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Callaloo 25.4 (2002) 1083-1093

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from The Prince

Vernon Wilson

"What was individual becomes a variety of a general pattern.
Consciousness even in my sleep changes primary colors.
The features of my face melt like a wax doll in the fire.
And who can consent to see in the mirror the mere face of man?"

—Czeslaw Milosz

"Tlon sera un laberinto, pero es un laberinto urdido por hombres, un laberinto destinado a que lo descifren los hombres."

—Jorge Luis Borges, "Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius"

Chapter 1

El Papa, the deliverer, redeemer, guardian of faith and keeper of Scripture, procurer of chrism, protector and proselytizer of the sick, fountainlight of Latin wisdom to the wounded, rival of the worshippers of Earth and Sun and orphaned Moon, plural patriarch, rival of planetary Venus, beloved episcopal scion of bulls, receiver and receptacle of God's three-beamed glory, would be slow in dying.

He would be monotonous, solus even in passing.

He could collapse, limp inside his window overlooking the sun-spinning crowd at St. Peter's Square. Tasking in tawdry gold within some severe shadow, he would clasp close his constant staff, distant from his idolaters—flesh of him in this world—yet chastened and overwhelmed by the echoes in that distance, by that same solitude—his own flesh changed by the sound.

He could be shot by the glimpsing barrel of a gun, a camera careening: a blow imbued by the divine.

In the brilliant procession of the pageant on-screen Manwel witnessed something of an entirely different nature: the Holy Father stooped low, rabbit-eared, dressed in his costume of silken gold emerald, and white, his body as eerily rigid as that of a [End Page 1083] sunburned child—a solemn blushing kid in sensuous chrisom accoutrements—with a radiant magic lance in his grasp. Tense man, tense father. Like the firm felicitous pounding of a soundless drum the beat of Manwel's heart played in his ears. A swaying choir shouted a celebratory hymn of Hallelujah. A quick montage of images flashed on the screen—the Madonna and child sculpted and perfect, shiny and splendent, then a manger, then the Pope himself in frail and maverick isolation, rebelliously closeup. He moved so minutely in dangling, titanic vesture that he seemed to be taking steps forward and back simultaneously, tunicle and chasuble flying like tongues peeled free by the light. In this methodical dance—already a whiff of comedy transmogrified the sacred quiet—he made Manwel think of Charlie Chaplin: the tramp soundless and austere in his holiest getup, still so much the buffoon. Something in the angle of the shot invested the scene with the rigor of a photo of superb athleticism. A fluid moment of heavenly mystification: skyward, the broad camera-eye ringing: the basilica of the Vatican Palace. Then, fulfilling atrium, nave and apse, from tower to tower, the mass voice of choristers singing rang sealike and puerile:


Running a hand through his unshorn curls, around his blurry eyes, and over the slight refuse of hair hiding under his bottom lip, Manwel took a deep, wistful breath. Before realizing it, he was changing the channels, catching here and there a glimpse of a contorted body, the sound of a siren or of bodiless, euphoric laughter, commentary on a rare genus of bird or fish, country weddings and city bric-a-brac, impotence in the male of the human animal, or the leaping of flames on the sun. Intermittent music played out, and feminine anatomies were revealed, aglow in special lights. A nasal androgynous tone explained eerily the natural habitat of the wild boar and stratified its evolutionary beauties. Violence without identity, or rather identical in common dispassion: bloated forms discarded and distended in a brook stilled by a muddy wind, shootings of bodies made majuscule to the eye, the cinematic sense of it a visceral force majeure; everybody's anonymity was the chilling thing. The culmination came as a cow was branded with iron fire and herded in with her kin. A cattleman rode on horseback, corraling, spat a wild spray...


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