Casablanca, Paul Nelson

Marilyn Higginson, Alvord Dawn, Oil on Wrapped Canvas, 48″ X 60″



In ten minutes, on TCM, usual suspects rounded up, one
shot dead running, crumpling at the wall under the Petain poster,
a single engine Junkers 52 will land and a crisp Nazi colonel
emerge in full sun, played by the film’s highest paid actor,
an Austrian star whose wife is Jewish, dead now, as he is
and the whole cast, the director, and most of the original audience.

Nearly a musical, well choreographed …no old marriage
plopping down again for kitschy romance, both of us fatigued
by glistening, innocent ideals in Ilsa’s eyes …o, the chiaroscuro,
so saintly she plays saint, nun, looking up to Heaven, or Bing Crosby,
or Gary Cooper, Charles Boyer, same wet stare. Rick sinks in it.

Ugarte, (Peter Lorre of the comic, wily eyes), vanishes
in the hands of the Gestapo. We mourn his loss; he’s funny, briefly.
Rick lights up, Carl snorts. Victor lights up. Sam sings “You must …”

Details substantiate artifice, Ferrari’s fez, the way he speculatively
swats a fly, the parrot on its perch, Ilsa trilling Li Li Li Li Li Li,
as if she doesn’t know the words, their song too sappy, a kiss
…just a kiss. We never hear a sigh; it’s her eyes, embarrassing
and irresistible.

Her fashions are chaste, her flesh never seen
abed with flimsy, tobacco ridden Rick’s. Their planted
kisses will have to do, trying to stick together, sorry
as the cigarettes lit through 22 scenes, smoke rising
like Rick’s hair fanned up behind the wheel of the iconic
1940 Buick, right hand drive, in the flashback backdropped
by the Arc de Triomphe, the same car that delivers
the married couple to Rick’s hands and the letters of transit.
Have our passports expired?

We think to light up again, having quit decades ago, to flourish
Gauloises at our own white house …in fashionable despair…
…two minutes to decide. Stay in Morocco or fly?
The supermarket just opened, 8:30 am, Sunday,
odd time for a classic movie, but we sit with coffee,
addicted to clear diction, “With the coming of the Second
World War, many eyes…” ready to predict the phrases
buffs know by heart, grateful for music that does not
overwhelm speech, to black and white, to shadows
cast like innocence …we give in, let go, just let go…
it’s 1942 and far away. We are out of eggs, greens,
milk and dishwasher fluid.

The plane for Lisbon, a twin engine Electra, or DC6,
gyres over desert sand, lands, idles, impatient.
Ilsa flies with Victor. Rick says to. The plane
vanishes in fog. Rick and Renault walk off, damn near
holding hands, in damp gloom. We could gag …
but are free to go …Safeway.

Paul Nelson


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