Portrait of T. S.

Eliot Old men ought to be explorers, thought one as he ventured out the door into the grey London street, once cobblestoned, now paved. History always gets paved over, but Eliot was conscious of the cobblestones buried beneath his feet; his footsteps sent vibrations down to them, which they sent back up, slightly altered. He received these intimations of the past into his head and churned them about as he walked, eyes downcast and brow furrowed, trying to apply words to the shadow-pattern shapeshifting through his mind. He looked up for one second and noticed the day was overcast, or maybe it was just the twilight. A black cat flitted across the sidewalk in front of him, disappearing behind some rubbish bins. The street lamp sputtered, the street lamp muttered²yes, the street lamp was talking to him! He, Eliot, twenty years of age, his grey hair combed neatly so that no one would ever suspect²he was secretly training to become a prophet. Wait²that man there, the one with the briefcase, smells dusty, like he stepped right out of Ezekiel. A terrifying vision suddenly flashed before Eliot of a brown scar of earth, the dried husk of the Thames, winding under London Bridge, and the million umbrellas of London open on the bridge, waiting for a drop of rain, but none came and they were all just blown away, along with everyone¶s top-hats. And then they all just stood around, looking dumbfounded and glum. As he progressed down Bloomsbury Way, the prophet fingered the lapel of his green jacket. Green, on the one side, but red on the other; he was sure people could see it, the blood from his bullet wound, soaking through the fabric of his left shoulder, the blood of the Lamb. It was on his face, too; he could feel it, warm and sticky, although he could also feel plants growing there, grass and clover; these spread down across his jacket, which was, after all, a lively spring green. His visage hadn¶t always been so springy, so sanguine; back in the days of straw men, living in Limbo, he had powdered his face a pale green and stalked through the streets like a living disease. It was his need, then, and his burden, to question everything, even asking who he was. Thomas, he found, for the dubious Apostle; Stearns for his brooding countenance, driving all easy companionship away. But he was also an Eliot, with roots dug down into the earth of East Coker. Both of these faces were his, and only the vertex of the two could point him on toward the horizon. Yes, it had taken him a long time and much searching, many infernal nights, to

find that there are only two ways: the way up and the way down. And the only way up is the way down. And the only way out is the way in. There are only two ways, Two-Face Eliot repeated to himself as a mantra while he passed a church, St. Peter¶s or St. Paul¶s. As a boy, in a white-washed room with low ceiling and wooden benches, he had eaten bread, and under high stone vaults trimmed with gold flourishes, he had eaten the Lord. He remembered fishing in the mud of the Mississippi and foraging for crabs on the coast of Massachusetts. The sea-breeze wafted into his nostrils as he played among the rocks, Mother watching him closely because of his weak legs. Dear Mother, where is she now? He owed so much to her²his education, his appreciation for letters, his desire to know God. And later, when he had read Pascal, he had thought back on her, her simple acceptance of miracles, and realized she had been right. So the end of all his learning was to arrive at Gloucester, back where he had started, and know it for the first time.

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