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Dan Speers

Citizen Poet
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By Dan Speers


It was a melody that I had never heard before, a love song that appeared in my mind, darting in and out with soft, fluttering butterfly notes from a voice so clear and pure that had I been compelled, I could not have described as either male or female, only as angelic.


Someone was singing outside in the garden.


I glanced at Ryan, hunched over his desk in studied combat with the composition I had assigned earlier, no doubt inventing grammatical constructions that would further torture what little relationship he had to his native tongue, and casually moved toward the second floor window where I could look down into the carefully manicured gardens that draped the neck of the mansion.


The vocal had transformed itself into an instrumental—the melody subsumed within the plaintive almost melancholy pleadings of a violin. My eyes trolled the patio filled with flowering expressions of the season and ironwork furniture scrolled in the fashion of a hundred years ago, and seeing no one there, I scanned the sunken gardens with the gazebo and gazing ball and then looked even further from the stand of Italian elms all the way to the entrance of the English garden.


 I had no idea what I expected to see, a singer or musician, a man or a woman, or perhaps, given a voice of such rich bell-like resonance, even a boy, but there was no one there. Gone, too, was the rhapsody of but moments before, the haunting perfection of voice and violin fading into uncertain memory as now in the still quiet wait of silence, the garden reclaimed its isolation and surged backwards to fill what may have been only an imagined void.


I turned to my pupil who was busily chewing his pencil in distress. In what was probably less than fifteen minutes, Ryan has so thoroughly crunched the wood between the tip and the eraser that what had once been a pristine writing instrument now resembled nothing so much as a rawhide bone attacked by a pack of ravenous Whippets. “Do you understand everything, Ryan? Any problems?”


Ryan ejected the pencil from his mouth with his tongue and stared at me, obviously relieved for even the temporary suspension from the rigors of thought.  I caught myself cringing inwardly. There is always something sad about a twelve-year-old boy staring at you through eyes that turned fourteen without him, even though these young men are the same lads who grow up to become presidents and prime ministers and the captains of industry.


“I hate adverbs,” he announced.


“Ah, then you have promise,” I smiled. “You have something in common with Mark Twain.”


“He wrote Huckleberry Finn. I read that book a long time ago.”


I refrained from pointing out that Ryan had not even been alive a long time and nodded in approval. “Say, did you happen to hear someone singing outside in the garden a few minutes ago?”


In a classic delayed reaction, Ryan cocked his head to one side and listened intently. “No, I don’t think so.”


“Hmm. I thought I heard singing. And a violin.”


Ryan resumed listening for a moment and proudly announced that he still didn’t hear anything.


“Thank you,” I muttered but something in my expression must have caught his eye and whether out of sympathy or in hope of gaining a few more seconds of reprieve from his studies, he was suddenly alert.


“You know. It might have been Josie.”




“Oh, yes. Josie loves to sing and play the violin. Plays the piano, too, and the harp—lot’s of instruments like that.”


“Yes, that must be it then—the singing, the violin. Josie. And who is this Josie exactly?”


“—Ryan. How’s it going, buddy.” Ryan’s father stood six-foot-four, weighed 280 pounds and didn’t so much as enter a room as explode into it. “And Mr. Collier. I see you two are getting on well; up to your neck in Cicero, I presume. How’s my boy doing? Be ready for the academy in the fall?”


“Yes, Mr. Langston. Ryan is a fine student and he is certainly everything that Phillips is looking for, although we haven’t quite got to Roman orators as yet.”


“Oh, well, never mind that. The only one I ever cared for was Julius Caesar. His military campaigns. Gallia trecea partis est. All Gaul is divided into three parts. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that.”


“I’m sure I won’t,” I said cautiously. The man may not know his Latin but high-powered financiers have an intuitive grasp of sarcasm. It was a sixth sense. “De Bello Gallico, Book I, Ch. 1,” I added approvingly.


“I read that a long time ago,” he affirmed proudly. Like father, like son, I thought. “I hate to interrupt you guys when you’ve got so much to do but I just inherited two tickets to this afternoon’s SOX game at Fenway and I thought it would a great opportunity for a little father-son outing. Whacha think about Ryan here? Has he caught up enough that we can play a little hooky?”


It wasn’t a real question, of course. One doesn’t contradict his employer in matters involving sons and SOX. “Oh, absolutely. It sounds like you two are going to have a great time.” Thinking back, I should have asked about the opposing team but then, I would have been stuck for a follow-up line. It was always the follow-ups that revealed one’s ignorance—good team, bad team, ancient rivalry, a bunch of bums, favorite player, devils in jock straps. Only a true fan could keep up with the vagaries of the game.


“In the meantime, feel free to use the library, do your research. By the way, how is your doctorate thesis coming?”


I always feel awkward when I’m asked that question. Although I have completed all of the requirements for a PhD in Classical Civilization except for the completion and defense of the dissertation, it has been a little over a year and I still hadn’t written a single word.


I was certain my thesis comparing the gods and goddesses of Homer’s epic poetry with their singularly mortal imperfections and the more vague if not altogether ephemeral humanity of the gods and goddesses in Sappho’s Hymn to Aphrodite as well other fragments of surviving poetry had more to do with the frustrations of physical love than the uncertain and capricious nature of divine intervention, but I had yet to find the perfect narrative, the one definitive passage from each source that crystallized the conceit and made concept obvious.


Which was one of the reasons I had taken this position. Hugh Langston father, Radcliffe Langston was Professor of Greek and Roman Studies at Yale and had left his exhaustive library of classical literature to his son, an invaluable treasure trove of scholarly information. So when my thesis sponsor, Dr. Janine Morning called to tell me that Langston was looking for a private tutor for his son and that the arrangement would include full access to the private library, I had jumped at the chance. Not that my innumerable résumés to high schools and community colleges had produced any definitive results.


Truth was, I had yet to be called for a single interview for even so much an introductory course in high school Latin. It was as if there a total vacuum in America when it came to classical education. “I am still searching for the Holy Grail,” I responded frankly. “Everything I read tells me that there has to be a summation, some piece of writing that substantiates the underlying beliefs held by the classical authors.”

“Well, good luck with that,” Langston grunted. “You expect to find what you’re looking for in one of my father’s tombs?”


“I can think of no better source in the country,” I admitted, and it was, of course, true. Aside from what stray manuscripts remained hidden in actual tombs, many of the tomes in this library existed nowhere else in the world.


“Morning tells me that if you find what you’re looking for, it could make this library one of the most valuable in the country.”


I felt my skink flush. Putting a dollar sign on classical literature struck me as incredibly crude. “I think she might have meant famous,” I said as quietly as I could manage.


An enormous hand landed on my shoulder. “Same thing. Fame is just another way of accessing value, another kind of dollar sign. I plan to donate all this to Yale someday and I expect that the value of the gift will be commensurate with its historical and cultural importance.”


“I’m sure it will be.”


“Good attitude, good attitude. Get yourself together, Ryan. We gotta get humping. Collier, you’ve got the run of the place. Knock yourself out. By the way, I told Porter to prepare your lunch and bring it up in a bit. Ryan and I are gonna get the Fenway dogs. Have a good weekend, Collier. We’ll see ya come Monday.”


And then they were gone. Sucked into a vortex beyond my ken. Thank God. Or, gods. I took my laptop from its case and turned it on, waiting for the operating system to load and bring up the file that contained my notes. So far, my research had consisted most of cataloguing and rating the books and manuscripts in the library. Dr. Langston has never really embraced technology and his personal catalog consisted mostly of assorted handwritten index cards in an equally decrepit assortment of card boxes, most of which were falling apart and smelled suspiciously of apple brandy and Captain Spice pipe tobacco.


I have to admit that I actually enjoy cataloging. Part of it is the discovery of each new work, identifying it, trying to determine where best it might fit in the hierarchy of the genre, but the real thrill for me is to hold the manuscript or document in my hand, to feel it come to life as I part it folds and pages and gaze into its innermost secrets, knowing that I am privy to another world in another time, a world long since passed but still there, waiting to share its most complex intimacies. I try to imagine the writer, what he or she must have thought, must have wanted to share with me.


An hour passed and I felt a slight twinge in my back. Reader’s cramp, my mother called it. “You’re going to ruin your back, all hunched over and reading like that,” she would say.


I put aside the volume I was perusing and walked across the room to the windows. The day had turned much brighter, the sky a wistful blue only lightly painted by thin shreds of gossamer clouds. The sun, though hidden behind the towers of the house, flooded the gardens with brilliant white light, while below, in the patio, a figure appeared.


I don’t why but I unconsciously jerked back from the window. I didn’t feel as if I were spying yet I had the feeling that I was somehow intruding. I took a deep breath and leaned forward to see more directly. The figure, dressed in what appeared to be white pajamas, glided gracefully across the patio to a grassy knoll between the gazebo and the decorative waterfall that sparkled into a perpetually bubbling pond.


The figured paused for a moment, gazing out at the horizon and then turned slowly, apparently surveying the surroundings, and then returning to the original position, began a series of rhythmic, measured moves of hands and arms that reminded me of yoga or a karate dance. Yes, that had to be it. The figure was wearing a karetegi, a lightweight karate training uniform that allowed for structured body movements.


I knew it was an idle thing I was, staring a lone figure doing exercises on the lawn. Whether or not this was the Josie that Ryan mentioned, I had no way of knowing. At this distance, I could not even speculate as to whether the object of my fascination was a male or a female, young or old.


But there was a telescope in the library. I recalled noticing it on my first visit, thinking how typical a set piece it was in the home library of a very wealthy man. And it was still there, by the last window in the row, and damn, it was old. I touched the scope and while free of dust, it wobbled in a brass transit mount in serious want of polish. I rotated the large end toward the window and discovered that elevation bolt had seized up.


The only way to use the damn thing was to remove the end covers, get down on one knee and actually peer through it to see if the lens were reasonably clear and in alignment. So I did. It was like peering into a tunnel accented by an outside circular ring of black. Frustrated, I picked up the entire assemblage and leveraged the business end into the garden. Blur. The focuser on this particular model was a knurled knob control and turning it was like grinding corn, but after trying first one direction and then the other, the hint of an image began to appear and then I made out a hand, fingers pointing toward the sky.


Cradling the telescope like a baby carriage with an eyepiece, I rotated my shoulder and twisted my waist, following the hand to the arm, the arm to the shoulder, and then straightening slightly, I saw a tossing mound of dark hair that swirled down and around a face of delicate features, lips that parted over alabaster teeth, a nose that twitched with perky breaths, and eyes as wide and round and perfect as the twin circles of Archimedes.


I was stunned. Either I was gazing at the most exquisitly beautiful woman I had ever seen or the most elegant classically handsome male in the world. I needed to see more, to get closer, but I heard the sound and felt the pain at the same time. Something cracked and the telescoped shifted in my arms, pinching my wrist and gouging my solar plexus.


I carefully lowered the instrument to the floor and stretched to untangle my own bones and muscles. Fortunately the crack came not from my back but from the metal support bar on the transit. I pushed all of the various back into place and was just screwing the end caps back into place when I heard the crack of a floor board outside the room. I hustled back to my desk and picked up a random book as someone knocked on the door. It was the butler, Porter, with a lunch tray.


“Ah. Just in time,” I said.


“I’ll set it here,” Porter said, omitting the “sir” he usually added when serving Collier and Ryan their lunch together. “Today, we have crab salad with avocado and salad tomatoes on toast points, tomato bisque with fresh basil, and cranberry iced tea.”


“Thank you, Porter,” I said, trying desperately to control my breathing. “Very impressive.”


“Will there be anything else?”


“No, no. I think everything is fine. Thank you.”


Porter straightened, looked around the room as to certify that all was indeed shipshape and then turned and left. I followed his exit and then did my own inspection, my eyes coming to rest on the telescope. One leg was canted strangely toward the back wall and the barrel of the scope was pointing straight up and down. It only took a few minutes to make adjustments, but I wondered how Porter had missed the obvious, or if he hadn’t, why did he ignore it?


I returned to the table, picked up one of the sandwiches and walked back to the window. My mysterious stranger was no longer there. Oh, well, I thought. It wouldn’t do to be so continuously distracted. I finished the sandwiches and in the absence of witnesses, picked up the soup bowl, drank the contents directly and then to cover my tracks, swirled the soup spoon around in the dregs.


I spent the next half an hour trying to get back into the mood for work, but there was no way I could concentrate. I kept thinking about the face, a face as elegant as a cameo. Josie? But then, who was Josie? I packed up my books and laptop and headed downstairs. No one was about so I strolled to the French doors that led out to the rear patio and peered outside. It seemed so quiet and serene. I tried the door. It was unlocked so I opened it, walked out and looked around.


The covered area close to the house was furnished in outdoor fabrics and natural wood, but further out, in the area more likely to be exposed to the elements, the Romanesque furnishings were wrought iron and marble. A small, waist-high wall ran around the outer periphery with potted plant inserts every few feet. At the end was a small concrete table with an inlaid tile surface. Except for the conspicuous absence of the Bay of Napoli, I could have been in any seaside villa in Sorrento.


Thoroughly impressed, I returned to the house was about to close the door behind me when Porter appeared with the odd combination of a bored but curious expression on his face. “Oh, hi, Porter,” I said in my best Cary Grant imitation. “It was such a beautiful day I thought I might take a moment to enjoy the patio and the gardens before returning home. I must say I am really quite impressed.”


“It is impressive,” Porter acknowledged. “I often take a few moments out there myself. Did you know you can also get to your vehicle by going out this way?”


“No, I had no idea. I thought I had to go out the delivery entrance and across the drive.”


“Much nicer this way. As you go out, bear right and you’ll see the diagonal walkway that leads to the portico. Follow that on around the outside of the home and it will bring you to the main garage. The parking area is on the other side. It’s a bit of a walk, but it’s much nicer outside this time of year.”


“Thank you,” I said. “Yes, I think I will.” I retrieved by briefcase from where I had left in on the floor next to the door. “Bear right, you said.”


“Yes. Follow the portico.”


“I will,” I said, popping back out. I have no idea why I felt like a cat burglar who had just copped the family jewels, but I did.


I walked back out onto the patio and followed the wall to the small concrete table. The diagonal pathway was a few feet further on and I had started in that direction when I saw a small blue notebook laying on the tiled surface of the table. Funny, I thought. I was just out here a few minutes ago and I couldn't remember seeing the notebook then.


I looked around. Of course, there was no one there. I walked over to the table and picked up the notebook. Of this, I was certain. It had not been there moments earlier. I opened the notebook. Page after page of poems. Alkl written by hand. All written in precise, uniform letters. I turned back to the inside front cover.


There were two things written on that first page.


A single word, “Hi.”


A single signature, “Josie.”



Part II



I lay in bed, the notebook cradled on my chest. I hadn’t gotten very far. I read the first poem, then the second. Then the first again. The second again. I hadn’t dated in a very long time and I hadn’t been with anyone for almost as long. I found myself shivering, the longing in my body swelling my passion, the unquenchable need for emotional embrace overwhelming every fiber of my being.


I tried putting the book aside, setting it on a distant shelf, hiding it in a drawer, even tossing it behind shoe rack in my closet, but nothing worked. It was like a nightmare from Harry Potter, the damn thing kept coming back, reappearing in my eager hands as I read and reread those trembling words brought to life by own agony, my own needs.


I awakened, my neck and throat drenched in sweat, the room locked in morning darkness with only the glow of the cheap alarm displaying 3:33 a.m. I turned on the reading lamp and found the blue notebook. It wasn’t the words of the first poem that I recognized, those were Josie’s words, but the sentiment. I had seen that sentiment before, in the words of Sappho. I think I understood. I think I knew. I pulled the bedside writing pad from the nightstand and quickly noted my response. I now knew what I would write back to Josie.


I turned off the light, awake now, lying there in dark, thinking. It was the person, I thought. The person, not the gender. Josie had written words I could only dream of writing, words that penetrated the soul of my being, opening my heart to the inner me I was afraid to face on my own, the inner me that we could discover together. I found a tissue beneath my pillow and within a few minutes, I was denying the Deleware witch who was not a witch another victory.



Part III


    I was scared. Nervous. I climbed out of my car, collected my notebook case and my books and tried not to look at the outdoor camera mounted on the upper corner of the garage. I knew I had to look casual, as if my new arrival procedure was a perfectly naturally evolution of the small change I had made Friday in making my exit through the garden patio and along the portico. I strode purposely toward the corner and the walkway that led to the rear of the house.


One of the first things you learn when working for the Langston’s is that they value their privacy. Even before I had my first personal interview, I had been asked not only to complete a questionnaire about my educational background and qualifications, but also to complete a form giving permission for a personal background and a police check. On my first visit, I had been met at the outside gate by uniformed man who inserted a special tag under my windshield wiper and directed me to the parking area. Another man had met me in the parking area and escorted me into the home, and yet another man, Parker as it turned out, had met me at the door and led me to the library.


It was only after I got the job that I was given a sticker with a Radio Frequency Identifier Chip that allowed me to simply drive into the estate and park. The car sticker didn’t bother me half as much as the card I was given to put into my wallet. Somewhere in this house, there were scanners that could find me anywhere in the house. Or so I was led to believe.


I patted the side pocket of my coat as I rounded the corner and followed the walkway toward the garden. The notebook was still in my pocket—not that I expected otherwise. Mostly, I was trying to reassure myself, to continue with the plan that I had worked out the day before. I had known this moment would come but now that it was Monday and I had a regularly scheduled class with Ryan, but what I was planning could cost my job. Still, it was something I had to do.


Sunday and Wednesday are my days off from tutoring young Ryan. Sunday was self explanatory and Wednesday was the Langston’s “family” day. On several occasions, I overheard Charles Langston decline a meeting or reschedule an appointment to protect his midweek sanctuary. Once, I heard him angrily instruct Ryan to cancel a Wednesday afternoon soccer practice even though it was Ryan’s favorite sport and one he hoped would lead to a scholarship.


The Sunday after discovering and bringing home the notebook had found me with laundry to do and email to catch up on and a totally lapsed Facebook account that need massaging, and all I could think of was that damn blue notebook and how much I couldn’t possibly wait another day to return to the estate perhaps to steal another glimpse of the apparition, perhaps to leave a note, or even—no, I dared not hope—to meet. The problem was, how could anything like this ever happen?


So that morning I struggled from bed, poured myself a cup of Columbian and opened the notebook. I turned over the first page with the personal greeting, “Hi. Josie.” The next two pages contained the two poems that I had read over and over again the night before. The remaining pages were blank, although I had flipped through them to make sure.

So it was two pages of poetry. That was the issue. My first thought about the poetry was that my unknown author was expressing the innermost secrets of hear transformed or, at least, enthralled by rapture, but the words were far more sophisticated.


I had to read the poems several times before I realized that the words were more than the simple stanzas of poem. The meter, the phrasing, the analogies, these poems clearly contained a message, a coded message to be sure, but a message nonetheless. If I was right, then who wrote the messages and why? I read the first poem, The Garden, again.


In my garden, my garden of dreams


Where the still wind stirs

Softly the blooms unfold,


And from a heart that flutters, all aquiver

Upon sensuous eyes the dreams stream

A lover’s river.


Talk about obscure. What were the chances that someone you’ve never met would write a poem that only a handful of scholars would know were a mirror of a poem written almost 3,000 years earlier? And the poet was a poetess and her name was Sappho. Not just the Sappho of literature, but the Sappho of history, the history of love, the Sappho of an ancient tradition of love between lovers.


I didn’t have the reference on my laptop but after logging into the server at the university, I was able to find the fragment I was searching for, the poem that Sappho wrote sometime around 580 BC.


I’ve a garden, a garden of dreams


Where the cool breeze whispering sways

Softly the apple-sprays,


And from the leaves that shimmer and quiver

Down on my eyelids streams

A slumber river.


I thought I knew what the poetry meant, but I dared not write my thoughts. My mental vision went to Georgia O’Keefe, the sensuous flowers, the blooms unfolding, the apple-sprays, the explosion of sensuous, sexual discovery. These were poems of erotica, almost but not quite hetaira, almost but not quite sexual exotica. Beneath the first poem, I carefully wrote the second, drew a line and wrote, “--Saphho.”


I was on the patio now, by the table where I had first found the blue notebook. All right, I thought. This is the moment of commitment. Either you do this thing or you don’t. I looked around, into the corners, into the eaves. I saw no cameras here, but who knew. I slipped the blue notebook from my pocket and placed in on the table exactly where I had found it on Saturday. I turned and walked to the patio door. I had crossed the Rubicon.


And then I stopped. Had I not thought this through? Here I was on the rear patio about to try to open a sliding glass door. What the hell kind of alarm was I going to set off? In my naivety, I had expected an entry system similar to the one at the delivery entrance where I simply waved my card at the sensor and the door would automatically unlock but I saw no such sensor on this door. Still, I thought. Simply because I couldn’t see it didn’t mean it wasn’t there. I took the card from my wallet and waved it up and down next to the latch. Within seconds, I heard the click, grasped the latch and slid the door open.



My pupil wasn’t in the library when I entered, but then, I didn’t expect him to be. I glanced at my watch. Ryan always arrived a couple of minutes late, but at least he arrived. I set up my laptop, spread my books and strolled over to the windows. The morning was already glistening in the bright sun, but there was no one out and about, not even gardeners.


“Hey, Mr. Collier,” Ryan burst into the room in a miniature imitation of his father.


“Good morning, Ryan,” I smiled. “You’re looking hale and hearty this Monday. How was the game Saturday?”


“We won,” Ryan bragged. “We were down in the fifth, but we came back in the seventh. You should’ve been there. Two outs, two on base, and wham, Ortiz belts a faraway homer like he’s half-Godzilla or something and we top out 7-5.”  


“Sounds like you and your father had a great time,” I said.


Ryan nodded. “It’s easy with Dad. He says he’s really a kid at heart.”


“It’s how we stay young,” I pronounced. This is as good a time as any, I thought. “You know, after you guys left I was able to get quite a bit of research done. Oh, and I think I saw your friend, Josie, again. In the garden, exercising or dancing, not sure which, some sort of Karate thing.”


“Exercising,” Ryan said. His response was a bit disappointing. I was hoping for a broader opening.


“Oh, OK. Speaking of exercises, I think we’ll pick up today where we left off Saturday,” I announced as Ryan hid an eye roll and stifled a groan. “You’ll need your grammar book and the assignment sheet. We were working on adverbs.” I waited a moment as Ryan slipped into his chair and started fishing his books and papers from his desk.


I glanced into the garden again. Still empty. “Exercising,” I repeated. “Have you ever heard the term, Karate dance?”


“I don’t think so,” Ryan answered, fishing a new, unsuspecting pencil from his drawer. “Sounds funny, karate dance.”


“Not at all. There is quite a tradition behind the link between martial arts and the intricacies of dance. You can see all sorts of examples on YouTube. In fact, if you Google ‘kungfudancing,’ you will find examples of some of the finest dances in the world.”


“Huh, I had no idea. Can we check it out now?”


“Maybe later. I only mentioned it because you said that was what Josie was doing. Exercising. By the way, is Josie a member of the family? I don’t believe I’ve had the pleasure.”


There it was. I had laid it on the table. Who was this person? Ryan was sorting through his assignements and for a moment, I thought he wasn’t going to answer. Then he frowned. “Yes,” he said. Yes, what? A member of the family? Probably. Why the hell couldn’t this kid speak in full sentences? Yes, he is a member of the family. Yes, she is a member of the family. Would it kill him to use a pronoun?


Darn it. I blew it. The moment had passed. Now, it would look weird for me to continue to press the issue. Obsessive even. I’d have to wait until later. At least I had learned that Josie was a member of the family. Could Ryan have an older brother or sister? Maybe there was another way of solving the mystery. If Josie were an older brother, then why did Charles Langston single out Ryan for a father-son bonding trip on Saturday? That meant that Josie might be an older sister. Yes, that had to be it. No, it didn’t. Maybe Josie was an older brother who hated baseball. Maybe Ryan had no siblings and Josie was an aunt. Or an uncle. Maybe.


I went over the assignment again with Ryan and got him back to speed identifying and selecting adverbs from a written passage. Fifteen minutes of this and we should turn our attention to math. I had made copies of the two poems in the blue notebook, along with what I had written in response. I had gone back and forth over my responses, wondering if perhaps I had misinterpreted or was going too far. What if the poems were simply taken at face value, just expressions?


Assuming it was Josie who had written the words, Where the still wind stirs / Softly the blooms unfold, did the author intend it as a reference to the intimate feminine within a garden of sensual delights. That meant that the author had to know the true meaning of Where the cool breeze whispering sways / Softly the apple-sprays, a meaning that went beyond the illusion of leisure within a secret garden of desires.


Alright, I said to myself, I know this is an erotic poem, how? My eyes fell on the second page, the second poem. And even if erotic, was it an invitation or merely an expression. That was the puzzle of the second poem, a puzzle only solved by directly comparing this poem with the words written by Sappho in the sixth century BCE:


My secret communicator wrote . . .


…If I meet

you by chance, I’ll falter


still—my breath caught

in cold fear burning within

my chest, feelings unknown,


hearing only my own heart

beating, damp with longing,

tremulous my body


as wan and white as

ivory. A new me where

love cannot be far beyond.


Sappho wrote . . .


…If I meet

you suddenly, I can’t


speak—my tongue is broken

a thin flame runs under

my skin, seeing nothing,


hearing only my own ears

drumming, I drip with sweat;

trembling shakes my body


and I turn paler than

dry grass. At such times

death isn’t that far from me.




The key was in the choice of words. The version in the notebook was one of anticipation, as prelude to feelings yet to be encountered. The original embraced the thrill of a sudden meeting, perhaps of lovers who have never met. The one in the notebook spoke of the breath burning within the breast, the sound of one’s o9wn racing heart, and the longing that culminate within a new me where love cannot be far beyond.


Porter appeared at noon with the usual luncheon tray, today’s offering consisting of slides, one of Ryan’s favorites and French fries. Ryan saw that I had one of the older library books open and asked what I was reading. Poetry, I said. A charming answer that always manages to diffuse even adolescent curiosity.


Because I had to work more closely with Ryan on his math during the afternoon session, I didn’t get but a couple of opportunities to peek from the windows into the garden, neither of which were rewarding. Two o’clock seemed to take forever and for the first time, I think both the boy and I were anticipating the hour of freedom. Ryan wasted no time fleeing the library and though I lingered for a short while, I was soon packing up and heading downstairs. I met Porter on the landing and thanked him for excellent lunch and he nodded. I mumbled something about going out the back way again and he nodded again.


Within moments, I was there, on the patio and retracing my steps along the small wall the concrete table. There was nothing there. I quickly looked around and underneath the table, even checking out the space under the circular concrete benches. This was not what I had expected. The notebook I had left there earlier had been removed, much as I had anticipated, but then, I had had this fantasy that it would have been returned, returned with new poems, or at least a response to what I had written back. If anyone could see me now, I thought, I must look pretty foolish. I looked around. I didn’t see any cameras, but one could never tell. I put my books and briefcase on the table, planted my right foot on the bench and pretended to be tying my shoe, all the while taking one last opportunity to look around, to make sure I had not missed anything the first half dozen times I had looked.


I returned to my car, warm now in the afternoon sun, tossed my stuff inside and headed out the drive, side windows down until the AC kicked in. I wondered if I had made a mistake. The first words in the book were, “Hi, Josie.” There was no name, certainly not mine. What if the notebook was intended for someone else and I had merely appropriated under a mistaken assumption. I mean, how would anyone have known that I might have chosen that route for my Saturday departure? I had never done that before.


The automatic gates were closing behind my car when I suddenly realized that the simple words, “Hi, Josie” may not have a greeting from Josie at all, but a note to Josie from someone else. Oh, no, I thought. That made some sense. If another person were sending these poems to Josie, then the first page was simply a salutation. And I had ruined it by intruding on the scene my own insufferable arrogance.


I tossed and turned again that night. The truth was probably less than complex. I had all weekend to compose my response to the poems, but I had returned the notebook only that morning. No one could respond in such a short period of time. That was it. I simply had to be patient. Go to the tutoring class again tomorrow and check on the way out. That was it. I had to be patient.



Part IV

I think about sex a lot, both personally and professionally. The personal is probably self-explanatory, at least according to what I have read about how often men think about sex, which is pretty much all the time as opposed to women who average only once a day, although I suspect that women think about sexual attraction far more often.


While I can handle the personal myself, which is a bit of a joke since I’m not currently dating anyone and I haven’t had much of a social life since entering my doctorate program, it is the professional that is beginning to make me worry. I wonder if I am turning my professional interest in interpreting sexual innuendo and the secret sensuous meanings hidden within the words of ancient poetry and poetic fragments into an obsession. Not that I believe that all classical writing embodies an obvious sexual aspect, but obviously, if one looks deeply enough into the poetic rather than the historical, one can always come up with some sort of sexual interpretation.


I suspect that a lot of what passes for ancient poetry is really ancient pornography. Which would explain my interpretation of the poems in the blue notebook, a notebook that wasn’t on the table Tuesday, nor Thursday nor Friday, and, while I did briefly hold out hope for the anniversary day of the week of discovery, not on Saturday either.


What was the name of that professor?—little guy with owl-rimmed glasses perched on his knows—taught an undergraduate course in classical literature. Oh, yeah. Dr. Jones. No wonder I couldn’t remember his name. Dr. Jones. He prattled on in class about the poetic beauty of the ancient Greek poets but he claimed that the only way to transcend the transient was to read the original works in the original Greek. Saving that, apparently all one could divine from the translations was an extentensive rendition of sexual shenanigans running rampant. That and an inordinate amount of lust and jealousy, without which, there apparently would not be any ancient literature.


I found myself puttering around on Sunday, not really wanting to do anything and having no real plans. Had I not been so fixated on that wretched notebook, I probably would have tried to get together with Jerry, my roommate in college, the first year in the dorm and the next four in a small apartment we rented just off campus. Jeff had landed a job in a New York City high school, which was perfect since Jeff loved the theatre and spent most of his spare time writing one-act plays. He wanted to be a playwright but lacked the will or ambition or maybe just sufficient weed to write anything longer.


Jeff had a small studio on the third floor of a brownstone. It was about the size of a walk-in closet but at least it was a place to crash and he and I always had a great time hitting the delis the and off-Broadway shows. Just for kicks, I gave Jerry a call that afternoon but it went to the answering machine. Probably a Sunday matinee. I left a lame message about calling to say hi and we’d have to get together again soon.


 One of the Bourne movies was on television. I never could keep them straight. This was the second one I think, the one where the female spy faxes the incriminating docs straight to God and He nails the evil doers to the front door of the CIA.


Late in the day I got the nibbles but I wasn’t hungry enough to mess up the kitchen so I called in a pizza with hamburger and sausage and bacon—peppers and mushrooms for the veggies—with a side of buffalo wings, and sure enough, the doorbell and the phone rang at the same time. I found myself trying to pull on my pants, juggle the phone and open the front door all at the same time. Wound up giving the pizza guy the whole fifteen bucks, two dollars more of a tip than I would have given him normally, but it was my sister on the phone calling from the Newark airport. She was waiting to catch a plane to Chicago for a still yet another conference on the diminishing supply of potable water throughout the world which apparently was coming to a head in 2048.


“So, are you dating anyone?” she asked.


“Just my job and my thesis,” I said, cracking the pizza box to absorb the smell of an instant heart attack. “That’s about all I have time for these days. How’s mom?”


“The same. They’re taking good care of her there at Montvale and she seems happy enough. I was over last weekend and for a few minutes, I thought she recognized me, but then, it’s hard to tell with her these days. You know, Glen, you really should be getting out more, meeting people, a nice girl.”


“Why does she have to be nice?” I asked innocently.


“Hey, you know what I mean. Listen, hon, Donnie and I were thinking. Why don’t you come down over the Fourth of July Weekend. Take the train into the city and we’ll meet you there, bring you back, we’ll have a great time. We’re having some people over from the university that Sunday and I’m sure you’ll love them. Very bright people.”


“Sounds like fun,” I grimaced. Of course, I didn’t have any plans anyway and it would give a chance to visit the family and get over to see mom. “Tell you what, Sarah, put me down for a definite I’ll be there.”


“Oh, that’s fantastic. Absolutely fantastic. Oh, there’s this one person I want you to meet, Becky Wiseman, teaches English literature, she’s translating something—I forget what—into something else, she got some sort of a grant. Anyway, I know the two of you will hit it off right away, especially since you have the same interests and all.”


“Sounds like we have a lot in common,” I sighed with mock enthusiasm. Sure, assuming we were members of the same species, Becky and I probably share a proclivity for two ears, two eyes, two arms, two legs and two butts, one each. “I’ll waste no time in getting to know her.”


“You are such a dear,” Sarah gushed. “Oops. They’re calling my plane. Gotta run. I’ll call you when I get back. Oh, and don’t worry about the ticket. Donnie said it’s our treat. Talk to you later.”


“Oh, wow. Thanks. That’s great. Have a nice trip. Bye. Thanks again.”


“It’s nothing. Love ya. Bye.”


“Love you, too. Bye.” And she was gone. Another setup, I thought. Sarah was always trying to find my perfect mate. Even back in high school, when she was a year ahead of me, she was always linking me up with one of her girlfriend’s little sisters. I tried a buffalo wing, barely warm, so I extracted the foil wrapper and put the box in the microwave for a minute. Most of the girls Sarah selected for me were nice but there was always an awkward feeling on my part, the feeling that I had to validate the judgment by approving the candidate.


And, anyway, I had no idea what my perfect life mate would be like. Right now I found myself attracted to a woman that I saw every Wednesday at the library. She worked on the reference desk. I like the way she listened to my requests and always seemed to know exactly what to access on her terminal to find exactly what I was looking for. The microwave dinged and I tried another wing. Perfect, I thought.


I was up early both Monday and Tuesday, but having little expectation of finding anything I barely glanced around the patio as I passed through and by Tuesday afternoon, I had practically forgotten about the blue notebook altogether. Ryan was finally showing signs of finishing a geometry quiz I was using to gauge his retention and I was standing near the windows gazing idly into the garden when I saw a horse and rider in the distance. It was too far to make out the identity of the rider or observe the course, but of a sudden, the horse was rising into the air fore- and hind legs extended in a graceful arc, the rider low and leaning forward across the mane, the equestrian pair descending after clearing some unseen obstacle and then, abruptly, they were gone and the silence that had been there all along was once again alone.


When I turned back to the room, Ryan was staring at me. I wondered how long he had been finished with his test, how long he had been watching me. “Interesting garden today,” I said. “I caught a glimpse of a horse and rider.”


“There’s a riding path behind the gardens,” Ryan offered. “It starts in back of the stables. Dad had it put in for the horses.”


“You have horses? Stables? I had no idea. Where are they?”


Ryan pointed toward the back wall. “On the other side of the house,” he said. “If you go out the back way and turn left, you can see the stables behind the big garage. There’s also a training rink and an exercise track, but they’re on the other side of the stables.”


“How nice,” I said. “Thank you, I might take a walk over there today.”


Ryan glanced at his watch. “They’re probably wrapping up the exercise for the day,” he said, “but you can still see the horses. They like to graze for a while in the afternoon.”


“I’ll keep that in mind. So how did we do on our geometry test?” I asked. Interestingly enough, on this particular test, Ryan got every single problem correct. The young man certainly displayed an aptitude for math. As a reward, I assigned him no homework but I did remind him that come our next class on Thursday we had to turn our attention back to English literature. “You’ll like Chaucer,” I assured him. He did not appear convinced.


I went out the back way as usual and walked to the table at the back of patio. Out of habit, I looked around. No sign of a blue notebook. It must have been a fluke, I thought. Or, a mistake. I put my computer case and my small stack of books on the table and walked further back, this time bearing left. Sure enough there was a paved pathway leading around the rear of the mansion, and as soon as I reached the far corner and the back of the garage, I saw the barn and the fences that enclosed a corral and several small training rinks. A number of horses were grazing in another enclosed area adjacent to a riding track where a man baggy pants and a sweat shirt was walking a horse. Another man in jeans and rolled up sleeves was tossing hay with a pitchfork.


I felt like I had just stepped out of a wood-paneled station wagon in 1950s Lexington. I had seen scenes such as this in those old black and white movies on the classic movie channels, but I had no idea that they actually existed in real life. I wandered closer. There was no need to pinch myself. I could tell by the smell it was real, not that the smell was repellent but simply earthy. I must have spent an hour there, simply walking around, looking, acknowledging the friendly nods and waves of the workers, looking at the horses. My, my, my, I thought. The wonderful excess of wealth. At no point in my whole life have I ever wanted to be rich more than at this very moment.


Whether it was the pastoral mood, the sunny warmth of a grass-mown afternoon, or simple the end of a pleasant day, I absently mindedly found myself back at the patio gathering my computer and books and then walking back to my car. I set everything on the passenger seat and opened the windows for a few moments to allow the heat of the day to escape from the car before settling in behind the wheel and turning on the engine and the air conditioner.


I was pulling the seat belt down and clicking the latch into place when I saw what appeared to be the corner of lavender envelop sticking out from one of my books. I opened the book. It was an envelop, a small invitation sized envelop, more heliotrope than lavender but nonetheless striking, and I could already sense the scent of an exotic perfume as I extracted it from the book and sat there in my imprisoned seat, staring at it.


Someone must have stuck the envelop in my book while I was lollygagging at the stables. I lifted the missive, the fragrance bordering on suggestive, hypnotic in its intensity. I breathed in the scent. There was no question that the envelop was meant for me. My name was written on the front, hand-scripted in a practiced calligraphy that made the simple Glen appear ellegant. I turned the envelop over. A drop of wax sealed the flap. How quaint. There was an image in the wax. A rosebud, I thought. No, a feather. I slipped my finger under the flap and popped it open. I don’t know what I expected—a note, a poem, an invitation, perhaps even a riddle or dare I hope, a phone number? But the only thing in the envelope was a key.


A key.


I thought back. I picked up my computer case and my books. Nothing was there that required a key to open. I looked at the key. It was on the small side, like a key for a diary or for a small jewelry case. I couldn’t recall anything like that on the patio table. Of course, I wasn’t looking for anything, but then . . .. I thought about going back, taking another look, but that would look weird. Getting out of my car, going back to the patio, looking around. Maybe I could pretend I lost something. Happens all the time. No. It would still look weird. I would look weird.


Besides, the key is for something else. Not something out in the open. Something I have to find. Something that’s maybe right in front of me but I haven’t noticed before. I slipped the key back in the envelope and the envelop in my shirt pocket. A key. I started the car, backed out and drove down the drive, through the gate, onto the street and back to my apartment. It wasn't until I was back in my apartment that I realized I was thinking more about the key than sex.


Unless, of course, there was a connection I had yet to discover.


Part V

      Where there is a key, there is a lock. And where there is a lock, a secret exits. Part V, In process. . .

Copyright 2010 by Daniel E. Speers

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