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Featured Poem of the Month

October 1999 Features:


Pale Fire
by Vladimir Nabokov

Canto One

I was the shadow of the waxwing slain
By the false azure in the windowpane;
I was the smudge of ashen fluff -and I
Lived on, flew on, in the reflected sky.
And from the inside, too, I'd duplicate
Myself, my lamp, an apple on a plate:
Uncurtaining the night, I'd let dark glass
Hang all the furniture above the grass,
And how delightful when a fall of snow
Covered my glimpse of lawn and reached up so
As to make chair and bed exactly stand
Upon that snow, out in that crystal land!

Retake the falling snow: each drifting flake
Shapeless and slow, unsteady and opaque,
A dull dark white against the day's pale white
And abstract larches in the neutral light.
And then the gradual and dual blue
As night unites the viewer and the view,
And in the morning, diamonds of frost
Express amazement: Whose spurred feet have crossed
From left to right the blank plage of the road?
Reading from left to right in winter's code:
A dot, an arrow pointing back; repeat:
Dot, arrow pointing back... A pheasant's feet!
Torquated beauty, sublimated grouse,
Finding your China right behind my house.
Was he in Sherlock Holmes, the fellow whose
Tracks pointed bak when he reversed his shoes?

All colors made me happy: even gray.
My eyes were such that literally they
Took photographs. Whenever I'd permit,
Or, with a ilent shiver, order it,
Whatever in my field of vision dwelt-
An indoor scene, hickory leaves, the svelte
Stilettos of a frozen stillicide-
Was printed on my eyelides' nether side
Where it would tarry for an hour or two,
And while this lasted all I had to do
Was close my eyes to reproduce the leaves,
Or indoor scene, or trophies of the eaves.

I cannot understand why from the lake
I could make out our front porch when I'd take
Lake Road to school, whilst now, although no tree
Has intervened, I look but fail to see
Even the roof. Maybe some quirk in space
Has caused a fold or furrow to displace
The fragile vista, the frame house between
Goldsworth and Wordsmith on its square of green.

I had a favorite young shagbark there
With ample dark jade leaves and black, spare,
Vermiculated trunk. The setting sun
Bronzed the black bark, around which, like undone
Garlands, the shadows of the foliage fell.
It is now stout and rough; it has done well.
White butterflies turn lavender as they
Pass through its shade where gently seems to sway
The phantom of my little daughter's swing.

The house itself is much the same. One wing
We've had revamped. There's a solarium. There's
A picture window flanked with fancy chairs.
TV's huge paperclip now shines instead
Of the stiff vane so often visisted
By the naive, the gauzy mockingbird
Retelling all the programs she had heard;
Switching from chippo-chippo to a clear
To-wee, to-wee; then rasping out: come here,
Come here, come herrr'; flirting her tail aloft,
Or gracefully indulging in a soft
Upward hop-flop, and instantly (to-wee!)
Returning to her perch -the new TV.

I was an infant when my parents died.
They both were ornithologists. I've tried
So often to evoke them that today
I have a thousand parents. Sadly they
Dissolve in their own virtues and recede,
But certain words, change words I hear or read,
Such as "bad heart" always to him refer,
And "cancer of the pancreas" to her.

A preterist: one who collects cold nests.
Here was my bedroom, now reseved for guests.
Here, tucked away by teh Canadian maid,
I listened to the buzz downstairs and prayed
For everybody to be always well,
Uncles and aunts, the maid, her niece Adele
Who'd seen the Pope, people in books, and God.

I was brought up by dear bizarre Aunt Maud,
A poet and a painter with a taste
For realistic objects interlaced
With grotesque growths and images of doom.
She lived to hear the next babe cry. Her room
We've kept intact. Its trivia create
A still life in her style: the paperweight
Of convex glass enclosing a lagoon,
The verse book open at the Index (Moon,
Moonrise, Moor, Moral), the forlorn guitar,
The human skull; and from the local Star
A curio: Red Sox beat Yanks 5-4
On Chapman's Homer, thumbtacked to the door.

My God died young. Theolatry I found
Degrading, and its premises, unsound.
No free man needs a God; but was I free?
How fully I felt nature glued to me
And how mu childish palate loved the taste
Half-fish, half-honey, of that golden paste!

My picture book was at an early age
The painted parchment papering our cage:
Mauve rings around the moon; blook-orange sun;
Twinned Iris; and that rare phenomenon
The iridule -when, beautiful and strange,
In a bright sky above a mountain range
One opal cloudlet in an oval form
Reflects the rainbow of a thunderstorm
Which in a distant valley has been staged--
For we are most artistically caged.

And there's the wall of sound: they nightly wall
Riased by a trillion crickets in the fall.
Impenetrable! Halfway up the hill
I'd pause in thrall of their delirious trill.
That's Dr.Sutton's light. That's the Great Bear.
A thousand years ago five minutes were
Equal to forty ounces of fine sand.
Outstare the stars. Infinite foretime and
Infinite aftertime: above your head
They close like giant wings, and you are dead.

The regular vulgarian, I daresay,
Is happier: he sees the Milky Way
Only when making water. Then as now
I walked at my own risk: whipped by the bough,
Tripped by the stump. Asthmatic, lame and fat,
I never bounced a ball or swung a bat.

I was the shadow of the waxwing slain
By feigned and remoteness in the windowpane.
I had a brain, five senses (one unique),
But otherwise I was a cloutish freak.
In sleeping dreams I played with other chaps
But really envied nothing --save perhaps
The miracle of a lemniscate left
Upon wet sand by nonchalantly deft
Bicycle tires.

A thread of subtle pain,
Tugged at by playful death, released again,
By always present, ran through me. One day,
When I'd just turned eleven, as I lay
Prone on the floor and watched a clockwork toy--
A tin wheelbarrow pushed by a tin boy--
Bypass chair legs and stray beneath the bed,
There was a sudden sunburst in my head.

And then black night. That blackness was sublime.
I felt distributed through space and time:
One foot upon a mountaintop, one hand
Under the pebbles of a panting strand,
One ear in Italy, one eye in Spain,
In caves, my blood, and in the stars, my brain.
There were dull throbs in my Triassic; green
Optical spots in Upper Pleistocene,
An icy shiver down my Age of Stone,
And all tomorrows in my funnybone.

During one winter every afternoon
I'd sink into that momentary swoon.
And then it ceased. Its memory grew dim.
My health improved. I even learned to swim.
But like some little lad forced by a wench
With his pure tongue her abject thirst to quench,
I was corrupted, terrified, allured,
And though old doctor Colt pronounced me cured
Of what, he said, were mainly growing pains,
The wonder lingers and the shame remains.

* This poem is not complete. Pale Fire is a 999 line -four cantos- long, in perfect symmetry. I feel like it is my duty to share with the world the beauty and creativity of this masterpiece. I will be adding one canto each month passing...or maybe earlier than that. If you are too anxious to wait for the next cantos to be typed, get a copy of Pale Fire, and you can read it immediately and spare yourself the computer radiation.


You can also read my review on Pale Fire

Read Last Month's Featured Poem

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