More Evidence of Eugene’s Brilliance

For more evidence of Eugene Curtsinger’s brilliance, read his novel Strychnine and Ceremony in light of a recent short essay by David James Duncan, “Cherish This Ecstasy” (published in The Sun, July 2008 issue, and among what Mary Oliver calls The Best American Essays 2009).

The essay begins:

The peregrine falcon was brought back from the brink of extinction by a ban on DDT, but also by a peregrine falcon mating hat invented by an ornithologist at Cornell University. If you cannot buy this, Google it. Female falcons had grown dangerously scarce. A few wistful males nevertheless maintained a sort of sexual loitering ground. The hat was imagined, constructed, and then forthrightly worn by the ornithologist as he patrolled this loitering ground, singing, Chee-up! Chee-up! and bowing like an overpolite Japanese Buddhist. For reasons neither scientists nor fashion designers entirely understand, this inspired the occasional male falcon to dive onto the ornithologist’s head, [have sex with] the hat, and fire endangered sperm into the hat’s hidden rubber receptacle. The last few females were then artificially inseminated so that their chicks could be raised in DDT-free captivity. The young produced in this way saved the peregrine from extinction – a success story from the annals of human meddling, one as rare as debacles like DDT are common.

And so on. David James Duncan reminds me that when reading anything Eugene wrote, but especially Strychnine and Ceremony, it’s important to remember what Curtsinger’s imagination could do with a phrase from his beloved Meister Eckhart: “The greater the nudity, the greater the union.”

For us, as for Duncan, may any void in our life be filled with beings

like the lone female loon who mistook a wet, moonlit interstate for water and crash-landed on the truck-grooved pavement of the fast lane; loon to whom I sprinted, as a convoy of eighteen-wheelers roared toward her, throwing my coat over her head so she wouldn’t stab me, pulling her to my chest as I leapt from the concrete; loon who, when she felt this blind liftoff, let out

a full, far-northern tremolo that pierced, without stabbing,

my coat, ribs, heart, day, life. All is an Ocean, she

and Father Zossima and the avian choir keep

singing as into black holes in trees, truck

routes, river ice, frigid hearts, ecstatic

birds keep dropping. Till even alone

and in darkness, with no special

hat, clothes, or wings to help

me fly up and feel it, I find

myself caught in the

endless act

of being


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3 Responses
  1. Peter Louis Kane says:

    I love you, John Sercer.

  2. Paul K Gautier, Jr says:

    I got a David James Duncan novel for Christmas, but my dad took it the next day and hasn't given it back yet.

  3. Lord Bloch says:

    Go ahead and add the label "Peter Bloch loves John Sercer a lot" to this post.

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