Photographic negative of Charles Baudelaire by Félix Nadar, 1862, Musée d’Orsay.
by Eve Toliman
These days find me hunting through my books, searching through the past, tracking down the random bits that have survived time’s unrelenting sedimentary procession through my life. I am assembling a collage from these pieces, a collage of me.
Today I am prodding Baudelaire. Wasn’t that your story, Charles, the one about the beggar who beat you up? Don’t you remember, you told me that he asked you for some change and you punched him in the face? Later, bruised and battered, you limped up the stairs to your apartment, proud of your accomplishment, happy to have paid the price with your own pained body: He asked you for a handout and rolling in the dark empty street, fists flying, beggar and patron indistinguishable under the dim lamplight, you made him claim his dignity.
I’ve always liked that story. It’s messy, full of the kind of love I recognize. I have envisioned a noble love, serene and dignified, but what I have known is fists flying under dim lamplight and liberation in the wake of our foolishness. When we have been leveled by stubbornness or circumstance, too tired to play the game of beggar and patron anymore; when idiocy or pain has vanquished our civilized pantomime, we fall headlong into the ever present arms of love. Startled into hearty laughter, we make our irretrievable, reverberating contribution to that resilient web of humanity — humanity shared or not at all.