Daughters of Cecilia
No, no, I’ll not on this earth give my love to another. Whatever part fate may decree, I am yours!
--Tatiana, Eugene Onegin
Terrified, man-mad Tchaikovsky. You send him a crush note as he composes Onegin. He instructs you to quell your feelings.
He writes Tatiana’s world-lifting Letter Scene, followed by Onegin’s cruel dismissal, and feels guilty. So he marries you.
The honeymoon inspires Tchaikovsky to throw himself into the Moscow River. The desired pneumonia fails to arrive.
He pays you off, at 6,000 rubles a year. You bear three children by another man. Still, you refuse a divorce.
Sixteen years later, Tchaikovsky flirts with a duke’s nephew. A court of colleagues orders him to kill himself. He does so.
You outlive him by twenty-four years, condemned by a court of your own to hold on to the ancient tether, as it pulls you from one asylum to the next.
I picture your face at the barred window, tracking the silversnail path of the moon. Listening to the Pathetique, over and over.
Continue to work at your picture till nightfall, and you must promise that no pious lady, no fair or dusky beauty, shall be admitted here on any pretext!
Summers in Torre del Lago, you wait to do your ironing in the cool of night. This is also when the Maestro works, his cowboy opera ringing through the villa.
At break time, you find him in the garden, puffing on a cigar, and share a brief talk. The Maestro is elegant, soft-spoken. It could be that you look on him as a father (how you long for a father).
Elvira Puccini hears the voices beneath her window. Doria stays late to be near my husband. She meets him in the garden for lovemaking. She fires you, spends the autumn denouncing you as a slut. What’s worse, everyone believes her.
The Maestro sends a note, lamenting his wife’s behavior, but seems incapable of stopping her. She finds you at Christmas day mass and threatens to kill you.
Haunted and sick, you purchase a bottle of mercuric chloride, a corrosive disinfectant, and swallow three tablets. The stomach cramps begin immediately, followed by five days of riveting pain.
In your note, you ask for revenge on Elvira, and clemency for Puccini, who has done nothing.
The gossips conclude that Doria has died of a botched abortion. The authorities order an autopsy, to be conducted in the presence of witnesses. The autopsy reveals that Doria was a virgin.
I’ll go alone and far as the echo from the churchbell. There, amid the white snow; there, amid the clouds of gold – there where the earth appears as but a recollection.
I drive the length of Oregon. The radio slaps me with a four-word sentence. I stop at the Shakespeare festival, trekking the Christmas-lit streets for a latte, rubbing a jigsaw piece between my fingers.
This grieving makes no sense. I don’t know you. Everything you’ve given me is locked away on vinyl and aluminum. My loss is precisely nothing.
But once, you took hold of my tangled hearing, and untied the knots.
Jenny sits at the kitchen table, her eyes growing wide. You’ve never heard Tebaldi? She reaches for the stereo: an impossibly broad soprano voice, constructed of butter, an aircraft carrier tracing cadenzas like a speedboat.
She tells me you’re alive, residing in Italy. This does not seem possible.
I have made no secret of my fixation. My friends will send me condolences, as if I have lost a favorite aunt. I will read reports of you at San Marino, breathing your last, one eye on the hills.
On the night of four words, I scale the Siskiyous, strangely energized, the roadsides patching with snow. My head fills with Catalani, Renata loosing her dovish triplets as she climbs the white mountains, untethered.