Issue II, Volume VI : November 2014
Elizabeth Robinson is the author most recently of The Orphan and its Relations (Fence) and Also Known As (Apogee). Recent poems have appeared in the Iowa Review, Conjunctions, and New American Writing. "The Moonstone" is part of a manuscript, Three Novels, that will be published by Omnidawn in 2011. "Clairvoyance" and "Laudanum" first appeared in Monkey Puzzle Magazine; thanks to Nate Jordan.
It has been said that the detective story has structural elegance because it begins with a murder and unravels neatly backwards to relate the cause of the murder: a solution. But this was not true of the first detective story. That story entailed no murders, only a loss, various losses.
Eventually a death. In truth, more than one death. And a murder after all.
One body fits inside another body, like a turban upon a head. The role of disguise comes here to constitute itself as clairvoyant. Little niggling itch between the one and the other, the costumed fellow is a juggler who juggles his selfhood like so many balls. We expend energy to recognize whom, it may be, is the villain. Or the hero. Why one narrator becomes the butler, telling us to whom we should direct our solicitations. Another is the evangelist, leaving tracts as clues. As though the butler knows who it is he serves. Look this way, he says. Or he omits to mention the travelling performers, their more overt disguise, an opacity on top of the curse.
One wishes the surface were as pleasant to the finger as it is to the eye.
Perhaps one can never touch it.
Perhaps one is touched too much.
She was ugly. She was beautiful. Her appearance was altered.
One shoulder was raised above another and made of her a freak. Or her lovely lips were compressed and drained of color. Always to be called lesser. In a realm in which one's reason is continually partaken of and one's reason is ever mottled with skepticism. Just as the surface is mottled with secrets.
Look how the feminine boot print leads to the shore and not back from it. How the
landscape shimmies with this tide. Alas, the shore is soaked through and through with
what one knows but does not tell, the courtesy of it, as it turns to quicksand–receptive,
that is, to the weight of the visitor, blurring the footprint politely as it harries the rain.
Contemporary history reveals that outside our fiction there was another shirt, and it too stained–but with blood. This narrative's dilution turns blood to paint. Both garments have since disappeared, and so history also gives way to fiction. The laundry books insist that these garments were real, making the record of this record the least of our fictions. In other words, these are the accounts most accurate to the invention.
The theory has changed while the theorist whistles. Even God can repent of his actions, yes? It appears that the thief steals only from the thief, and so much harder to apprehend. The detective would have us pull up the gravel path and instead lay down a lush turf that will compromise all surfaces. Yes, the surface quavers, but only at that periphery, that shore beyond which we are hard pressed to see.
Remark how, granular and precise, the sand is suffused with tidewater. How the quality of the material is altered by its encounter with the liquid we call "sea." One struggles to refrain from aesthetic judgment. What one party calls grotesque, an impropriety of nature, another admires. Where we exercised the restraint called "survival," she relinquished that desire for another.
The boy pours drops of ink on his palm where it spreads as a map, telling them by its traverse where the great jewel has gone. "Regent of the night": moon. The moonstone glowing toward the language of its own retrieval. Others equate the map with the blindfold, attributing its efficacy to the superstition of sex, of race, "what no practical man can believe." Not truth.
Clairvoyance, too, bears some relation to the surface. To see thus: flying as the crow flies. So one is enabled to make mere surface out of indisposition. And arrive. One need not embroider the fabric, nor even sew its panels together, for the eye flies as a veil over the body, never immodest, but simply in true relation to truth.
Each party pauses, moving away from the object of its desire, and so the terrain is clarified.
Each narrator makes tensile the cordage that marks his or her terrain, and from
above, the eye cannot help but note the pretty pattern that stands out in their overlap. It remains nonetheless a barren site.
Clairvoyance would appall the truth by refusing to keep its secrets. The eye flies over the naked body, yes, but sees only skin. Sees the forms of travel, the formula partaken of by those who attempt to escape.
Clairvoyance, then, as a sense of humor, its own map.
the ability to read the skin, its legend of flush and pallor. The true body, the one which, despite all its acumen, cannot get away.
A Danger to One's Self
The first of the fallen is now gone. She is regretted. By many versions she secreted herself, by many avenues was hidden. A missive. A length of chain. A refusal to make known. The soothsayer, our 'genius,’ apparently designated her the villain when the greatest obstacle was her innocence. By which I mean the manner in which she departed the world of firm outline and forced herself into formlessness.
Within three days, all that the soothsayer, that supreme rationalist, had predicted did indeed transpire. One can only rejoin to his self-assurance that this solves nothing, discloses nothing. All the potentially guilty parties depart, all at reverses, one with the other. Which eventuality might just as easily have been predicted as a crease in the map which obscures the vital turn-off from the road.
The idea is to reenact what you did, but cannot recollect that you have done. The purpose is to walk over the very surface of sleep, as Christ walked over the surface of the water.
And all along, riptide and quicksand hissing through the windows.
The physician promises a form of restitution and this he offers by way of smoothing the text that covers the page. He does this with his own speculative interpolations. He offers that he will soon die and so is at liberty to experiment freely.
Soon you will be walking in the dark, buoyant upon it.
Soon you will relinquish the habits that consoled you. No matter that they filled your lungs, but the breath, too, is just a taste of the façade that fronts the atmosphere.
The physician offers you a means of relinquishing the guilt that has been your enduring companion. To do so, you must once again smudge the white fabric of your shift, disrupt the paint that would have covered the threshold.
Who is it that levitates over the tide as the savior is reported to have done, who dwindles in consciousness, as though slumber’s helium could loft the perpetrator over pain?
The recumbent body is our model for blame. The waking mind uses this plane as a promenade. The dreamer asks the dream for its counsel and is misled. Fault sleepwalks. Oh phantom. Oh witness, how you multiply. The sleepers unite in their helplessness before what they know. The soft, mathematical breath of nocturne. The fresh paint on the doorsill clings to the nightclothes of this apparition. Blame's synonym would be guilt, oblivious of itself, yet tinting the garment. Supine as the hour, guilt flattened in the insomniac's eye.
Think of the self as a locket in which one must carry something foul: a secret innocence. One outcast strolls with another along the country road where they share confidences. A third, the party whose memory has been ruined his own illness, imparts vindication in fragments and from a distance. This is experimental theory: piecemeal, made of an unconvincing rationality. The culprits are not really culprits. Yet in the eyes of the world, vindication bears little relation to mercy.
The gem is the unfaithful consort. Even when its theft is replicated, the jewel itself is not in attendance. Such surface or depth, by refracting light, implants a curse on that eye that uses it as lens. Any object that promises such transparency must eventually be abducted because of its role as actor: purely baroque. Any seeming clarity betrays the ornamentation of the body that would clasp it, wear it on its bosom.
One wishes for the opiate bequeathed by virtue, but even minor players in the story admit that scandal has a way of dogging, of clinging to one's clothing like stale smoke. Against that faint stink, one struggles to no effect. We like our propriety. One can "set one's affairs in order," but this too is a sedative, not an activity but a means of avoidance. Rather the active duplicity: the physician who sneaks narcotic drops into the drinking glass so that the protagonist, whomever he or she may be, believes they sleep naturally.
Our decorum is happiness deferred. Our coastline is unsteady. Decorum is of the
beloved, in transit around the beloved. Stealthier, this, than actual pursuit.
Our witness must profess us, then die. Our adjudicator shall remove himself to exile, our
servant recuse himself.
Our camouflage, our jewel, is lost to us forever. So we end. This is our troth.
As the somnambulant gropes toward the site of loss, his beloved looks on in polite and