I [Can[t] Count the B’s
Only connect, but how, the echolalia of B’s.
Bond, James Bond, Beretta, Barrett, Barrier Reef, Baccarat,
gunmetal blue cigarette case, battleship blue
4 ½ liter Bentley convertible
fired by the Amherst Villiers supercharger that gave the car
an extra thirty miles per hour on the straightaway
from the Hotel Splendide to the nightmare turnoff
where he chased the Citroen carrying Le Chiffre
and Vesper Lynd—her skirt over her head. A hole
cut for her to breathe through like the reeds
James and Honey and gray-eyed Quarrel employ to remain underwater
while Julius No’s mercenary’s machine gunners kill any reptile that stirs.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning, my guide points out, is buried
in the cemetery with her ancestors, whose sugar cane
dynasty fell under her scrutiny as she attacked the slave trade
in her writing even as her father felt the pinch.
She never set foot in Jamaica, but was sent to the Bay of Torquay
in the care of her beloved “bro” on the chance she might recover
from an invalidism that always found new places to roost—
and on a morphine patch that would never
be removed. But it’s he who drowns during their second year.
And she who inherits another year of waiting with no escape from the death
moan of the surf. In the next decade she marries Robert Browning,
bears a child, and writes that nothing is more underrated than sex.
It’s an E.B. of another century whose initials are billeted on a copper plate to a tree adjacent
to the family plot on a golf course hacked out of the Jamaican jungle,
where parts of Dr. No were shot and Connery held then
English-speechless actress Andress screaming
above the waterfall in the outtake where now my wife picks a Pinnacle
from the mud of the riverbed with the words “White Witch”
stamped in red letters. The heavenly waterfall, now a trickle,
abraded by akee, poinciana, hibiscus, bougainvillea,
and heron behavior of the wind in the reeds and in the trees,
bamboo and mahogany: a rush deemed impossible on the hurricane free
island. Unless a rocket? Direction tampered with by Dr. No
who bought Crab Key under pretense of exporting its mass
of fecal guano. Bay of Pigs. JFK alone in the late hours
with From Russia With Love. Except to check in with Cape Canaveral.
And hawk cabinet. He feels a chill in the irremediable heat.
The rockets red glare…imminent departure for either destination:
Havana Moon Russia. 1963, 1962, a dizzying newsreel.
“Bellicose” the word Time and the tabloids apply to both
“L’Homme Nikita K” and Fidel C. The President
an amphetamine rocket himself in the debate with the Russian who
beat his shoe at the United Nations to the drum of “we will bury you!”
which expressed—not the will of the Russian people by a space shot—
but the dreams of the ones who’d ceased to dream except
to pull off coup d’etat with weapons that hadn’t got their spy-
ware approval weeks before anyone who could fire or fly
a…or a….was doing it. Violence spreads like wildfire.
There must be something to the vengeance they share,
however one cancels out the other. And I knew you would,
if I didn’t, being preteen, intervene. But even Bond is dealt
losing hands and, unraveling, calls up the familiar mantra:
concentrate James, get Vesper to distract other players,
order…a drink with a boost: three measures of Gordon’s,
one of Gray Goose, half measure of Lillet, shaken over ice,
then a thin slice of lemon peel. Ian Fleming knew the pleasures
he lent his creation. The nights of inconceivable cuisine—
caviar, carpaccio, champagne—followed the days of strategizing:
he was the mind behind the raid on Dieppe with “Wild Bill”
Donavan of the OSS which metamorphosed into: CIA.
Baccarat, six decks shuffled in a shoe, carte, carte,
the players call out. The word in French conveys Monte Carlo’s
slippery blend of elegance, like the half measure of Lillet.
And the curious existence of a wickeder weapon:
the Browning automatic, early on inheritor of Samuel Colt’s .45—
which quickened the conquest of the “American frontier,”—
a gun to James has stowed in the glove compartment
compartment of the Bentley he has taken to Monte Carlo—
but the Browning (no connection to Robert) later became
the repeating rifle of choice for folks whose goals
were as opposed, or were they? as Bonnie and Clyde
and the American troops in Vietnam, while the Walther
PPK which M and Q inflict on 007 in the films because
Q: “It can blast a hole through a man the size of….”
M: “I hate to say it James, a Beretta is a woman’s gun.”
Do you think I give a damn? “I haven’t missed with it yet.”
Moneypenney’s open palm mimics: “hand it over.”
E.B. Browning, Rimbaud, Solitaire, Honey Rider,
and Domino, come near. The time of the assassins
stretches from the former visionary now imminent purveyor
amputee to the galaxy extending beyond the limits
of our instruments; the former spy now
constructer of ideal version of self in books that sell,
and Fleming’s evolving villains can kill anyone from anywhere;
detachment: the sheer prerequisite. And those light
genial touches on my neck below my ear;
this swelling is what I wanted, my love, in this interlude
from the gunmetal plated life that moved toward us inexorably
as the next scene approached, in destiny’s dense, impeccable outfit
where the matches between Bond’s Windsor Knot and Le Chiffre’s
incessant ghoulish snorting of his Benzedrine nasal spray,
riff under the gray clouds and the just released commercial 707’s
that shadowed the bay… That so much happened in 1963 obscures
the collision of planned actions in 1962, when we or they
could launch a rocket anywhere if one raised his knee in a calibrated way.
But the rockets Dr. No has every intention of rerouting
would’ve been aimed toward Havana, Bond thought, his squint
divining the carefree joyous Batista nights, and the shadow
of my father divided between the bars, the casinos, and the whores.
There’s a sad moment in Casino Royale,
the book I reread in Montego Bay in 2007—
my father in a fever to see Dr. No the night it opened in 1963
at some 4,000 seat angels-on-the gilded-ceiling and plush-red-seat-endowed
theater in Times Square—: Vesper looks at James in his sleep
and notes his resemblance to Hoagy Carmichael—only
I think the sandy hair that fell gently over the amiable singer’s right eyebrow
melded with the offbeat plunk of the piano keys and the easy inroad he took
to begin a song. I think the hair that drifted over Hoagy’s eye was or had been
a cowlick (and if not, it sounds better
with the name and the slight hayseed imitation),
where the “forelock” of Bond’s darker hair wills itself out of place,
the forelock with the will of its own provides a contrast
with his obsession that everything be just so: the Windsor Knot,
the Savile Row Suit, the gunmetal blue cigarette case, the Bentley
which he bought in 1933 and kept garaged until the war was over.
The lock of out of place hair makes him sexier and more human.
Because the cruel and ruthless quality in Bond’s face
is almost a mask, and not the green sleep mask he’d long saved up for.
[originally published in Per Contra Winter 2009]
Mark Rudman‘s most recent books are a selection from his 812 pg. Rider Quintet, The Motel En Route to Life Out There (SALT), and a prose meditation on wishing, willing, and imagination, The Book of Samuel (Northwestern). The Bond poem is from his just completed Which Tribe Do You Belong To.