The Brazilian nurse adjusted the Great Poet’s line and pillows with genuine tenderness but little effect.

“Titanic deckchairs?” he mused. “Infinitesimal parameters?” Words, old friends, pain relief, they all failed him now: like the snow falling softly outside, the only way was down.

Since arriving, he had only written occasional haikus on a Post-It Note pad: but day by day even that had become impossibly long-form. His writing fingers drummed arthritically on the coverlet, empty-tanked sports cars ever impatient for races they would never finish.

On a whim, he stared past her out of the window at the snowman standing in the tiny courtyard. It lacked yesterday’s newly-made sharp definition, true, but a pinprick of its shaped vitality was still discernible, if you knew where to look. “You and me both, pal”, he wheezed ineffectively.

“Are you alright, Meester Alston?”

“Never better”, he tried to lie: but as with his pen, the words seemed too wide, the channel too narrow.

She paused, watching his struggle for breath. “I will leave the light on”, she said as she left. “You seem to have a lot on your mind tonight.”

As the ground-floor’s other temporary residents turned in and switched off, the snowman gradually found itself illuminated just by the poet’s room light, leaving it a white lighthouse in a wine-dark sea of night. And far off in the hospice, a muffled radio played the organ intro to Procol Harum’s “A Whiter Shade of Pale.”

And he was back in the ballroom, Bayswater, 1967, winter solstice. Dress code was pagan, Bohemian black for everyone except his bride, white-faced, ivory-clad Lindsay, his Mama Cass, his muse, with her sane reasoning and insane appetites.

Oddly, his resentful, drug-abusing sons were there too, their burning arrows of creativity forever condemned to sail listlessly beneath his own Laureate arc: and his daughter Caterina as well, beautiful before she was born and serene after she died.

“We skipped the light fandango…” Indeed: so what shall we dance this time, my dear? His mistresses, Tarni and Ute and Iris, eased gently out of the shadows as bridesmaids – though hardly vestal virgins – lifting him to the stage, to Lindsay, to a reconciliation they had both wanted but had never quite reached.

And everywhere he looked in the darkness around her, he saw more eyes, more faces, more everything, and with a vivid clarity that had long eluded him. And he was writing, writing now, writing his life and his love and his pain and his death, trapped and freed within a seventeen syllable prison cell of heaven and hell…

It was Nurse Celestina who found the body beside the snowman: how the Great Poet got there was a mystery. The Post-It Note in his hand was blank, though: there never was enough time to write that final haiku.

Our winter ballroom
Fills with friends anew.
My first and last dance, with you.

21 thoughts on “The Winter Ballroom

  1. Arthritic fingers don’t drum, other than that, you’re good to go.

  2. Pete: having myself had juvenile arthritis in my left hand, my opinion is that you can drum… just not very well. 😉

  3. Perhaps you could have left an explanatory note for the reader, editing is such a chore.

  4. Pete: editing is for wimps. 😉

  5. Danny-boy on February 12, 2015 at 1:52 pm said:

    Nicely written, I like the Mama Cass and Procol Harum references….well, just because really 🙂

  6. 🙂

  7. bdid1dr on February 12, 2015 at 4:54 pm said:

    The Winter Garden?
    I pray this isn;t your last poem!

  8. Seriously, Nick, that’s a nice piece. Reminds me of Banville when he got misty.

  9. bdid1dr on February 17, 2015 at 5:25 pm said:

    Beautiful before she was born? Ultrasound was around?
    Not that I’m critique-ing or anything like that; just trying to keep my brain cells fully engaged in puzzle-solving and poesy.

  10. bdid1dr: it was only a micropuzzle, but glad you liked it. 🙂

  11. bdid1dr on February 21, 2015 at 8:48 pm said:

    Besides ballrooms, you might like to check out (or in) what is left of the Colegio de Santa Cruz de Tlaltelolco in Mexico City. In certain corners of the church ceilings you will see some of the murals which display pictorial elements of Fray Sahagun’s teaching efforts (of which he spoke and wrote in Nahuatl and Spanish). He wasn’t just discussing the catechism and/or psalms (Psalmodia). The ceilings of the church/colegio have murals everywhere (including a sickle moon reclining on a cloud).
    Fascinating! I’m also doing a full Nahuatl and Spanish translation of Fray Sahagun’s “Psalmodia cristiana y sermonario de los santos del ano en lengua mexicana”.

  12. bdid1dr on February 27, 2015 at 4:59 pm said:

    It is/was a shame that Fray Sahagun was examined by Torquemada (Inquisitioner) and was excommunicated. So, we no longer have to wonder why his personal diary (Boenicke Manuscript 408, aka “Voynich”) ended up in the Pope’s derelict library/Gregorian University store-room. The rest of Fray Sahagun’s works (codices) were scattered throughout New Spain (Mexico City’s University), Florence, and even several North American Universities (Brown, Yale, and Chicago….)
    My ‘bump of curiousity’ has kept my thinking organ in investigative mode for most of my life.
    So, Nick, I hope you’ll be finding more discussion of some of the “Voynich” drawings in Mexico City’s University archives.

  13. bdid1dr on March 3, 2015 at 4:41 pm said:

    Miguel Leon-Portilla, author of “Bernardino de Sahagun – First Anthropologist”, writes an eloquent story of the life and times of Fray Sahagun and his students in Tlatlolco and Tepepulco. One very interesting illustration is “The Wheel of Years” which Fray Sahagun indicated would be included at the end of Book IV of the “Historia general” (Codice matritense del Real Palacio, fol 242v). There is also another very interesting photograph and discussion of another page in that same Codice: “Memoriales in tres columnas” f230-r”.
    It is enough to make a grown up person cry.
    I sure hope the Boenicke Library can now be able to solve the mystery of B-408 without having to resort to the Shakespeare Library or Mary d’Imperio’s record of our military codiologists (both in the US and England).
    I remain sincerely hopeful!
    beedee eyed one-der

  14. bdid1dr on March 4, 2015 at 9:07 pm said:

    Nick, I’ve just finished a post on your “About…” pages: all about the impending sale of the Winter Gardens at Greenwich U. Several months (and years) ago, you, Diane, and I had some lengthy discussions on your first Blitz Cipher discussion pages. So, it looks more and more like we’re all chasing our own ‘tails” (tales?) to a dead end. Horrible vision of some 380 new ‘homes’ to be built on that campus?

  15. bdid1dr on March 5, 2015 at 11:46 pm said:

    Ah Gawd, Nick!
    Have you (or any of your ‘home’ buddies) taken a really good look at the dimensions of the huge chunk of real estate (Winter GardenS; my emphasis) which is being sold to developers for housing?
    It is ironic that the Library, and Winter Gardens (Greenhouse and surrounding parkland) of Greenwich University survived the Blitz (when it was known as the School for women who wanted to be teachers).
    I’m crying. I live some 4,000 miles away from England. I have Scots-Irish and Irish potato famine refugee ancestors). I have seen a lot of turmoil in my 70+ years; but this beats all!
    I did wonder why Greenwich University had at least six departments for Architectural design and development.

  16. bdid1dr on March 5, 2015 at 11:59 pm said:

    PS, Diane: I’ve been unable to post a comment on your latest website blog pages; I don’t trust Facebook, or any of the so-called ‘social pages’.
    PS Nick: Have you had a chance to visit Greenwich University to further discuss the “Blitz Cipher” with the Librarian/Administrator whose nephew posted to you for decoding?
    Apparently time’s a-wasting (or soon to be not available) for research in the Mansion Library or its attached Winter Garden Greenhouse. A shame!

  17. bdid1dr on March 9, 2015 at 6:26 pm said:

    Nick (and Diane?):

    I’m posting on this page to alert you to a re-discovery of an item which Diane mentioned several months ago; which might be very relevant to your recent discussions on those mystery circles with various human figures holding objects aloft:
    The “Catalan Atlas” — which displays concentric circles which display phases of the moon, astrological figures, various humans holding various objects — and in the four corners of the map larger humans hold what appear to be manuscripts (semicircular). I don’t have the URL for the website which displays two leaves of the fold-out manuscript, but you may be able to refer to — balears contemporary — Catalan Atlas

    Gorgeous, if only two leaves of what apparently was six accordion folded panels. I do remember Diane referring to the Catalan several months/years ago. So consider yourself, Diane, considerably considered; you too of course, Nick!

  18. bdid1dr on March 10, 2015 at 4:09 pm said:

    PS: Ellie V. may be interested, also, in the references to Cresques Abraham, Charles V, and the National Library of France, where apparently the map apparently remains.

  19. bdid1dr on March 11, 2015 at 4:26 pm said:

    It could very well be that those circular diagrams may have led to Fray Sahagun’s trial by Inquisition, and excommunication. No matter how carefully he tried, Sahagun was not able to ‘skirt around’ the issue of Cortez’ rape and enslavement of Malintzin/Malinche.

  20. bdid1dr on March 11, 2015 at 4:35 pm said:

    Even into the 20th century, Malinche has been portrayed, by Latin American artists, as Cortez’ whore.
    It doesn’t surprise me that many artists (in any century) quite often are illiterate or dyslexic.

  21. bdid1dr on March 16, 2015 at 4:04 pm said:

    Some latest news about the sale of Greenwich University’s campus: The Winter Garden/Glasshouse is also included in the sale of the property. Egads!

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