Poetry Month: A Narrow Escape (Merrill)

A Narrow Escape

During a lull at dinner the vampire frankly
Confessed herself a symbol of the inner
Adventure. An old anxiousness took hold
Like a mesmerist hissing for each of us
To call up flitterings from within,
Crags and grottos, an olive dark that lured
Casements to loosen gleamings onto the Rhine.
More fluently than water she controlled
The vista. Later, von Blon said he had known
Her expressionless face before, her raven braids
– But where? A tale … a mezzotint? The tone
Was that of an 1830 pianoforte.
There followed for each a real danger of falling
Into the oubliette of that bland face,
Perfectly warned of how beneath it lay
The bat’s penchant for sleeping all day long
Then flying off upon the wildest tangents
With little self-preserving shrieks, also
For ghastly scenes over letters and at meals,
Not to speak of positive evil, those nightly
Drainings of one’s life, the blood, the laugh.
The cries for pardon, the indifferences –
And all performed with such a virtuoso’s
Detachment from say their grandmothers’ experience
That men in clubs would snort incredulously
Provided one escaped to tell the story.
It was then Charles thought to wonder, peering over
The rests of venison, what on earth a vampire
Means by the inner adventure. Her retort
Is now a classic in our particular circle.
– James Merrill, from The Country of a Thousand Years of Peace

For biographical info, poems and more, visit the James Merrill House.

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