by Tim Gilmore, 7/21/2012
The turret stretches three stories tall. Its roundness defies that need to square corners, to define neatly, to categorize. The oldness of its roundness testifies to an old urge that could have been voluptuous if it weren’t mystical. The roundness of this tower is the defiance of neat corners, defiance in which the Spiritualists conducted their séances. And when the séances grew tiring, they connected to still older urges, basic and beautiful.
And if, as Francis Bacon wrote, “There is no excellent beauty, that hath not some strangeness in the proportion,” there also obtains no true beauty that has not some element of sadness. Beauty, not prettiness, cuteness, formal mannerism, sexiness, nor glibness, is hard to take. Beauty defines itself against the ordinary by showing what always exists, but is rarely attainable or rarely sufferable. Beauty, being rare, contains in itself all the missing of and longing for itself. Beauty, being existential, shows us how small our life is against it and how we shall not only not possess it, but we shall have to witness it and leave it behind.
Between 1903 and 1913, someone redesigned the veranda, giving it corners, squaring its columns, setting it thematically and aesthetically against the corner turret. Earlier Sanborn maps show its original curve that matched the tower. The Victorians, so afraid of the human body and any sign of its skin or its curve, nevertheless built their houses with everything they abjured about the human body. The Victorians built their houses with curves and ornamentation and dramatic effect. They topped this tower with fishscale tiles, and wrapped and curved this porch around the house, and decorated it with gingerbread carpentry.
When, then, in the early 19-teens, someone remodeled the porch with right angles and squares and columns of 90-degree angles, its original Victorian architecture became more Victorian in its sexuality.
It did not matter. Squared corners could not diminish the zaftig corpus of the house to its mere bones, but the house remained full of the many lives of its multiple life. The house remained all of the above.
She said she had thought she had seen beauty, but when she finally saw it, it broke her heart irrecoverably.
He said he had thought he’d seen beauty, but when he finally saw it, he understood loss, understood why the castrati were the most hauntingly lovely singers.
Across the wood floors they walk their bodies across the wood floors they place their lives between the Victorian walls they eat and love and learn beneath the steeple atop the cone atop the tower and the eaves of the attic and its windows that look out over Hubbard and Second Streets at the city’s highest classes a century before its lowest classes and then the artists and academics and outsiders and gay urban pioneers and neo-romantics in 1990 and 2000 and 2010.
Understood that beauty, by definition, could not be contained, certainly not be maintained, not even attained, only witnessed. Even if you could create it, creating beauty was only a witnessing of a beauty that had come into your purview. Beauty could not belong to you. Beauty could not be yours. Beauty could only come through you, and when beauty came through you, it did not leave you whole, and a person with beauty inside him hurt everyone who looked on him. Beauty dictated what you did with it. You could not create it, but it could well up within your heart and your mind and your eye and shape the thing you were doing, and you could hope that thing you were doing would be a beautiful thing, and if so, it would leave you misshapen, disfigured, a wrecked shadow of the wonderful thing that had moved through you. That wonderful thing would be all that mattered. You could point to it as the truer you; you could say that if anyone wanted to know you, they should know that thing you created, or that beautiful thing that had moved through you, that they could well ignore the you that beautiful thing had left behind.
Then the owls alit in tall trees ahead of the storm, and came a beauty with no momentary sacrifice—this beautiful woman, these beautiful daughters. The 12 year-old held the nine year-old on her lap and they said the wind in the trees and the calls of the owls made them kind of cold and kind of scared, but they agreed to the beauty of this particular night. And this beautiful woman, come across the continent, come across the culture, that black hair and that smile on her face while looking up into the night. They all acknowledged the night belonged to the owls, not to the history, not to the architecture, and not to the storm. Tonight was beauty in fullness entirely, no sacrifice, and the stupidity of martyrdom came through the trees and asked that inhabitants of the houses live their lives, asked that the living, yet with their lives, get to live them, and they lived their lives.
They lived their lives in a house whose future residents would wonder at the lives previously lived in their own house while they lived their lives, thinking, “Of such is a city,” and thinking, “Of such a city is this very house.”
Oh you were beautiful when you were beautiful, you are beautiful.