Monday, September 28, 2009

Dinner for Four

I've been thinking of Jackie lately. I find her very human. On Saturday at the hairdressers, catching up on fashionable print magazines, I was struck by the cover of the current Vanity Fair. It features a head shot of a young Jackie. She was already married to John, but he hadn't yet been elected President. It's a beautiful image. She has healthy and lightly tanned good looks; her expression is unabashedly forthright and at the same time dreamy and sensuous. Take me as I am.

I like to think I have an inner Jackie – a goddess aspect like hers. Whichever goddess loves nature, poetry, and refined beauty, refinement and delicacy – truth with beauty and quality, never false sentiment. Aphrodite, with a drop of Athena? Maybe.

Last night towards morning, in a groggy half-sleep I thought about what would make an ideal small dinner party. I imagined Jackie Kennedy having an intimate supper with Thomas Jefferson and Emily Dickinson.

I don’t know what conversation Jackie, Jefferson and Emily would have had. I picture Jackie at the head of a beautifully set table, with her guests on either side, dining by candlelight. Jackie smiles, her voice a murmur.

The three are kindred spirits. They revere nature, as well as high ideals. They draw strength from one another. After the meal they venture for a stroll around the Greenport Conservation Area, Jefferson in his silken threads and powdered wig, Emily dressed in white cotton, tiny as a sparrow, her hair pulled back, and Jackie, smiling. (I'm observing all this, or – heck, it’s my fantasy - Jackie stands in for me, since I can’t even pretend-imagine being confident enough to keep company with Jefferson and Emily.)

On the drive back from the preserve Jackie steers past the new Walmart consumer processing facility, sprawling and cheerless as a penitentiary, or a leveled Iraqi site, Basra on the Hudson.

Emily remains silent, but her hand flutters to her mouth.

Jackie sighs. "It's all so terribly hard on the spirit," she says, reaching to touch the lap of Emily's dress for a moment by way of comfort.

Jefferson, in back, looks out the window. He is horrified by the disfigured earth, disappointed that the divine gift of matchless landscape has been unceremoniously destroyed, especially to such wasteful and dubious purpose. All life has been removed, he thinks, nothing can grow.

But Jefferson is not altogether surprised, because he always understood that insensate, selfish forces were afoot in our country from the earliest days. They reside in each individual, to varying degrees, are played out within families, within communities, within a culture, all over the world, and between nations, over the millenia. These forces were too much for him sometimes and he’d retreat to his peaceful agrarian estate at Monticello to heal his spirit, regenerate. (Or so I imagine, having seen the series, John Adams.)

Maybe those, like Jefferson, like Emily, like Jackie, need to retreat to a protected, safe, reclusive space because they see all too clearly the brutish forces that without second thought would destroy them the same way they roll over everything that God holds dear.

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