Cynthia Zarin

(Klex, an idiomatic shortening of Klecks, the German word for "inkblot," was the nickname of Hermann Rorschach, the Swiss psychiatrist and inventor of the Rorschach Test, during his school days in Zurich.)

One reads whatever comes to hand. At the beach,
A Guide to Seashells, or Fifty Ways to Make
Good Chowder; lacking that, the proverbial
joke, the label on the aspirin bottle.
Cambridge, after Cape Cod's austerities—gravel,
salt, books stinking of damp—is a prelapsarian
testament, the molten tropes of student lamps
august, cerebral, a projected, planar Eden.
Also the rest: numbers, begatting, exodus.
Here overnight to catch a morning plane, a lazy
serendipitous review, at bedtime, of Cotton Mather
Bonifacius—wards off Cambridge's preemptive
strike, by Zion's silver rattle, teethed on:
the fear that one remembers nothing.

New England's tightwad glamour is deep snow.
After Boston traffic's seventh circle, where,
concomitant, we drive in circles, one's grateful
to be aloft at all. A mile below, the coastline,
like Klex, solemn, Swiss, resolves at that distance
to his test—guilt at lax domesticity
extending (as Mr. Miller writes of Shepard's
Covenant) unbroken, from Abraham to Boston,
the familiar turned uncanny, admonitory:
a pond; an iron skillet left to soak
and rust, and, black swan beneath a covered
bridge; a zipper gagging on a safety pin;
the black sentence of a nursery hymn played
idly, obsessively, on the piano’s minor keys.

And no wonder, when simply to pull
one's sweater off—arms crossed, lifted—
is to be thrown back, marooned in a dark
mime of dead man's float. Even one's own name,
spelled carefully into the telephone, becomes
a cipher, doodled fifty times, elaborately,
while stuck on hold; the blotter a signed
transcript of confessional, the rushing
letters turned to arrows, lunar, Greek—
For Rorschach, in the Kantonschule, "Klex,"
the nickname a leaky palindrome, moored
between the present and the future tense;
blue inkblots creased to handprint butterflies
the pupa of the Psychodiagnostik.

One misreads according to one's lights,
sputtered tallow differing from murky green
in the old Reading Room; against the snow,
the Saints a negative of burning candlewicks;
and under the eyelid of an afternoon
(Boston to Newark, then a taxi) a glance
reads dangerous for "diligence," potato
for "platelet," adding, latterly, the melody
of a sighing Oh in place of the embattled tsk
of consonants; each day a sermon read aloud
illuminated by the heart's topaz; history's
inkwell held aloft and spilled, drop by
drop, on actual paper, folded, revelatory—
balking, like Mather, at no reproof.

Cynthia Zarin is the author of, most recently, Two Cities: Essays on Venice and Rome. Next Day, New and Selected Poems will be published next year.
Originally published:
June 1, 1988


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