Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Legend of the May Queen

[Note: She will probably see some edits, but here she is, for now, still in her curlers. Stay tuned for June: Hymn to the God of Summer Solstice. I met him the other day, I think.]
The Legend of the May Queen

She appeared once upon a time, on a beautiful day in May of course, because everyone knows that May has the most beautiful days. The mere mention of a beautiful day conjures traces of May in the imagination. All the months have their graces and their saints, but how did it come to be that Beauty falls to May? How is it that May gets a Queen? She’s a strange queen, it’s a rare time, the days of May, and rare times with strange queens inspire their own legends, so the story must begin: Once upon a time because the fairy-tale days of May do not last forever, by design.

Once upon a time, on a beautiful day in May, two strange fellows set out on a quest, the search for the May Queen. One was a self-proclaimed poet, with a small notebook and a good memory for detail. The other was an unemployed mathematician who also carried a small notebook full of geometric proofs and had an eye for patterns. Both spent the better part of their days working crossword puzzles at the neighborhood tavern, and both had a hunch they could do better than this, but both found themselves lacking inspiration.

“MayQueen” was the answer to 5 down in the daily puzzle: “calandar royalty.” All the poet knew about her amounted to a few random adjectives gleaned from poems he learned by heart, but out of the modifiers, he created a mystery which he told to his friend, and as he told it, the mathematician questioned him, and a dream was spun from profound nonsense and fantastic conjecture, laced with bits of poetry and mythology, with a noble lie thrown in here and there for good measure. In the dim beer-soaked light of the tavern their eyes shone and the mathematician began to feel a sort of hunger. It was the mathematician who suggested, under the influence of the story, that they try and find her, if she did exist.

The barkeep, who’d grown wise and skinny listening to foolish dreams pour out of bottles, spit on the floor and swabbed the counter. Of course the MayQueen exists, she said, and woe to you if you do catch a glimpse. The MayQueen will change you forever. Tell us how to find her, they pleaded. The barkeep laughed and looked a little less wrinkled, a little lighter and younger for an instant. You’re both fools, she said, so you have a fighting chance. But I can only tell you how to recognize her on the off-chance, the barkeep shrugged. The mathematician perked up at the mention of an off-chance, and the poet frowned and scratched his head.

The MayQueen was never created, the barkeep began. She was there all along, like a birthday, a numbered day with your name on it. She is a gift, a reason to celebrate, a secret held under the tongue, burning. Or an epiphany, the sudden memory of something you always knew. She is never who you expect her to be. And she is the one you’ve always been waiting for. She arrives on the scene like a birthday cake in full bloom. And confronts everyone who beholds her with the age old cake dilemma between seeing and eating. She’ll tear you up, drive you crazy and inspire you forever, especially if you’re like the fool who only wants beauty, but knows he is likely to ruin it, and it is likely to ruin him. And so he subsists on his hunger, and feeds thousands.

The barkeep poured herself a drink, swallowed and shook her head at the two friends who sat across from her, rapt and slack-jawed. The MayQueen is a revolution. She is both witness and ring leader. She has the kind of grace that sets stones on end, makes them stand and proclaim.

The May Queen is everyone’s sweetheart, she said, and always her own mistress. But there’s no better pursuit than the May Queen. To meet her is to run the risk of astonishment. Inspiration made permanent. She lets a love define your life.

Tell us more, they begged the girl. Have you seen her? Do you know where she lives? How do we find her? But their questions were useless. All the barkeep did was laugh and fill their cups. I’ve said enough, she told them. From now on, she depends on you.

And so the poet and the mathematician, both dizzy from the drink and the imagined perfume of the MayQueen, stumbled home, arm in arm. She is the graffiti artist of the sky, said the poet as he studied the sunset. The anarchist of spring, quipped the mathematician as he shuffled through fallen petals. And she lives in all those perfect little cataclysms like thunderstorms and falling stars, hiccups and waterfalls. And lovemaking, giggled the poet.

If this life exists to break our hearts up against, we may as well learn how to do it gracefully, said the poet, all serious but not sober. He gripped his friend’s arm. Where did you get that line from? asked the lover of patterns. I don’t know, said the lover of words, must’ve been the MayQueen.

The mathematician, unwilling to be outshone, said, beauty only lives in the tension between contrasts. Yes, cried the poet, and moreover, she is beauty without the idea of beauty. Her transparency is opaque. She is everywhere infinitely elusive, and if you are lucky enough to be loved by her, be grateful. Because to be loved by her is to be considered beautiful.

I hope she loves me, sighed the mathematician. And I hope she loves me, wished the poet. We must make it so, they agreed.

The poet and the mathematician never really found the MayQueen. But she became and remained the absent beloved for both. The poet dedicated all his poems to her and thought he found her at 4am in the morning once in the perfect weave of his own words, just as the moon was rising and the birds were singing in anticipation of morning. And the mathematician sought for her in infinite series and impossible proofs. And he thought he caught a glimpse of her in the mathematical expression of the whorls of a sea-shell. Both of them were moved to do things they never imagined themselves doing. The poet read his work on the steps of town hall and took to carrying around a tamborine, urging his listeners to rebel and be free. The mathematician decided to disprove gravity as a myth, a self-fulfilling prophecy, and he said if everyone suspended their disbelief, they would be capable of flight. They might even find themselves growing feathers in perfectly symmetrical patterns, well-suited for defying all the laws of physics.

And when both were arrested for revolutionary antics, they made a final appeal to the MayQueen as they stood before the firing squad, and she heard, found them faithful, and spirited them away to her kingdom where she worked as a barkeep and saw that they were well cared for as they approached an infinity of May days.


Kristalyn said...

Has the May Queen found any inspiration in Berlin?

Stan Dotson said...

Sounds like you've gotten to know that barkeep pretty well! Great story.

Reminds me of one of the great inspired lyrics of classic rock:

If theres a bustle in your hedgerow
Dont be alarmed now,
Its just a spring clean for the may queen.
Yes, there are two paths you can go by
But in the long run
Theres still time to change the road youre on.
And it makes me wonder.

Leslee said...

Makes me wonder. Yes. Well said.