November 28, 2014Posted by on
She was certainly no twelve-year-old like Nately’s whore’s kid sister, looking like a plucked chicken or like a twig with the bark peeled off. Yet not quite ‘Du schönes Fischermädchen’, no Loreley singing on a rock along the Rhine River near Sankt Goar. This Lorelei was eine schöne Jugend Mädchen living in Köln am Rhein. A fay for whom winter nights became her theatre and her bedroom the lit stage for her performance. A siren intent on seducing her audience with the allure of a Lorelei.
If I could now recall those scenes of Lorelei would she be a real memory or simply an imagined fay siren from a wished for spring, warming thoughts for cold winters? Any thoughts of Lorelei always remind me of Hungry Joe, a name that amused me and which I thought apt for those who were seduced by this nubile siren. Hungry Joe was obsessed with naked women, visions of this fay would have driven him to the distraction of not knowing whether to furgle her or photograph her, neither of which Hungry Joe ever successfully achieved. With his obsession came thoughts of virginal maidens from a yesteryear – a time forgotten – or a time wished for. Maidens only to be found in books of chivalrous knights, or fays, or in the mind of a Hungry Joe.
That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold
Bare ruin’d choirs, where late the sweet birds sang¹.
The year was 1964 and I had picked up Joseph Heller’s book Catch-22 purely by chance, a read to relieve the weekend boredom whilst serving in the armed forces near to Cologne. Lying on my bed reading in a room that I shared with three other men, my laughing and chuckling out loud caused my three colleagues to look at me askance and wonder if I had gone mad. MAD? Mutually assured destruction was why we were there, our task was to be prepared for the outbreak of a war. That any conflict would most likely become nuclear was not a thought to dwell on, the auguries did not portend a good outcome. It was easier to dismiss any such thoughts and escape into the fictional world of books. Lying on my bed I was amused by Hungry Joe, empathized with Nately and his whore’s kid sister, recognized the follies to be found in the book and the characters that were to become nuanced in real life.
Just twenty years earlier at the briefing before the Avignon mission Yossarrian couldn’t contain himself any longer, “Ooooooooooooooh”, he moaned. General Dreedle’s nurse stood there, ‘blooming like a fertile oasis’, he never wanted to lose her and the lustful pain she invoked was too much, “Ooooooooooooooh” he moaned again, louder this time. It was on the Avignon mission that Snowden died, his entrails spewed out over the floor of the bomber. Snowden became the sacrificial victim for Yossarrian’s haruspicy. It was easy to read the message in Snowden’s entrails².
“I’m cold,” Snowden said. “I’m cold.”
“There, there,” said Yossarrian. “There, there.”
In me thou seest the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west,
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest.
Reflex actions to parade commands let my thoughts run free to a time when I charged at straw filled dummies with a fixed bayonet. Initially prodding them with the bayonet, much to the displeasure of the drill sergeant who took this all very seriously, insisting that I screamed and feigned anger, making something already farcical more so. Anger? I think that a real bayonet charge would be more likely to induce real fear in me than feigned anger. I doubt if any of my colleagues took the idea of charging with a bayonet seriously either. No doubt the drill sergeant was aware of all that and took comfort in the knowledge that his survival would never depend on our aggression. Eventually I was to learn the correct technique for stabbing a prone body, perhaps not as delicate as stabbing into a fondue but the principle had many similarities.
On the eleventh day of the eleventh month there was no big parade, just a simple Guard of Honour attending the local war memorial in memory of the fallen in two World Wars. My memory of that time has become a surreal recollection of images, not with the parade but of my rifle with its bayonet firmly fixed, and me musing about the folly of war. Were all wars a folly? I was beginning think that they had to be. Especially the thought of me being stationed in Germany waiting for the enemy and armed with a bayonet. Had my childhood heroes, both real and imaginary, led me there? Why was I now drawn to such reminiscences so often? Was it because youth was an ever present adventure, life a challenge and death at such a time could have been heralded as heroic? Did I really seek that bubble reputation to be found in the maw of war?
In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed whereon it must expire
Consumed with that which it was nourish’d by.
I sat with her while she gently stroked my hand. This woman who now approached the end of her strange eventful history and was now living in a world beyond our reach, alive in her world and dead to ours. If this was mere oblivion ‘sans everything’³ it was mine and not hers. My winter was creeping stealthily upon me, bringing with it the harshness of a season that held out no prospect of spring’s rebirth. She had flown from the depths of her winter to an eternal spring of idyllic memories. One in which she stroked his hand with an affection that could only be shared by two young lovers.
From the moment we met you were ever my Lorelei, ‘Du schönes Fischermädchen’, the fay who captured my heart, the siren for whom I sighed like a furnace. What will I do in a winter made harsher by your leaving? Will I also sit with you while you stroke my hand with an intimacy that tells me you are there with me, or will I hold a cold limp hand bereft of you? Will you have flown to that yesteryear, that remembered spring, leaving me here with nothing more than a woeful ballad?
This thou perceivest, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.