Read Black Dance Online

Authors: Nancy Huston

Black Dance (9 page)

“You wished to see me, Father?”

“I did.”

“Well, here I am.”

“I've been thinking about your future, Neil. Things cannot go on like this. It's been eighteen months since we learned of your involvement with the rabble rebels, a year since the bar defrocked you . . .”

“My dream, as you know, Father, is not to be refrocked. Not as long as every court of law in Dublin is run by the occupying forces.”

The judge's voice booms out, covering his son's.

“Neil, I'm convinced it is not completely hopeless. There might be a way for you to regain access to your profession.”

Neil waits, and knows he won't have long to wait. Turning his back on his son, Judge Kerrigan moves to the window and lights his pipe.

“You must volunteer to join the army.”

“Impossible.”

“I've made preliminary inquiries at the Castle. Because of their respect for me, two or three individuals are willing to put in a good word for you. You could start out directly with officer rank.”

“Despite my
besmirching of the family name
?”

“Yes, that could be overlooked. Give it some thought. I advise you to seize the opportunity. It is unlikely that a second chance for saving your reputation will come along.”

“Father, I am twenty-five years old. You are aware of both my political convictions and my artistic aspirations, and yet you find it natural to ask me to betray both, simply for the sake of restoring the name Kerrigan to its virginal purity . . .”

“You will not address your father in such terms, young man. I am not a blank page to be sullied by the smutty mutterings of scribblers such as yourself and Jimmy Joyce.
Portrait of the Young Man as an Artist
, indeed! How gumptious can you get?”

“It's the other way around, Father.
Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.”

“Traitors, the lot of you! Your country is in need? Joyce runs off to hide in Switzerland, and
you
can think of nothing better to do than take up with a crowd of rag-a-tag outlaws! Well, now that your mates have all been shot, why don't you go help the Bolsheviks who are currently laying waste to Russia? Perhaps they have a better chance of winning!”

“I'm a
writer
, Father.”

“Neil, I am
most
weary of awaiting evidence of that claim's validity.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means that unless you either accept the generous offer I've just made you or give me some tangible proof that you've become a respectable member of the Irish literary establishment, you will no
longer be welcome in my household. Writers are known to enjoy starving in miserable garrets at the outset of their careers, are they not? Find yourself a miserable garret in which to starve. Kindly remove your belongings from the premises by next Sunday.”

“I'll give you the proof.”

“That will be all, Neil.”

“I'll give you the proof!” says Neil in a slightly louder voice.

Ignoring him, Judge Kerrigan sits down at his desk and violently opens a ledger.

CUT to Neil dragging a box of old papers from under his bed and rummaging through it. Finding his old manuscript of poems. Slipping it into a black folder.

CUT to County Galway: a cab deposits Neil in front of Thoor Ballylee. Black folder under left arm, he walks toward the tower. Close-up on his face. His expression is part awe, part amazement at his own audacity. Weeds and wildflowers grow rampant at the tower's base; no glass graces its windows . . .

(Think we can do this, Milo? Think we can get permission to shoot inside Yeats' Tower itself? Wouldn't that be fantastic? With . . . uh, say, Lambert Wilson in the role of Willie Yeats? Yeah . . . Fantastic.)

Neil is let into the tower by a portly, gray-haired maid, complete with white cap and apron. After leading him up a winding flight of rickety stairs, she ushers him into the poet's drawing room. The place being as yet unfurnished, the echoes of their footsteps ricochet on stone walls . . . Yeats seems in a bit of a dither. Spectacles askew, gray jersey misbuttoned, he paces up and down the room and runs his hands through his hair.

“So you're the young poet who wrote to me last week.”

“I am, sir.”

“Did you see the wild swans?”

“The . . .”

“Did you see them, the wild swans, as you were brought here?”

“I'm afraid I didn't notice them, sir. Was it today they flew south, then?”

“How . . . how . . . how are they the
same
swans every year? The
same
uplifting passion, the
same
fierce beating of wings against the sky? Flinging themselves multitudinously southward in the
same
breathtaking flight, while we humans . . . age, change, hesitate, lose our certainties and our teeth . . .”

“Uh . . . that's true, sir.”

“Why have you come to me?”

“I need help, sir.”

Yeats glances discreetly at the envelope on his desk.

“Your letter said as much, Mr . . . ah . . . Kerrigan, but why have you come to
me
?”

“Only because . . . er . . . I once tried to help
you
, sir.”

“Kindly explain yourself. I'm certain I never set eyes on you before today.”

“Well, sir . . . though myself the son of a Dublin magistrate, in 1914 I became involved with the Irish Volunteer movement . . . and . . . um . . . er . . . being aware of the . . . ah, unfortunate impediments in the way of . . . er . . . Mrs. MacBride's obtaining a divorce, I . . .”

Suddenly attentive, Yeats turns to him.

CUT to half an hour later. Yeats is serving them each a brandy and laughing uproariously.

“I don't believe it . . .
You
denounced Major John MacBride! You!”

“I did, sir.”

“And now, in return for this favor you did me, unsolicited and indeed unbeknownst to me, you wish for
me
to do
you
a favor and
help you find a publisher! Oh it's a
marvelous
tale, Neil Kerrigan! A marvelous tale indeed. Unfortunately, your hopes will be dashed. At twenty-five, it's time you learned that one's fondest hopes and dreams in life are generally dashed. D'you see this thoor?”

“I do, sir.”

“I purchased it six months ago, in March . . . Here is the deed. I own it now. Well. What do you say to that?”

“It is . . . ah . . . very . . . spacious, sir.”

“Too spacious for a man who lives on his own, is that what you mean?”

“Perhaps, sir.”

Yeats downs a second glass of brandy.

“More fitting for a family man . . . am I correct, Kerrigan? I should bring a wife here, is that what you mean? But what wife? Ay, that's where the shoe pinches!
What wife?
You're right: since 1889, my body has cried out with the need to love Maud Gonne, and my poetic imagination has depended on her! A decade ago, after torturing me with her elegance and eloquence for fifteen long years, she finally deigned to open her robe and her thighs to me . . . but doused my passion by praying daily that we be released from earthly desire.”

“I understand your . . . frustration, sir.”

“The woman has a terror and a horror of physical love, Kerrigan. Is it not a crying shame, given her spectacular shape, skin and allure? How are you fixed in this area, by the by?”

“Well, sir, though I've made a few forays into Talbot Street like everyone else, I mostly please myself.”

“And confess it afterward?”

“Oh, no, sir. I've not set foot in a church since the Easter Rising. The priests' unconscionable behavior during the events cured me of my faith for good . . . So if I understand correctly, Mr. Yeats . . .
er . . . despite the fact that Major MacBride has now gone on to a better world, Maud Gonne MacBride has once again declined to be your wife?”

Willie tips back his head and sips.


Once again
, this time, was once too often. Having
once again
gone down to Normandy last summer, having
once again
found her surrounded by a squawking growling twittering menagerie, I
once again
threw myself on my knees before Maud, pressed her hand to my lips and begged her to be mine.
(Singing)

Oh my lovely, be thou not hard

Look thou kindly upon me

Wilt thou not come with an aging bard

All the way to Ballylee?

“. . . Though she spoke warmly to me and played tarot with me and assisted me in interpreting my dreams, she scoffed at my advances. No, Mr. Kerrigan, Mrs. Gonne MacBride will never have me, and at last I have understood why: she is married to her dead father, and to the cause of Ireland he espoused
.
But did you know that in addition to her young son sired by the rustic major, Mrs. MacBride has an older, illegitimate daughter by a French journalist?”

“Yes, I have heard as much.”

“A girl by the name of Iseult, now twenty-two. As heartbreakingly beautiful as her mother at that age. I've known and loved Iseult since she was born.”

“I see.”

“So last month, with Maud's I must say insultingly skeptical permission, I threw myself on my knees before Iseult, pressed her hand to my lips, and begged her to be mine.”
(Singing)

Oh my lovely, be thou not hard

Look thou kindly upon me

Wilt thou not come with an aging bard

All the way to Ballylee?

“And she?”

“Said no.”

Yeats falls into a prolonged silence.

“And so?” Neil prods him gently after a while, seeing that the daylight is waning in the sky.

“Well, I recently made the acquaintance of
another
young woman, a certain Georgina Hyde-Lees, also three decades my junior . . . So last week I threw myself on my knees before sweet Georgie, pressed her hand to my lips, and begged her to be mine.
(Singing)

Oh my lovely, be thou not hard

Look thou kindly upon me

Wilt thou not come with an aging bard

All the way to Ballylee?

“And she?”

“Said yes. The banns were published yesterday and our wedding is scheduled for a fortnight from today. Children
must
play at the foot of my thoor, do you understand?”

Not knowing what to answer, Neil remains silent.

“But let us come back to you, Neil Kerrigan. You want to write, so?”

“I do.”

“Then leave Ireland.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“No one can write here. Go away. Your father's advice is excellent. He's doing you a favor by kicking you out. Desert his home.”

“But surely not for the British army?”

“No. For literature.”

“He says I've besmirched the family name.”

“Change names. Change countries. Change selves.”

Yeats leafs rapidly through Neil's manuscript of poems.

“Forget these. They were written before the Rising, by a bright young lad all puffed up with ambition but empty of wisdom. Then the British savaged our city and shot our sixteen leaders; your cousin Thom was killed before your eyes; Dublin's finest buildings burned to the ground; the poor came wailing out of their houses . . . and

all changed, changed utterly.

A terrible beauty was born.

. . . I believe you now have an inkling of what wisdom might be, or at least where to look for it. Am I correct?”

“I hope so, sir.”

“Then go. Go to England. Or, better still, to the Americas.”

“But our cause? The national cause of Ireland and Irish freedom, for which Thom and so many others gave their lives?”

“Don't worry. Events will follow their course. You won't forget the cause. May I read you a few lines from one of my recent poems? I have it in manuscript only; it may be years before Ireland is ready to read it. It's called ‘The Leaders of the Crowd.'”

(Jaysus, I don't know, Milo. Are you sure? The whole feckin' poem, as the Irish would say? That's the schmaltzy side of your personality, nice in real life, but disastrous in art . . . Whoa, okay, don't have a conniption fit . . . you've got your poem! As Lambert Wilson
reads it out loud, we can go wafting out the open window and hurtle through the sky of County Galway with the wild swans . . .)

They must to keep their certainty accuse

All that are different of a base intent;

Pull down established honour; hawk for news

Whatever their loose phantasy invent

And murmur it with bated breath, as though

The abounding gutter had been Helicon

Or calumny a song. How can they know

Truth flourishes where the student's lamp has shone,

And there alone, that have no solitude?

So the crowd come they care not what may come.

They have loud music, hope every day renewed

And heartier loves; that lamp is from the tomb.

. . . Do you understand, Kerrigan?”

“It's not easy to grasp at first hearing, but I think I get the gist of it, sir.”

“The most important lines are these:

How can they know

Truth flourishes where the student's lamp has shone,

And there alone, that have no solitude?

. . . Remain a student, Neil. Protect thy solitude. And keep thy lamp shining.”

“Why is the lamp said to be
from the tomb
?”

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