenario…for the children. Lonely in his whole life looking for them.

Lullabies in the night nursery. Lull us. Lull us. Bury the bread. And on the third day the bread will rise.

Vortex suddenly of silence and birds. Against confiscated. That word.

The child stands with arms outstretched trying to catch larkspurs, starlings…dream. Phantom versions–angels of–the might have been. Keepsake. Careful…beware the Counting Man.

(Many years later when the child, another rendition, survives–she recalls strings–winged saving things) Only music.

I am hard at work here making my M box in which the Magician, Olivier Messiaen, and the Madame will make appearances. Mother. It helps a little. I am reconstructing the moon-lit forest, the pond, the swan, the vestiges of a useless late Romanticism, as another century closes. Against confiscate. And fled is.

Children are flying. Against the blue sky of numbers counting backward. The backward counting man. Da take away da equals da. At the absence of da…your father. Where has he gone? Fled is that music.

Wandering into the Moonlit Forest Now Comes

Wandering into the moonlit forest now comes Olivier Messiean, native of Avignon, noted ornithologist and rhythmician. Come to the quiet to listen and to play his music for the–.

Where has everyone gone all of a sudden. Pure innocence, a sound like no other. And the heart. The birds torn from their box.

He hears the sound of blue. He dreams the banishment of temporalities. The sound–hear how it is everywhere–ubiquitous–drawing us into a sense of well, eternity. My beloved birds. Come to me. Unfailing light, immutable peace…in the safety zone. Come to me.

And I will write you a Liturgy of Crystal.

Listen, in the forest. He remembers, “The awakening of the birds between three and four this morning–a thrush or a nightingale soloist improvises–listen oh–amid notes of shining sound and a halo of trees that lose themselves high in the trees.” The children warble with delight against–clarinet solo–the abyss of Time, with its sadnesses and tediums. You are the opposite of Time, the composer says my starlings, my doves, you are the desire for light, for stars, for rainbows and the jubilant outpourings of song. Hearing the ringing of the bells now my beauties. A trilled chord. Triple strobes from the tam tam is the solemn moment of resurrection and the distant melody of stars. You fly up. Your blood begins to toll.

Future

Future

Future is,

tolling as we take our first, uncertain steps

that

old

sweet

song.

How are you feeling Ava Klein?

Languid song of the bird…the passion artists falls to his knees…this sonic heaven..this world without end.

An aviary of such possibility.

Tonal and atonal, both or neither. C-majorness blends with thickets of sound, disconnected from harmonic or metric centers. Hear now the chattering. I am placing a little mass, a revery, why not, in the middle of my box.

The sound really does exist in layers…it goes everywhere and nowhere… disconnected blissfully from harmonic or metric centers. To hear everything at once and then to focus on–

Da asleep, predictably, in the sound garden.

Not another word about the absence of Da Madame scolds. Not another thing said until Da makes his comeback sometime in the next millennium.

Children are flying. From behind the thimble garden he spies them. Travelling every which direction–in the silence. Clutching violets and forget-me-nots. The kitten’s clock.

From behind the pain a last grace note–the solo cello. Sibelius as the century turns at the edge of his faith. The 107 virtuosos of the philharmonic fall silent. Waiting for the Eighth.

A last extravagance. Celebration. We’re drawn against our better judgement to the translucent, transparent bird box, as we celebrate one more time that the grim reaper has passed.

You are a rare bird Ava Klein. Falling and loving were everything once. The glass pavilion is beautiful at this hour n’est-ce-pas?

Yes like your father you loved flowers. Keep this: columbine, delphinium, snow drop, edelweiss, larkspur, rose…

Trillium on the forest floor.

I am making an M Box and in it I am placing…

Music. My father and his cello. At Treblinka the Sibelius became a favorite. My mother sang like–dare I say it–In that all but ended chamber ensemble

–a bird.

She sang like a bird–and the officers applauded.

See the little prodigy now as he wraps his hands in bandages, soaks his hands in a steaming bowl of rose water–Berlin. In that time before–

Father,

through the wire mesh

says rose, remembering–

Remembering what?

Rose.

Bells do ring.

Schnit

Schnit

Schnit

Schnit

zel !

The children call.

At night while they hide–And the landscape passes. Like water, dark.

The children’s choir sings: da da da da da–

 

 

 


Carole Maso is the author of 10 books including the novels The Art Lover, AVA, and Mother & Child; essays, Break Every Rule; poems in prose, Aureole and Beauty is Convulsive as well as a memoir The Room Lit by Roses. Recipient of a 2018 Berlin Prize, she is Professor of Literary Arts at Brown University.