Dear Dagmar Onassis,

We met briefly once; you couldn’t possibly remember me.  For one it was a dark room, and for another your head was ten feet tall.  But I took your picture, and I’ve kept it with me since. At first I took it simply because your makeup would make Mei Lanfang green with envy, and many other colors besides.

This picture I have of you, it’s very funny because if you cover the left eye, there’s an expression of pure pleasure, and if you cover the right, grief. Depending on the day, I see the one more than the other. I’m returning it to you now because its two unequal terms do not do you justice.

Seeing you in such baroque opulence, I thought about the month I spent in Miami for the Obama campaign, going door-to-door every day, like Thoreau’s sauntering pilgrims. You never know much about your fellow citizens till you’ve looked through a hundred front doors at random. Inside one low, flat house typical of Miami, the living room was a full-size shrine in an aesthetic that could be dubbed Deco Catholic, stacked with porcelain saviors suffering to savoir, magnified by mirrors into a saintly army flying leopard print banners; reliquary, fun house, and circus, I thought, while watching the shawl over your chest.

At another bungalow the shades were drawn, covering everything in an expanse of gray as if draped with a Caravaggio halftone. I was there trying to allay the fears of a middle-aged woman, convinced the election was rigged, that nobody’s vote counted. But among and underneath our words I could hear a vacant babble from an old woman in a wheelchair, just inside the door frame of a room with no furniture. I had never heard real babbling before, void like the dead light.

A muse is the vessel for every voice, except maybe for these two, one sealed in hermetic illness, the other cynically detached. A halftone is neither the shadows nor the lights in a painting, but neither is it exactly the in-between tones. It is a gray zone, itself unreal, but produces the effect of reality. It must be present for the chiaroscuro to produce something attached to life, not because it resembles life, but because it pulls outside of the theatrical. Any enactment of such a void rings false, but no muse can ignore it. So a tip: lips lie, throats don’t. Watch where the neck drops into the collar bone for the sharp breath between long phrases: technique, not stage presence, is what counts when you lip sync in church. That advice is by way of a thank you – for being marvelous in an atonal world.

See you in Paradise, and everywhere else, too,


Dear John,
Love Mike,

Dear Louise,
Love Matthew

Dear Nort and Jort,
Love Nora and Jules

Dear Dagmar,
Love Becket
Dear Stonehenge,
Love Anna

Dear Richard,
Love Lissa

Dear Gordon,
Love Emily