Annabel Lee

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“Let me trip on your face,” she said, turning the searchlights of her eyes full on me. We had each taken four tabs of acid a half-hour before.

“Talk to me. I want to watch . . . you . . . talk.”

“What do you want me to say?”

“Anything . . . anything. It matters . . . not.”

“I could recite poems, I suppose. They would come to mind now, I think, if I called them.”

It was many and many a year ago,
In a kingdom by the sea,
That a maiden there lived whom you may know
By the name of Annabel Lee;
And this maiden she lived with no other thought
Than to love and be loved by me.

The words came back with an ease that caught me off-guard. My lips & tongue felt almost possessed.

We sat cross-legged on the floor, touching only at the knees, & as I recited she brought her face to within a foot of mine. Even with my beard, I knew that the movement of muscles in my face were giving her that dripping-candle experience she so craved. If my cheeks are the wax, where’s the flame?

She joined in on the second verse, & somehow managed to match my cadence so that we chanted in perfect synchronicity. It was beautiful, & a little frightening. Apparently I wasn’t the only one who’d had a grammar school teacher with a thing for Poe & poetry by rote.

I was a child and she was a child,
In this kingdom by the sea,
But we loved with a love that was more than love,
I and my Annabel Lee;
With a love that the wingí¨d seraphs of heaven
Coveted her and me.

Her face was changing by the second like a time-lapsed bloom. Wind scattered the petals & left the bare nib.

And this was the reason that, long ago,
In this kingdom by the sea,
A wind blew out of a cloud, chilling
My beautiful Annabel Lee;
So that her highborn kinsmen came
And bore her away from me,
To shut her up in a sepulchre
In this kingdom by the sea.

The poem was a mirror. Her face had turned into mine – & vice versa, I think. She reached out a hand to touch my beard, then up past my ear to my unplucked unibrow. I focused on our mouth & nostrils & eyes, that wetness, that shine. Like the sheen of oil on sand. It flashed into my mind like a news bulletin interrupting the broadcast: a tanker split up on the reef. Seabirds & sea lions black with crude in the kingdom by the sea.

The angels, not half so happy in heaven,
Went envying her and me;
Yes! that was the reason (as all men know,
In this kingdom by the sea)
That the wind came out of the cloud by night,
Chilling and killing my Annabel Lee.

We smiled conspiratorially as we chanted these lines. Our Blakean heaven was empty except for the two of us; the sexless angels circled their hive, sure we meant to raid it – the source of all sweetness. When we got to the words chilling and killing, our lips tingled with thaumaturgic power. To have said is to have done: the night-tripper’s incommunicable discovery. You have to have been there. In fact, you have to have been us.

But our love it was stronger by far than the love
Of those who were older than we,
Of many far wiser than we;
And neither the angels in heaven above,
Nor the demons down under the sea,
Can ever dissever my soul from the soul
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee:

Which one of us was the first to weep, I wonder? Perhaps there, too, we were synchronized swimmers. I saw wave after wave washing oil-slicked bodies up on shore as seagulls wheeled overhead, calling & calling. Poe’s necromance conjured up a rocky headland with a stone tower where one light burned, & not merely to ward off ships. I heard Robinson Jeffers, too, above the surf: Humanity is needless. The waters coursed down the cliffs of her face, my face. Her mouth was a cave full of tidal surge, a sea anemone with drowned hair, beseeching arms. Annabel Lee. Lorelei. We had become like the angels, now – unsexed. The whole moist & messy business of life seemed increasingly abstract.

For the moon never beams, without bringing me dreams
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And the stars never rise, but I feel the bright eyes
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side
Of my darling–my darling–my life and my bride,
In her sepulchre there by the sea,
In her tomb by the sounding sea.

We were breathing, I suddenly realized, in waltz time now. Slow as sleepwalkers came the last four lines, all in a whisper. We lay down as they commanded, hungry only for visions, eye to eye. The body is almost all audience, I thought, in this thing called worship.

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