That night at Natalie’s in Paris, Olga was wearing her most boyishly cut jacket and a low-waisted skirt so she’d be ready if someone asked her to foxtrot. But before any of that could happen, before the dancing, before she could remove her jacket or display herself at her flexible best, he came up to her and touched her on the arm. Why the arm? If Ezra liked a woman, she’d heard the gossip, he would become paternal, kiss her on the forehead or draw her onto his knee. But he touched her arm. Then they began to tease, describing each other’s eyes – Ezra went first. Botticelli, he said. How could Olga not flush at being compared to Venus? She knew to stay away from art or literature – but she should reciprocate – so she scanned the room, both in English and French. The ice chest, perfect, so she covered as much of his hand as she could with her own long fingers, and whispered cadmium. Or, no, now she was unsure, maybe he’d seen her eyes searching behind him, so she took it back – not cadmium, no, more amber. Surely he was playing a joke, turning away from her like that, surely he couldn’t have been disappointed – hadn’t the Botticelli reference been in jest? – had she misread his intentions? – One more chance, she pretended to plead, and when Ezra turned back and smiled she said, Your eyes are topaz in Chateau D’Yquem.
When Olga Rudge met Ezra Pound he had just put the last flourishes on his theory establishing the link between complete and profound copulation and cerebral development. The brain is a great clot of genital fluid held in suspense and the woman’s role, Ezra had written, was to be the passive receptacle for the poet’s sperm. Not any woman – for a permanent liaison, only a woman of artistry and classical beauty would do.
Olga had nothing to gain by becoming Ezra’s lover. She was no third seat in a provincial orchestra. She’d performed in London – he’d seen her – that night she’d been the soloist at the top of the bill. If only Mama were here, but Olga was alone in the elegant flat near the Bois. She was secure – knew Paris like a native, travelled in better circles than Ezra, who after all arrived just before Christmas. He was a decade older than Olga, was rarely seen in public with his wife Dorothy. He’d been sleeping with three or four women she knew and just last week she’d heard about one recent late – night prowl of Ezra’s that began on Boulevard Arago and ended . . . or did it ever end? So Left Bank, she thought. How could she converse with a man who complained he’d spent the whole summer of 1921 without finding a congenial mistress? That was the word he used, congenial.
Olga feels lost as the black gondola pushes off from the mooring and into the Venetian lagoon. Her present is in the process of being swamped by the past, and the rushing in of those tidal waters is so confusing she doesn’t know which way to look. So she looks through the pink morning haze over the lagoon, she looks across at the cypresses on the island of San Michele, and then back on San Giorgio, before turning her eyes to what rests behind her, to Ezra’s coffin.
She had won, had run off her rival, Dorothy Pound, the wife – Miss Rudge, you are no lady! As the four funeral gondoliers gather speed she can feel the Adriatic breezes in her hair. Of course he hadn’t been the Ezra she first met, but she had him all to herself for the final ten years. Few women would count that as a triumph, many friends probably laughed at her, taking in a geriatric poet, a philanderer, only a few years out of the lunatic ward. But they’d never seen him young, never read those first pneumatiques that shuttled through the underground tubes from Left Bank to Right, the faded blue paper, his letters always closing with the same endearment—she was Cara, una bella figliuola, a beautiful young girl. She pictures Dorothy in England with the telegram in her hands –‘After three days illness, Ezra died in his sleep’ – but too frail to attend the funeral. The newspapers call Olga his nurse, his housekeeper, his companion, but which of them picked out the grave? I was the sea in which he floated. One of Ezra’s friends wrote that, and Olga is always happy when she thinks of that line, thinks of herself as Caro’s sea. One day they’ll overwrite the word nurse with muse, companion with lover.
Where was the wall of Eblis
At Ventadour, there now are the bees,
And in that court, wild grass for their pleasure
That they carry back to the crevice
Where loose stone hangs upon stone.
Olga took down the photo album from the attic and placed it in front of Ezra. He’d been sullen all morning since the letter and the bank draft arrived from Dorothy: For Ezra’s keep, please reimburse yourself for a warm undershirt. We generally allow 60,000 lire a month for food. Olga felt the slap. An undershirt! She turned the pages of the photographs while she stroked Ezra’s beard and told him it was turning back from ash white to paprika. Mephistopheles returns, she teased, and finally he relented – the Dordogne, he said softly. He’d never been sentimental, and Olga knew he was indulging her, peering into their remote past, for him such a conventional gesture of tenderness. But at least he’d remembered and there was playfulness in his eyes and he said, yes, Ventadour, August of ’23. She reached down to press her hand on the photograph of the sunlit Ezra standing in the late afternoon light of Montségur and said how elegant a gentleman could look after hiking twenty-five kilometers in a rucksack.
Olga looks straight down into the lagoon, at the water gliding under the prow of the gondola, green clear then blue clear. She looks over the flat water in front of her, then behind her at the receding palazzi, and despite the fact she’s been in a thousand gondolas, she thinks, my, this gondola is soundless, and she is sure she won’t forget the quiet, the absence of gulls crying or any noise of waves moving. At first Olga had been shocked, then delighted by the appearance of Ezra in his apricot pyjamas at the top of the stairs at Hidden Nest, her house on calle Querini. She’d thrown the I Ching, as always, before feeding Ezra a few spoonfuls of porridge. He was feeling pressure in his stomach, but he was not in pain. Just after midnight, Olga became concerned about his breathing and called the ambulance boat to take Ezra to the municipal hospital. Refusing a stretcher, he walked along the calle Querini to the mooring and climbed into the gondola unassisted.
Olga reaches back, touches the petals of one of the thirty-five coral roses in the gondola’s stern. What thou lovest well cannot be reft from thee. But maybe Ezra was mistaken, maybe it can be reft, but maybe that was her fault as much as Caro’s. Youngstown was certainly reft from her, those first years gone when her mother took Olga and her two younger brothers to New York, leaving their father behind forever. She didn’t remember much–but what she did recall was the smoke from the mills, how it tasted and stung, and how, in summer, she and her brothers would escape to Mill Creek Park where there’d be tub races on the Mahoning River. She also remembered two occasions of tears: once when her mother scolded her for skating onto soft ice in the middle of the river and the other time in the second act of La Bohème at the Youngstown Opera House, her mother scooping her from her orchestra seat and carrying Olga sobbing up the center aisle. Julia Rudge had been Youngstown’s finest contralto, and she would sing while Olga played the violin. Mother never met Ezra, but she would have loved these roses – she would have loved the service, the four gondoliers in black hoisting the coffin through the Palladian doors of San Giorgio Maggiore.
‘Dearest Fluffy,’ ‘My Darling Girlie,’ these were how Julia began her letters to Olga after the nine-year-old had been sent to England to board at St Anthony’s Convent. ‘Let me tell you out of my own experience that when you feel inclined to find fault with circumstances, that the best thing to do is work. I have been through so many years of ennui and disappointment, and if I only had someone to show me how to make my conditions or surroundings – instead of letting them make me – I should have been saved much suffering. Make your music your first duty. Concentrate on it and try to love it and then use it to drive away the little devils of unrest which always haunt us.’
Maybe it can be reft, all of it. The beautiful flat Mama took at 2 rue Chamfort, reft. Sometimes Julia and the children went to the Latin Quarter, and Olga saw acrobats performing in the street. Reft, reft, torn away by the first war, by the German zeppelin raids and Olga can’t forget how the concierge would shimmy up the lamp post to extinguish the gas lights. Ezra was wrong. Year by year, everything is reft. The violin, reft, or rather put away on a high shelf in the closet; she had been proud of her superb lower register, her flowing cantabile, but no one would dream of asking an old woman to play.
Olga didn’t complain about sharing Ezra with Dorothy. Once she wrote to him saying she wasn’t a pushy person, despite the fact he went around covered with signs saying Keep Off the Grass, Don’t Touch, Open 10-12, Closed 12-2, By Appointment Only. She wouldn’t have suggested having a child, except, after ten years of marriage, Dorothy didn’t want one; she loathed children. By mutual consent, that’s how Olga always described their decision, that curious phrase suggesting that she and Ezra shared a vision of the future. But Olga knew Ezra could not begin to raise a child, especially their child, and she also knew she had no capacity to mother. So when Mary arrived Olga decided to board the baby with a peasant family in the Tyrols. Olga was never sorry she had Mary by Ezra. And when Dorothy, almost forty, retaliated by getting pregnant – and promptly shipping the boy off to his grandmother in England – Olga said nothing, she told Ezra she was happy he finally had a son.
But then Ezra pulled back. He rarely visited his daughter, but Olga too once went a year and a half without seeing Mary. Olga wrote to him: I only want to be sure in most selfish manner that in duty to offspring not going to lose the amante. There was coldness between them. Olga didn’t write, Ezra didn’t write, but then he did, referring to himself and Olga in the third person, and he was nasty: He never said she was more bother than she was worth; he said she had given him more trouble than all the other women on the planet.
All the mourners had left Hidden Nest and Olga had picked up as best she could. She was alone, afraid of going to sleep. For company, she turned on the reel-to-reel and listened to some of the recordings of the Cantos she had coaxed Ezra into making in his last months. It had been a diversion to keep him occupied, to remind him of who he still was. But Olga was shaken by Ezra’s disembodied voice filling the front room – as he read, she began filing away the last lists and daily schedules. All his meals, his medicines, the dosages, how much he’d slept, she’d written it all down on sheets of lined paper. Olga didn’t notice the hours passing, or that she’d been dozing, her head in her folded arms on the small table, but she awoke startled and Ezra was calling to her:
What do I love and
Where are you?
Olga stood. She walked to the window and looked at the November moonlight on the Mendicanti canal. Ezra was calling, and his voice was like smoke. That’s how they’d lived these last years, like mendicants. She hadn’t been extravagant, but the funeral had been costly, and she hated the thought of asking Dorothy to cover the expense of renting the gondola and hiring the special gondoliers. Ezra was calling. Just last spring she’d taken out the manuscripts of the last fragments – though he hadn’t written poetry for over a decade – and propped them open in front of him and set up the tape recorder. He’d been in such despair, fumbling about, dropping the microphone into his lap – it’s all a muddle, he’d said, and she was impatient with him, bossy really, and she pointed to the page and told him to take a deep breath, to start again:
that I lost my center
fighting the world
The dreams clash
And are shattered–
Olga turned off the tape recorder. She turned off the reading lamp next to Ezra’s chair, and went upstairs to bed. As she put on her nightgown she thought about their last night together – the two of them walking the calle Querini to the mooring, and Caro holding her arm and then letting go of her and stepping so beautifully, unassisted, into the gondola. Olga scanned the bookshelves in their bedroom but she could not find what she was looking for. She picked up a foot stool and carried it over to the shelves and stepped onto it. On her tiptoes, almost falling over, she managed to find Thrones, the last volume of the Cantos. She held it in her hands before she opened the front cover and read the inscription, For Olga, Canto CXX / if there is a clear line of Mozart or any fragment of beauty left in my ruins she found it & held it . . .
That first night sleeping without Ezra next to her, Olga was assaulted in her dreams. She was under a moonlit quilt and a man appeared to be sitting on the edge of her bed. He was reading from a file, oblivious to the startled Olga. He lifted the quilt and Olga could barely breathe, gasping at the violation. Then he tugged the sheet from the mattress and snapped it high and it billowed in the moonlight and when it fell away he was gone and Olga saw the tape recorder on the pillow beside her. There was a voice coming from it, and it was Mama’s voice and she was asking if Olga still had the ten-volume Shakespeare that she had given her for her twelfth birthday. The set I bought for two pounds, six shillings but was so beautiful you asked if I’d stolen them. Julia was sitting at the far edge of an endless canal and her voice was flying over the ribbon of water, like the long leap of a porpoise, but when the voice reached Olga’s ears it was a voice over a radio.
– Europe calling! Pound Speaking! Ezra Pound speaking!
– Ezra Pound speakin’ from Europe for the American heritage!
– Nothing can save you. And it is for this filth that you fight. What does a Baruch or a Solomon care for Canterbury? Nothing. It is not his Canterbury, it is NOT his cathedral. The destroyed monuments are not monuments to the glory of Judah. They show NOTHING that the Jew can be proud of. They were built in the open defiance of the Jew slime, and of the Talmud.
The tape recorder continues to play and Olga realizes that a woman is speaking, and she immediately thinks Mama’s accusing her of throwing her life away. Was your hair down? How were you dressed? But that’s not Mama’s voice, it’s not the voice of the dead, and Olga realizes it’s Dorothy’s voice, Dorothy demanding answers. You have no right, Olga hears herself saying, and she puts her hands over her eyes to block out the sight of her rival but she feels only the pulse of her own weeping. But Dorothy does, she has a widow’s rights, Olga realizes, which is more than I have, perhaps she’s returned from England to claim them, perhaps she’s brought her son. They’ll be standing on the turned earth around Ezra’s grave, the grave I chose, paying their respects, occupying their places – rightful or not – as wife and son. Please, God, will they at least realize that the patch of myrtle to Ezra’s left has been reserved for me?
She ignored being called an octopus, a vampire, being told she had a set of values he didn’t give a damn for. But when he discovered a peasant’s cottage in Sant’Ambrogio, Casa Sessanta, on the hill above the seaside flat where he and Dorothy lived, Olga felt as if she’d returned from exile. The perfect pied-á-terre, he said, and Olga paid seventy-five lire a month for that cottage with its orange-colored wash, its stone steps obscured by creepers and honeysuckle, and only a half-hour walk down the footpath to be with Ezra. He spent mornings writing in the flat he lived in with Dorothy and then played a little tennis, but Olga’s afternoons with Caro – she would watch for him climbing the salita, the long stairway to Sant’Ambrogio, to the ingle of Circe. That’s what he called it in the Cantos, her cottage, the ingle of Circe, and it was until the bombing began.
How extraordinary it seems now, sharing a roof, a table, a man, and for an entire year. But it was an extraordinary time, she knew that when the railway bridge at Rapallo was destroyed. And then in May, the Allied bombing of Genoa enflamed the sky over the Bay of Tigullio. Olga tried to black out her windows, put dried fruit in the cellar. But what was she to do when they ordered the evacuation of the seaside? Ezra and Dorothy were given twenty-four hours to move – they had nowhere to go. For Ezra’s sake – that’s how she always explained it – and to keep him close, Olga invited them to live with her. She went to their apartment on Via Marsala and helped them load up the cart and haul their belongings up the hill. None of it was real, in a few hours there would be bombs exploding nearby and so Olga concentrated on pillows and bedspreads, on making Dorothy’s room as cozy as possible. And then she spruced up Ezra’s room. At the end of that day, there they were, the three of them, sitting together in darkness. They listened for news on the BBC, but the darkness could not hide twenty years of festering between Olga and Dorothy. That night’s bombing runs began and the timbers in the floor of Casa Sessanta began to tremble, but the two women, one on either side of Ezra, each with a child by him, were invisible to the other except in the split-second glare of the phosphorous bombs. Finally, Olga excused herself and went to her room and began to play by heart the Mozart Concerto in A Major, as beautifully, as cruelly, as she ever had.
‘Ci segua, traditore!’
If she had only been there when they beat on the door with their rifle butts. If she had only been at his side when they took him away. But neither Dorothy nor Olga was at Casa Sessanta that morning. Common thieves, thugs, all they knew was there was a reward on Caro’s head. Whenever Olga screened that short and violent film in her mind – of the Italian partisans coming for Ezra, shoving him as they descended the salita, of him standing his ground for a moment at the crook in the stairway, then stooping to pick up a eucalyptus pip, a feeling of deprivation swept over her as if all five of her senses had been stripped away.
Olga ran down the other side of the hill to Zoagli, finding Ezra there under guard in the makeshift headquarters. They were taking him to Lavagna. Olga insisted on going with Ezra, and finally they said get in the truck, and when they arrived Olga could see that the courtyard walls were bloody, that they had been settling grudges. From Zoagli to Lavagna to Chiavari, and finally, as it was getting dark, to the Americans at Genoa. They were led into an empty hallway and told to sit down and wait. They could hear crying in rooms all down the corridor. Olga realized that no one was coming for them, at least not that night, and so they tried to sleep on the benches. No one came the next day either; they would have guessed the building had been abandoned except for the crying. Finally in the early evening a soldier came to take Ezra for questioning. When he returned several hours later Olga had laid out their K-rations into the semblance of dinner. They were moved into what appeared to be a business office, and Ezra slept on two chairs pushed together while Olga curled up on the desk. They were, she always said, among the four happiest days of her life, sharing his ‘cell’, sleeping on benches and chairs and desks, and the emergency rations, and how after those first two days young soldiers brought them tins to heat water, and they had hot bouillon and coffee, the first they’d had in years. And all that time, being held incommunicado with Caro.
Except Dorothy got him back. Olga didn’t like to think about those years, after the second war–alone in Venice and Sant’Ambrogio, and Ezra locked up in Washington DC at St Elizabeths. Where Dorothy got to visit him every day. She was the official one, the wife, the one with rights and privileges. She was the one who sailed to America to be near Ezra. He would wait each day in his locked room for Dorothy to arrive to take him out, as if he were a punished child, to sit on his permitted spot on the asylum lawn.
Once Olga burst into the local barbershop in Rapallo to ask the patrons to sign a petition. The barber was startled and the man in the chair pushed the razor from his throat, wiped away a line of blood and asked Olga what it was all about. But he was being polite; he already knew. Everyone in the barbershop, everyone in Rapallo knew because Olga burst in everywhere, at any time. She was stealthy in approach, and suddenly she had the butcher by the elbow or was pounding her fist on the sweetshop counter – Was he? Was he ever? No, of course he wasn’t, Ezra was never a member of the Fascist Party. And everyone signed her petitions. Over and over again they signed, they nodded vigorously, they told her of course he never harmed a single Jew. Did they know he had been held in a cage outside Pisa, in a death cell? And they said this was the first they heard of it – how shocking – Il Poeta treated like a wild beast. Yes, open to the rain, a concrete floor, steel mesh, flood lights trained on him through the night – the poor man couldn’t sleep.
Olga didn’t complain about the latest indignity – the army had finally allowed Ezra to write letters – but only to Dorothy. But never, not once did she admit to anyone that it was to Dorothy that Ezra sent drafts of new Cantos, and that Dorothy forwarded them to Olga for typing. So Olga sat at the desk, which was really a door across two sawhorses that Ezra had rigged up before the war, and as she typed she searched for allusions to their lives together, perhaps to August of ’23, that month in Provence where Olga photographed Ezra under the gargoyles in Ventadour and he taught her about troubadours. He was so much the teacher then, sometimes tender, sometimes stern. But when he spoke about troubadours, which he did every supper that August, he was sublime, coiled but gentle, and she remembered one night he drew a map on the tablecloth to show her exactly how their songs spread from western Aquitaine. Despite the fact that she’d already read over and over every word of these new poems, she began to type and she thought surely he’ll allude to that time he called me the dawn before the dawn, an Oriental princess under Occidental stars. But there was nothing, not a word about their love, so Olga stood, opened her violin case and felt under the plush velvet for the hidden key and then she unlocked a small chest, and took out again the school-exercise notebooks from the twenties in which she had recorded their days together. There they were, so many of her entries punctuated by XXX, and she smiled at her simple code for intercourse.
And then there was the morning she read that verse in Canto 76:
O white-chested martin, God damn it
As no one else will carry a message
Say to La Cara: amo.
No matter where she is, whenever Olga thinks of those lines she goes to the window and it is that morning, and she can make out the white breast nestled in the vines, clinging to the honeysuckle, and the martin panting after its long and dangerous flight from Pisa. It always completes its mission, is always obedient to Caro’s orders that it speak a single word to his Oriental princess: amo. The image of the martin in the vines provokes a memory of another word that Ezra had used in one of the last Cantos – splendor. Like a rush light to lead back to splendor. Olga felt that splendor in Sant’Ambrogio in ’45 and she feels it, if for only a moment, revive in her as the gondola closes the last hundred metres to San Michele. She can make out women disembarking from the public vaporetto and carrying pots of huge pink chrysanthemums, an army of blossoms parading in front of the Emiliani chapel and dispersing silently down the cemetery lanes. A year ago they’d come to pay their respects to Stravinski – he was the hero – and now she’s returned with Caro, her pariah.
They always ask was he a fascist, was he an anti-Semite. People always say they want to be fair, to hear both sides. She always tells them the same things, but they don’t listen. He wasn’t paid by Mussolini to make the broadcasts. He was only speaking his own mind. He never encouraged the troops to lay down their weapons. But none of that matters any more. He did what he did, said what he said. Except maybe age has worn down her resistance, and she looks back at Ezra but there is only a casket full of silence, and Olga knows there was an artery of hatred in Ezra and she knows she encouraged him – And Dorothy too, of course! – certainly Dorothy had her resentments. Genteel English calm, always an air of Henley, and perfect diction, but underneath she blamed the Jews – Jews, she insisted, sold the fire bombs to Roosevelt, and once, at Sant’Ambrogio, after a particularly brilliant eruption over the bay, Dorothy said that’s the magnesium, and they get that from Jews, and even Ezra looked astonished. In fact whenever the conversation got round to Jews, which it often did, there would be a gleam in Dorothy’s eye. Olga laces her fingers and holds her twined hands in front of her until she realizes that her gloves are damp from the morning mist on the lagoon. Will Ezra rise up this evening to find the island quiet? But if that’s all it was, Caro, if it was only bigotry and hatred and bile . . .
Caro, you should have stood trial, you should have cleared your name. What could have happened? Prison? Prison would have been infinitely better than twelve years among those husks. All of them staring and rocking in front of the television. That was also Dorothy’s fault. Dorothy wouldn’t sign his release papers to get him out of St Elizabeths because she feared he would return to Olga. And when he was released it was into Dorothy’s custody, she was the Committee for Ezra Pound, appointed by the judge. And he came back to Italy with her, and with that young secretary, Marcella, the one who was with him every afternoon on the asylum lawn, the one he wrote that revolting line about, Marcella of the long flank, the firm breast. Olga had forced herself to be patient. And she had been, she had been patience itself when Ezra took Dorothy back to Olga’s own daughter’s home in the Tyrols, to Mary’s castle at Brunnenberg. To Olga’s own grandchildren!
But the beauty is not the madness
Tho’ my errors and wrecks lie about me.
And I am not a demigod.
I cannot make it cohere.
If love be not in the house there is nothing.
Old friends of theirs would write to say they ran into Ezra, or to ask if Olga had seen the picture in the papers of him marching with the Fascists? Mary told her that Ezra was wandering, from Brunnenberg to Rome to Merano and back to Brunnenberg, sometimes with Dorothy, sometimes without. He was restless and erratic, often refusing to eat, preoccupied with infection and contamination and blocked bowels, berating himself when not utterly silent. He started clawing the backs of his beautiful hands. In the early spring, Mary and Dorothy felt a visit to Rapallo might do some good; the weather was milder there and he could receive more effective treatment for his prostate. So Ezra went south, they operated in June and he was in bed for most of July and August. Dorothy probably did her best, Olga had to admit that, and Mary did everything she could, what with the children and the castle to tend to, but the two of them couldn’t help ease his anguish or depression. And then, in the course of one August night, Ezra was swept up in frailty, and so, finally, it happened. Mary picked up the telephone and dialed. It took forty years for the call to go through but finally the phone rang. The call had gone out. And the call was to Olga.
Olga has an idea of who or what she is, and who or what Ezra was, and she is struggling to keep those ideas intact as the gondoliers shoulder his coffin, set it on ropes and carefully lower it into what seems an endless well. She steps forward – surely there is a floor to the grave she chose, surely it doesn’t open onto the sea. In Paradisum Deducant te Angeli, and paradise for Ezra is not inappropriate because that’s what he was forced to abandon, what she could never coax from him, the third and final realm. He’d written his Inferno, his Purgatorio – she’d suffered through those – but in the end she could only watch him stare at the empty sheet of paper, and she knew he was reeling, that the walls of his Paradiso were becoming distant and blank.
To confess wrong without losing rightness:
Charity I have had sometimes
I cannot make it flow thru.
A little light, like a rushlight
To lead back to splendour
Silence entered him, or at least that’s what people thought, because he rarely spoke in public, but he spoke to her: evenings at Hidden Nest they would read to each other, and listen to music on the gramophone, and it was even Ezra’s idea to dance. That was Paradise enough. And Olga invented tricks to cajole the occasional word from Ezra when friends stopped by. ‘Ezra, what was your friend Mr Joyce wont to break into?’ A long pause, slowly a smile would emerge from the crags: ‘My friend Mr Joyce was wont to break into song.’ At a restaurant she knew the silence was agony for everyone at the table, waiting for Ezra to order his lunch. But Olga wouldn’t plead, she knew better – patience, patience – and finally, when the waiter turned away and he could no longer ignore the prospect of no lunch, she would hear a single soft ‘Gnocchi.’
Olga looks among the mourners to confirm that Dorothy is absent, that today, Dorothy, if she is there at all, is the ghost lurking on the outskirts of Ezra’s story. But even today, even after today, it’s Dorothy who controls him, controls his money, controls the poetry. But that spring, that spring Ezra came to Rapallo, what happened then? He came to her, oh yes! He came to her!
Still, Olga has the capacity to pity – certainly more than Ezra pitied her – and she thinks of Dorothy with a tenderness that surprises her. She thinks about how Dorothy spent most of the last ten years at the bottom of the hill. She lived at the Grande Italia on the Rapallo seaside and Olga saw her from a distance sometimes, usually standing in front of the hotel. Sometimes Dorothy would walk a few paces in either direction, returning to stand in the doorway.
Mutual friends would come to visit, first Dorothy in Rapallo, then Ezra and Olga in Sant’Ambrogio. Out of Ezra’s hearing they would tell her how Dorothy passed her days in her room, looking out the window, reading, always reading, all of Shakespeare, except when she was writing out a list of every person in the Cantos. Olga feels remorse about that night at the movie theatre when she and Ezra sat in the same row as Dorothy. Why did she sit by as Ezra ignored his wife of sixty years? One afternoon she walks down to Rapallo and there are schoolgirls on the salita passing in the other direction and for a brief moment Olga finds herself thronged with children. Olga imagines walking towards the seaside, through the hotel lobby and into Dorothy’s room. She sits down next to her. They are quiet, two grey heads, one beside the other. Their knees touch. They are looking out into the dusk over the Bay of Tigullio, two pairs of eyes, greedy in recollection.
Quotations from The Cantos by Ezra Pound reproduced with permission of Pollinger Limited and New Directions.
The author gratefully acknowledges Anne Conover’s Olga Rudge and Ezra Pound for providing selected biographical details and quotations from the Olga Rudge Papers.
Photograph by E.O. Hoppé