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All poets are fools.
The word comes from Latin, “follis,” which means a leather bag, or a bellows. It comes to mean mad or insane or just plain stupid (I suppose) because of this image of an empty bag, a bag filled only with air whose only purpose is to blow more air.
The woman who is readying my tarot cards today, April Fools Day, flips over “The Fool.” This, she says, is about the unknown, the possible. The fool stands before a precipice. As the only card with a “zero” on it, the only one to include an Arabic number, the card is described as “controversial.”
Look for that nul
defeats it all
the N of all
that rock, the blank
that holds them up
which pulled away—
their fall. Look
for that null
that’s past all
the death of all
I went to have my cards read because of the names of my daughters. In the process of writing Real Life, a project that will take me, of necessity, three years to finish, I discover that I have named both girls after competing patron saints of the blind.
Saint Lucy, as painted by Domenico Beccafumi in 1521, looks just like my Lucy, a compassionate, gentle four-year-old-girl.
She holds out a sort of cake-plate, but rather than cake, the platter carries two open eyes, gazing out at you, the viewer.
In the painting Lucy also has eyes in her head, though not in the stories. In one she’s imprisoned for being a Christian, but miraculously she cannot be burned, so her guards gouge out her eyes. In the other, she gouges them out herself in order to offer them to her would-be husband who admires them. There, she says, now will you let me serve God?
Saint Alice was also “afflicted with blindness” as a young child. Blindness and leprosy. And she too is the “patron saint of the blind.”
The website of the Rosicrucian Fellowship’s International Headquarters, located on Oceanside California, tells us that “all children are clairvoyant,” at least during the first year of life. Their ability to hold onto their clairvoyance depends on the attitude of the adults to whom they communicate their clairvoyance. Though precisely how this communication occurs when the child is pre-language is not explained.
The tie between blindness and clairvoyance is, of course, everywhere in mythology. And babies born with limited vision are, according to the Rosicrucian Fellowship, the most clairvoyant of us all.
“Clairvoyant, Maud Kristen” is a photograph by Sophie Calle, part of the work titled “Take Care of Yourself.” The Clairvoyant sits at her table, tarot cards before her. Calle has also photographed the cards, arranged in their cross. The clairvoyant reads the cards in order to interpret Calle’s break-up email. Dear beloved you are no longer anything to me but a piece of my autobiography, which I elevate to tragedy (I paraphrase).
Alice, who is ten, is writing a novel. The title of the novel: The Blind Chapters. “If you have ever tried to live with a piece of sight lost from your mind, you now know how I feel,” she writes.
And so, guided circuitously by Sophie Calle and the names of my daughters, I went to have my cards read. While the reader spoke I watched her face, rarely glancing down at the the table. The only cards I remember seeing: Death and The Fool.
In Lear, only Cordelia and The Fool know the power of nothing to “defeat it all”—its position “past all seeing.”
A fool is always full of air, full of potential, the potential of song (“so full of song” says Lear to Fool). That bag on The Fool’s shoulder, bag of anything—the precipice before him, the nothing that is.
By play’s end, Lear’s a fool too, a bellowing fool, seeing breath on dead Cordelia’s lips:
Do you see this? Look on her, look, her lips,
Look there, look there!
These are his last lines, spoken just before his death. Only a fool makes something out of the nothing that words are.