The Savage God: A Study of Suicide
by A. Alvarez
Random House, 299 pp., $7.95
by Jacques Choron
Scribner’s, 182 pp., $7.95
Crane went sudden as a springboard. The Gulf gave nothing back. My mother, I remember, took her time. She held the house around her as she held her bathrobe, safely doorpinned down its floorlength, the metal threads glinting like those gay gold loops which close the coat of a grenadier, though there were gaps of course…unseemly as sometimes a door is on a chain…so that to urinate she had to hoist the whole thing like a skirt, collecting the cloth in fat pleats with her fingers, wads which soon out-oozed her fists and sprang slowly away…one consequence…so that she felt she had to hover above the hole, the seat (clouds don’t care about their aim), unsteadily…necessarily…more and more so as the nighttime days drew on, so that the robe grew damp the way the sweater on a long drink grows, soggy from edge to center, until I found I cared with what success she peed when what she swallowed was herself and what streamed out of her in consequence seemed me.
Though Hart shed his bathrobe frugally before he jumped, my mother, also saving, would have worn hers like the medal on a hussar straight through living room and loony bin, every nursing home and needle house we put her in, if those points hadn’t had to come out (they confiscate your pins, belts, buckles, jewelry, teeth, and they’d take the air, too, if it had an edge, because the crazy can garrote themselves with a length of breath, their thoughts are open razors, their eyes go off like guns), though there was naturally no danger in these baubles to herself, for my mother was living the long death, her whole life passing before her as she went, the way those who drown themselves are said to have theirs pass…a consequence, yes…her own ocean like a message in a bottle, so that she sank slowly somewhere as a stone sill sinks beneath the shoes of pilgrims and tourists, not like Plath with pills, or Crane or Woolf with water, Plath again by gas, or Berryman from a bridge, but, I now believe, in the best way possible, because the long death is much more painful and punishing than even disembowelment or bleach, and it inflicts your dying on those you are blaming for it better than burning or blowing up—during an exquisitely extended stretch—since the same substance which poisons you, preserves, you both have and eat, enjoy and suffer your revenges together, as well as the illusion that you can always change your mind.
Yet my mother wasn’t what we call a suicide, even though she died as though she’d cut her throat when the vessels burst there finally, and my father, who clenched his teeth till neither knees nor elbows would unfist, dying of his own murderous wishes like the scorpion who’s supposed to sting itself to death—no—he wasn’t one …