A Memory of Manaus

Catharine Savage Brosman
  • Catharine Savage Brosman
  • — For Loren and Janie Slye
  • We’ve come by boat upriver some nine hundred miles
  • along the Amazon, and reached its origins,
  • the meeting of the Solimões and Negro waters, confluent
  • but not commingled, flowing for some distance
  • side by side, in brown and black. This is the very heart
  • of Amazonia. Sailing upstream, the ship acquired
  • at the bow a massive trophy — a floating tree, still leafy,
  • and pushed it into port. We’ve got three days to tour
  • on shore. Some travelers have lunch or dine, some shop,
  • some hire cabs to drive them round the city.
  • I’m taken one day to a smart resort, with golf course,
  • fashionable stores, a zoo. Another morning, Loren
  • gets a cab to hold all four of us. We visit the cathedral,
  • then the historic opera house, “Teatro Amazonas,”
  • modeled after those in France and Germany.
  • The “Rubber Barons” built it, with Palladian façade
  • and tympanum, and stately dome. In glass cases,
  • mannequins display the heavy gowns and capes worn
  • by touring singers in their celebrated roles. The marble,
  • woodwork, crystal all have been restored, with taste.
  • To inspect the balconies, I climb the stairs with Loren.
  • Private boxes draw my eye. Here’s the governor’s!
  • Oh my, the man lived well, no doubt, loved well,
  • maybe. The whole design takes me back to Paris. Pat
  • cannot do the steps; but later, as a group of visitors
  • is guided through the hall, he follows them,
  • admires the ceiling, tests (sotto voce) the acoustics,
  • then breaks out in song — a famous aria from Rigoletto.
  • How appropriate. He gets compliments from tourists;
  • I am proud. We say goodbye, departing through
  • the coffee bar. Outside, Janie walks beside him. She
  • works out; she’s muscular. A Proustian moment, then,
  • almost: Pat stumbles on uneven paving stones. What
  • he recalls, though, isn’t Venice, but his dreadful fall
  • last year, when someone helping him let go:
  • deep purple bruises on his side, back, legs, deep pain. —
  • He sways. I see and hear him; I am steps away.
  • Before he knows it, Janie has his arm, holding on
  • for his dear life, and he does not go down; he rights
  • himself, stabbing with his cane. Perhaps, however,
  • he was, after all, moved by art and style and happiness —
  • that glorious nineteenth-century opera in a jungle city,
  • his thoughts of Verdi and the duke and tragic Gilda,
  • and his own voice resonating, strong, despite
  • his weakened heart. We find a taxi to the port;
  • Pat gets himself on board, lurching a bit. He’ll bear
  • insignia where Janie’s fingers left their mark —
  • tokens of travel, music, friendship, and great age.

Catharine Savage Brosman, who lives in Houston, is professor emerita of French at Tulane University, where she taught for nearly three decades, and honorary research professor at the University of Sheffield, UK. She is the author or editor of 19 scholarly volumes on French or American literature, and she has published two volumes of personal essays and ten collections of poetry, including Range of Light, devoted to the American West and, most recently, On the Old Plaza (2014). She is the poetry editor of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture.

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