So here is some more from the second chapter of The Book of Seasons. Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear, 1974, in the sleazy Hotel Allison in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Aged mystery man Durwood Wakdjunkaga (although our naïve narrator does not yet know that is his name) has supernaturally arrived from the distant future—about our era, maybe a little further off into our future even.
The mystery man has collapsed unconscious on our near our narrator’s bed, and the conscious young man, eating his baked beans straight from the can, is wondering what the hell is going on. He actually is about to do something to find out…
Please note the immense subtlety with which the author (it’s so easy to pick on one’s previous self) attempts to hide the fact that Wakdjunkaga comes from the future.
The Book of Seasons
chapter two, continued…
Self-knowledge can be a curse, regardless of Socratic axioms: I sat there, attempting to read, but far too preoccupied with my aged intruder to concentrate, too stubbornly selfish to cease trying to read and begin trying to examine papers, and too self-consciously concerned with my own stubborn condition to be able to do anything whatsoever. I was a classic example of mental paralysis — furiously active and absolutely incompetent.
I wasted a good deal of time alternately reading a few words, looking up to check on the old fellow, staring down at him in wonderment, cursing myself for wasting time, cursing myself for cursing myself for wasting time, returning to the book, reading a few more sentences and commencing the whole process all over again. I reflected that it was altogether revolutionary, circular.
About ten-thirty, however, bored and upset, I laid my book aside and directly contemplated the old man again. After looking at him for awhile, I grew curious about the possible contents of the large pockets in his long vest. I was uncontrollably anxious to learn something about him, and the notion quietly, slowly, insidiously inserted itself into my thought that some clues could be obtained from those pockets, if not outright evidence of his identity and purpose. The more I thought, the more frequently the idea slipped into my considerations, with an ever-increasing certainty and forcefulness. Finally, without the slightest reason beyond the mere repetition of the idea, I decided to see what I might find.
Therefore, I proceeded to look through his pockets — at first cautiously, but when my probings seem to leave him undisturbed, more boldly and thoroughly. He had an unusual assortment of possessions, none of which, of course, identified him or revealed his reasons for appearing in my room. At least none of them informed me so at the time; now I see so much more about each telling object. Hindsight is marvelously perceptive.
His pockets did not hold as much as I had expected. Perhaps, however, it was the seemingly unimportant nature of the objects which instilled the notion of paucity.
The vest had six pockets in all: two at chest level in front, two side pockets, and within two deep inner compartments. In the right front pocket was a medium-size plastic flask, half-emptied. It appeared to contain a red wine; I did not sample it.
The left front pocket contained a bit of white ribbon with silver filigree on the edges, an old brown shoelace soiled with dirt, grass and lint, and a very old photograph. The photo was born and bands in the corners, creased and cracked along the middle, but evidently treasured, or at least preserved, by the old fellow for some years. It was yellowed and somewhat faded, so I did not notice details clearly. It was a shot of a girl about twenty years old, standing beside a white house on a sunny day. I did observe, to my surprise and confusion, that the girl was wearing a dress which ended several inches above her knee. Evidently the picture was not as ancient as its condition caused me to believe.
In his left side pocket a scrap of red and green plaid wool was wrapped around a fresh, green oak leaf and a small blue stone, which I thought was turquoise. The leaf was an unusual find, in late October, when all the leaves had turned autumnal colors and most had already fallen. I had no idea how we could have found a leaf in so vernal condition.
Three sticks of wood protruded from the right side pocket. They were all very similar, about eight inches long and one-half inch or so in diameter. One was black, and the other two were obviously also different woods. I learned later that the black one was yew, and the other two were rowan and elder wood. In that pocket was also a woven case, of willow, which contained several pieces of chalk — red, white, black, green, blue, brown and yellow — some tubes of paint in the same colors, and a small lump of clay in a plastic bag.
In the right inner pocket he had placed a sheaf of papers folded together. I decided these would probably tell me more than anything else, so I passed over them to examine the last pocket.
From the left inner pocket I removed a book. I was about to set it aside in order to get to the papers when I noticed it was a very peculiar book. It was made entirely of plastic.
The cover was not only laminated with a plastic or plastic-like material, as so many paperbacks appear to be, but it was thoroughly celluloid. About an eighth of an inch thick, more or less (I am not good at judging measurements at all: I later learned that the wooden rods were each nine inches long), the covers were thin sheets of plastic. And so were the pages, much thinner, but still plastic. The book folded and bent itself as if it were an ordinary paperback, but it could not be broken along the spine or toward at the corners from dog-earing. It was a vastly improved version of the paperback book, virtually indestructible from the abuses of ordinary reading.
I was astonished and puzzled. I knew of nothing like it whatsoever. I retired to my chair with it, temporarily forgetting all about the sheaf of papers I had passed over. The book was the strangest object among all his peculiar possessions.
The cover was brown with the design of a tree placed offcenter on the front. In green letters:
A BOOK OF TREES
On the back cover, in varying shades of brown was worked a subtle, convoluted ivy border, reminiscent of William Morris. Within the border was a complex and complicated painting of incredibly detailed inclusiveness, showing a man crouched before a fire in nocturnal forest clearing with the lunar phases represented among certain constellations in the sky. It was one of those pictures to which one can return again and again to find new little nuances, it was so compacted with details. It reminded me vaguely of a Tarot card.
Inexplicably the printing appeared to be within the cover, not impressed on it. I puzzled for a time over the painting and the method of getting the ink inside the plastic before I finally opened the little book.
It was a volume of poetry by this Wakdjunkaga person (I of course did not know then who he was). Nature and love poems, I judged from a quick perusal, and not altogether uninteresting. Some I even found excellent and memorable, sufficiently good to distract me into reading, when obviously I would learn nothing about my uninvited guest from them. The volume contained an assortment of poetic types, a large number of sonnets, an equal amount of free verse, some villanelles and terza rima compositions, and odd selections of other forms.
The poet seemed skillful at constructing memorable lines. I remember a villanelle which concluded:
Kiss-cleft and raven tressed, elder mare’s blood moon
wanton soft and silk like steel, Cretan cold, a Celtic rune.
And a line about “bit the burning in your teeth” in the same poem with: “trace a finger pointpath along your back.”
The busy music bends us on our way:
and love’s a rune we cannot shape or say
concluded another villanelle. Another poem began:
Woman, seek not slightly with moist words to fascinate,
nor calmly with the stars’ cold fires hex my sight,
nor in the mystery of your hair wish my rhyme to culminate.
Your voice is just the surf sound in a green cold sea.
The poet had a nice ear for assonance and alliteration, which appealed to me. I did not, naturally on a first reading, worry much about meanings and themes, but was content to let the rhythms carry me through the immediate experience each poem established. I did notice a concern, however, about defining love and discussing nature or the seasons, and with the stars and the moon as well as magic. Impressions only remained. I have since been able to reread the volume and therefore have more definite ideas, but from that first night only impressions and scattered lines and phrases remained in my mind.
I spent a long while reading the volume in an unmethodical scattershot fashion. Finally, quite by chance, I happened to turn to the title page reverse, on which all that legal information is printed concerning publisher, edition and copyright.
By then I was extremely sleepy; it was late, and I had been reading for some time. In fact, I turned to that page just as my eyes were drifting closed for a final time, and with the last flicker of vague consciousness I noticed a copyright date: 2015. Or so I thought and fell asleep.
The original photocopy dates the plastic book of poems to 1996! I guess my 1970s self imagined greater technological evolution for the printed book than has occurred. So I changed it here to 2015. There are a lot of other elements to this old story that make me realize it was written more than thirty years ago.
Also, thinking about Friday’s post, I spent a little while perusing chapter 2 for both yesterday and today, cleaning up a surprising number of auditory errors. I hope I caught them all. (I haven’t checked over the page I am creating for The Book of Seasons as I write this.)
I do have a chapter 3 and a chapter 4…
For tomorrow, it’s a big chunk of “Mantorville,” revealing Mr. Arkham’s crime and trial.