An Age of Silver

Another Quarantine project has been to finish off a book begun long ago, An Age of Silver. It was not publishable, I think, so long as I was employed as a professor. Anyway, the basic plot is that the main character, CD, goes looking for his lover, named Davie Jax, who had been one of the greatest ballet dancers in the world until fate changed for him. This part of the journey takes CD to New Orleans:


I take the window seat whenever possible, liking the idea of a thin film between me and freezing space. It’s the expression of the death wish in me, otherwise well suppressed. Plus Davie, nervous on planes and hungry for the direct attention of the stewardesses, took the aisle. I always knew which way to lay my head.

In the Delta be monsters. At the sound of the faltering airplanes they raise their manes and crests, anticipating. You get hungry lying in wait. Swamps float waist-deep in flowers. Waterlilies meditate in the gloom of cypresses. Alligators stab through shield of flowers. Egrets stab like famished orchids.

I watched light shoot from ditches, creeks, bayous, dazzling as gunfire we passed over. The Mississippi was a snake of light, the Delta a maze, a material ambiguity, neither water nor land, a shifting amalgam. There was turbulence on the Gulf. Toward shore its waters rumpled and flattened like the shaking of an enormous veil. The plane bucked, falling. I laughed, not at anything in the plane, but at the white Davie’s knuckles would have taken on at that moment, digging through my arm into the armrest. The blue-haired lady across the aisle glared as though my laughter were the cause of the turbulence. The plane shivers, smooths, descends for real, a thunder-ibis spread-winged over Ponchatraine. Then the airport, the din of terminals. I picked up a habit in Grand Central long ago of hovering and hesitating. Like a wounded animal thrashing, uncertainty draws the predators, who are wise enough not to prey without giving something in return. What they give interests me. Will they promise love? Salvation? Riches? Ostentatiously I peruse a map of the wrong city. I want a stranger to watch hungrily. I want somebody to help me whether I need help or not. But nobody watches. Krishnas circle a middle-aged woman who does, in fact, have a look of spiritual hunger in her eyes. Her body hurries forward. Take me, her eyes say. Saffron closes in. I gather my bags. I step from the airport limousine into the blue light of Ursuline Street.

I take a room at the Ursuline Guest House, which is arrayed like a villa around a walled garden, sweetened by blossoms sweeter to me because they have no history, violet and magenta and wax-white that one had never seen before, which no dying god nor picnic on the grass has given a name. I lie in the clatter of the air-conditioner and sleep. I do not dream of the Dancer, though I wish I might. I dream of a full moon over a river, the banks of the river jagged with the silhouettes of birds.

I wake to light turned purple and nighthawks buzzing the space above the courtyard. Nighthawks are the heraldic bird of hustlers, whistling lonesome above the roofs at twilight and through the dark, settling at dawn when the children of the night grow weary. Trumpets blow in Jackson Square, vibrating the walls of the mist-colored Cathedral. Breeze backs from the Gulf, touching open spots, turned aside by walls and fronds to leave others sultry and evocative. Voodoo ladies bend double on Decatur with the weight of river air. Women lean from balconies shaped like flowers and festooned with flowers, their iron swirled and twisty as though melted by the narcotic heat. Heat. Scent. Strangeness. Strangeness not a function of unfamiliarity, but strangeness absolute. Heat there like a room where there have been dancers

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