Unpacking books, I hold a slim volume by Wallace Stevens. Opening it to a bookmarked page, I see “The Emperor of Ice Cream.”
It’s been years since I read it. For some reason, I stop unpacking, sit down, and re-read it. Once, twice, thrice, its meaning seeping in. The jarring juxtaposition of vibrant life in the first stanza with cold death in the second stanza making its exhortation to “let be be finale of seem,” initially so puzzling, now so clear. Its second stanza’s picture of a dead body laid out, as its “horny feet protrude” from under an old sheet, given over to the eternal darkness, make its final two lines all the more meaningful to me: “Let the lamp affix its beam / The only emperor is the emperor of ice cream.”
Tears stream down my cheek. I recite the poem out loud, but am incapable of uttering its final lines, my breath caught in my throat, overwhelmed by the realization that for years I had been living in the second stanza and was only now moving back to the first. I have not and will not escape the shadow of eternal darkness but now, for the first time in years, my eyes are open for the lamp’s beam, determined to move to the light for however long it continues to shine for me.
That night she offered to show me some photographs she’s taken. She’s an avid photographer, taken many classes, would like to do it professionally someday.
I rarely show my prints to others, she says, they’re very private to me.
I eagerly assented.
She disappeared into a closet and emerged with a short stack of large prints. Clearing a space on her dining room table, she looked for the first print to show me.
My thoughts were along the lines of please oh please let me appreciate this appropriately.
She placed the first print down on the table for my review.
Blackness. A dark room. Illuminated only by a thin beam of light streaming in from the outside.
Speechless, I can only stare, then I look up, my throat catching, and barely manage to recite, in my smallest voice, “Let the lamp affix its beam / The only emperor is the emperor of ice cream.”
It’s been a few months since that magic moment and, as I continue to move to the light, I experience more and more of these magic moments. It may be that I always had these magic moments but failed to notice them, or that I had these magic moments but chose to dwell on the dark moments, but I doubt it. Magic moments like this are impossible to ignore. No, I prefer to think that magic simply does not dwell in the dark, but that the path to the light is paved with magic moments, so many you cannot miss them as they infuse your life with life, one that eventually may even live up to the title of this post.