Dying, the poet M--- has a vision of the little door. It all happens very quickly. The door, which is deep blue, opens slowly, then dissolves as the door closes, until eventually the door disappears, producing in M---'s head a sound like a pebble makes when dropped into water.
The little door is, more obvious than anything, a sign or symbol M--- believes first appeared just before he left Burlington, Vermont, and headed for Bulgaria, leaving behind a full-time lectureship and comfortably secluded two-story home built by his own father in 1908. In his final interview, some three years before his death, M--- admitted to his biographer, C.K. Rashir, to having a lover named S---, a young Bulgarian woman whose art was the sole inspiration for what he claimed was his life work. This inspiration, he insisted, along with the vision of the door, evidently led him to leave everything behind in Vermont:
"There was no reason to stay. At the end of the semester I retired, left the states for my lover's native home in Bulgaria, and took her with me."¹
S--- was apparently only 26 years old at the time of M---'s tragic car crash, three years after this confession. She later spent time in a rehabilitative facility for addictions to prescription pain medications, and ultimately committed suicide by overdose on October 11, 1971.
In the most profound statement M--- ever delivered to Rashir, he notes that the door might've appeared in different form. He described it as the "flesh of an animal," the animal being a lamb. This apparently happened when he was a young child. We know from Rashir's biography that he lived in the Merrimack Valley region in New Hampshire with an aunt and uncle. One fall afternoon he wandered off and was missing for three days before returning home unhurt and seemingly healthy. In Rashir's biography, M--- notes:
"It doesn't matter where I was. I honestly don't remember much. I do remember speaking, almost obsessively, about developing the ability to transcend my faith to a level where raising the dead was possible. I was six. Then one afternoon I saw a lamb sitting by a brook."
M--- describes that period of his childhood as extremely difficult. His father was a highly intelligent, quiet, reserved man, who often discussed Christianity, philosophy, and religion in great detail with him. But after M--- had returned home, on nights before he went to bed, his father would peek in through the bedroom door to watch him perform the Bhastrika, bellows breath (a Hatha Yoga relaxation technique that involves breathing slowly in and out through the nose). His father, who suffered from asthma, fled back downstairs with his inhaler in his mouth with the assumption that M--- had been brainwashed. Even at the dinner table, as he listened to M--- talk about all those hallucinations, his visions of water and animals (the lamb at the brook included), not to mention simple throat and head cleansing---the ujjayi and kapala bhati---he became worried. M--- was able to quote Sanscrit terms and cite whole verses from Sanscrit literature. It was ultimately his mother's idea to send him to an Evangelical Christian Camp for three weeks in the summer so that he might learn to become more in harmony with his spiritual alignment.
What's probably most interesting about the door, other than it being the only visible thing to M--- at death, is that there are three specific images he described in significant detail in his last book of poetry while he was still alive. The book is titled Reading Ephesians to the Blind, and it earned him both a Lannan and a Pulitzer, readings in London³, and a rave review by the always sadistically hardcore Times critic, Dimitri Dimitritova. Rashir's biography simply sums up M--- as anything but a Modernist, and that Ephesians, as well as his later work -- Cities in Dust, The Red Door, Speaking in Tongues -- is in fact each rich with obscure images and allusions, each a vigorous experiment, an ironic revival of the oversimplification of his earlier work, with value and relevance to M---becoming a staunch conservative and having a measurable, (and in his opinion) much needed reflective Christian impact on the literary postmodern climate of today. Oddly, reviewers have compared parts of the later work to Hebrew poetry, the earliest form of free verse.
The first image appearing in the door is merely a reflection of M---. It reveals him sitting at his desk, in prayer, hands clasped together, eyes closed. The window behind him overlooks a snowy fenced yard with a shed, which is where we see an image of the lamb. We are reminded of M---'s poem, "The Visionary," in which the lamb sitting by the brook represents Jesus Christ exemplifying "whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst" (John 4:14).&sup4; The 121 stanza poem tells a delightful story about a boy named Will who meets the lamb at a time when his world feels like it's about to end. Taken from M---'s The Poetics of Contextualism: Continuities & Measures (1961), a book that exceeded the moral and sociological limits of the Modernist aesthetic and earned M--- a mark on the literary criticism totem pole, the poem has flourished into his magnum opus. Poetics strives to be what his other books only hoped: a mirror into his own feelings about Christianity's role in modernism, a movement he felt was long overdue in U.S. literature.
But Rashir was right in terms of his biographical reference to the vision of the lamb. Clearly, the vision is Jesus in the form of a lamb: we know from Biblical reference to the Gospel of John that John refers to Jesus by saying: "Look, the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" In M---'s poem, Will sees the lamb by the brook and hears the spirit whisper in his ear: "Look! This is the lamb of God!" Rashir's book, however, is brutally criticized for making an affirmation that "The Visionary" is an autobiographical poem. It seems preposterous to assume M--- wouldn't discern a hypercritical response or even be aware of any reader's speculation on the issue of whether the poem is autobiographical or simply a product of an exaggerated version, or mere fiction. The best example is M---'s remark to a Pentecostal evangelist, not long after Poetics was published, that he was trying to avoid, at all costs, journalists and interviewers, the quickest and most effective way by fleeing with S--- to western Arkansas for a week to eat blackberry cobbler at the annual Joyce Carol Oates Look-a-like Competition.
The door's second image consists of a faceless figure appearing between two white lines running vertically down the blue door. Rashir believes this is an angel quite possibly manifested in human form. One is reminded of M---'s early book, Dissection of Sleep, in which M--- describes a moment of reflection after witnessing what he believes was an angelic figure:
I watched him in my room:
He drew a detailed map of my brain
and told me to explore my imagination.
Dissection, in all its prosaic, merciless compassion, arguably models a narcissism not seen in any of M---'s later work. If vanity was an area M--- struggled with before his restoration with Christianity, one might easily conclude that the figure revealed in the blue door is in fact him. With a flickering of strange light, the figure moves slightly to the left and floats in a circle before it dissolves completely, replaced first by the soft yellow light changing to a light-blue light, a warm light, and immediately following, the sudden appearance of the Hebrew word SHÂQÂH. The word's significance is unclear. It remains on the door without dissolving. Indeed, we can only speculate its purpose and meaning in relation to M---. The word, in its native Hebrew as a verb, means "to give a drink, or to provide water," which implies, in a biblical sense, God irrigating or watering the earth for crops, although the Book of Genesis points to the word's use in providing water for animals to drink. If we are to argue that M--- is an angel manifested into human form (whether he knew it or not during his lifetime), then we could define the context of the word in the door as a "pouring," not necessarily of the spirit, but rather to it, particularly since M--- references drinking water in "The Visionary" by quoting John 4:14. Again, there is only our own seemingly ridiculous conjecture about the figure's relevance to any sort of vital knowledge of angel into human manifestation. Certainly, it's easy to want to assume that while he was alive, M--- was in on something big, a joke at the expense of his readers: people like us who can only guess that he knew exactly what he was doing.
That S--- would remain so quiet about everything after M---'s car crash seems strange and illogical. If her silence was not intentional, then perhaps the matter of her addiction to prescription medications was worse than expected; she did, after all, commit suicide by overdose. Rashir's claim that M--- believed she was experiencing sleep disorders leaves us to believe that she kept her addiction private. But little is known, really, of S--- and her relationship with M---. We do know that she remained evasive, just prior to his death, when confronted once by a reporter concerning the rumors of M---'s mental state. There were a few circumstances where people claimed they often saw him wandering around at night in the cold. Some claimed he was drunk, others said they often saw him in homeless shelters. Rashir believes that M---'s aim was to minister to the sick, the homeless, the people least likely to know his literary status. We also know S--- was an avid gardener, and that she inspired him to spend the last remaining days of his life documenting her poses, work ethic, and various positions he found arousing while she worked in the garden, hoping he might examine both its prurient effect on himself as well as its conspicuous worth and loftiness in terms of his own work, his poetry.
As of yet, there is no proof that these documents actually exist.
1. Rashir, C.K. The Poetics of the Visionary Christian: The Life and Work of M---. New York: Pantheon, 1941. (121).
2. Petatrova, Sabine. The Open Door. (27).
3. For whatever personal reason(s), London was the only city where M--- agreed to do a book signing, thus declining a tour altogether, a decision that infuriated his publisher.
4. Rashir goes into great detail in this biographical reference to M---'s childhood.