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THEORIES OF ILLUSION / Maureen Seaton The panda has a sixth digit we call a thumb but really it's a greatly enlarged "radial sesamoid," a simple component of the wrist. Also, although the panda is a charter member of the order Carnivora, she eats absolutely nothing but bamboo from the mountains of Western China. As for the orchid, we may think brava! What an amazingly well-thought-out system for attracting insects. But it's no more than a zany arrangement of already existing flower-parts, a jury-rig of pistil and stamen— much like my ex-boyfriend Will in his many disguises in and around America, the chilling fact that he's absolutely Will but can pass for someone or something else. For example, while bodybuilding, Will can be heard grunting in his makeshift gym until his back looks apish, his calves like a goat's leaping on high places. He can easily be mistaken for Chinese, Cherokee, Greek, that might be him right now looking Latino near Montrose. He used to say he'd find me one day and I'd never recognize him until he had me pinned in bed. He said "the strong survive," like the placentals who roamed across the Isthmus of Panama and all but extinguished the marsupials— and then he'd squeeze me for luck and punctuation. Once he was sitting in a saloon after escaping 116 - The Missouri Review from a hospital on the Hudson, and a cop asked him, point blank, if he'd seen himself. Like a slippery hero, a quantum leap of light, energy radiating at different levels of illusion, an insane physics: Mad Max meets Inspector Clouseau. Once the dinosaur was ineluctable as dawn and all the big ones lumbered and the winged ones tried to fly, and for a hundred million years they reigned, fit and fervent as the myth of creation. Now their descendent sparrow zooms above Swan Lake like a fairy spirit of the coelurosaurus, and the orchid continues expensive as silk. Now the panda faces starvation, and some believe Will has taken his life in Montana after a day of fishing. My favorite illusion is the one about the relativity of time. How the humpback with her big slow heart, her contrapuntal biorhythm, weaves a song in the deep— half-hour concert to us, to her a minute waltz. —after Stephen Jay Gould's The Panda's Thumb Maureen Seaton The Missouri Review · 117 AFTER SINEAD O'CONNOR APPEARS ON "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE," THE POPE I Maureen Seaton (for Janet Bloch) The night we baptize the sidewalk outside Our Lady of Sorrows across from Nelson's Funeral Home where the Neo-Futurists spray-paint "Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind," the only soul in sight is a woman with black eyes and bruises staining her chin like grape juice. Perplexed, she leans above a small figure stenciled on pavement and frowns. Barb and Van and I are moving away from the church like clouds up Clark toward Thybony Paints which I always call "Thy bony," and we're stunned to hear a voice behind us say: "What's that?" "That" is our simple rendering of a fifteenth-century criminal— incantatrix, fascinatrix, maléfica, sortílega, the one who gathers herbs, charms, boxes of gooey sacred ointments. "When an old woman begins to doat and grow chargeable to a Parish, she is generally turned into ..." a stick-rider, poisoner, magus, hag, kasaph, evil-eye, screech-owl, night monster. When a young woman goes "surfing" on a river in Essex, "to and fro . . . on a board standing firm bolt upright, turning and winding it which way she pleases...," she is a strix, curandera, hocus pocus. When she heals a cold, braids her hair, unbraids it, breathes, disrespects a pope, has freckles, pockmarks, insect bites, cysts, she's charged, raped, starved, robbed, beaten, drowned, burned. 118 · The Missouri Review Maureen Seaton "It's a woman," I say as our interloper gets close enough to touch. The neighborhood looks so bloodless on a Wednesday night, its citizens washed in tv, snug in bungalows and two-flats— a ma and pa world, hard-working-hard-playing-fear...


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