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Eating Chocolate With Edgar Allan Poe
by Lyn Lifshin

I have to admit it was in his last days,
you heard of that dessert you could die for,
mother was terminally ill and it was on the
menu and she ordered it, I shivered. With
Edgar, it was different. He needed comforting,
he needed something sweet. Any child who
loses both parents before he's three can't
help, I imagine, always wanting comforting
and some say chocolate is better than sex.
Especially certain chocolate. Don't knock it
till you tried… Poe never wrote about it but the
terror in the HOUSE OF UNGAR, the darkness
of ravens, the murders in Rue Morgue are
metaphors for his fear of the loss of dark
chocolate. I ought to know: offered my body
or chocolate, he chose the darker sweet and I was
only 15, just about a year more than cousin
Virginia who he married when she was not yet
14. He believed the music in his poems
could only be triggered by chocolate. He
preferred brown eyes, the color of chocolate,
brown hair. He drank, sure, but not as much as
people thought and mostly chocolate liquors,
Godiva, Mozart, Lindt, Ghirardelli. When Virginia
died, he placed 12 carefully wrapped milk chocolate
cherries in her coffin. As for the mystery of his
death, the confusing stories of his last days,
the few tantalizing facts some say led to no certain
conclusions, forget them. He did not pick up
by mistake that cane with a hidden sword. He was
not mugged for the $1500 gathered as subscription
money for his magazine. Forget the rumors that
he went to Philadelphia to see friends and by
mistake took the train back to Baltimore. That might
have happened once but it was a different year. It
wasn't bad weather, bad diet. Who knows how
he ended up not in his black wool suit but a stained
one of cheap gabardine with a palm leaf hat,
faded, worn out and tattered, ripped more or less
at several seams. Not something Edgar would wear.
Even his boots weren't his boots. Death certificates say
nothing. It wasn't alcohol. Poe had a brandy now
and then, a few but not enough to cause sclerosis. Some said
he looked seriously ill days before the end and Edgar said
if people did not tempt him, he would not fall. Even the exact
date of death is uncertain. It wasn't brain lesions, believe me, not
brain fever, not heart disease tho he really never worked out.
Some thought enzyme disorders, nervous prostration, TB, epilepsy,
diabetes, rabies. Tho Poe was found on the street Election Day, it
was not some corrupt band kidnapping innocent bystanders, holding
them in a room then forced to go in and out of poll after poll to
vote, their clothing changed for disguise, plied with liquor and
opium and beaten. And it isn't true that he was cruelly beaten, at
the request of a woman who considered herself injured, beaten.
Most conclude the story of Poe's death has never been told. But
I know the true story: it was chocolate. Chocolate, more seductive
than drugs or women. Yes, dark dark chocolate. What dreams are
made of. After the first chocolate, something happened and he was
never the same again. He kept the secret in shadow, saw truth in a
tiny dark square. The first time, Poe felt it in his legs. Then, in his
arms. This was better than any opium. His head hummed. It was
smooth, intoxicating. Bitter and sweet, like love and death.
Chocolate became his new gospel. An obsession, more secret than
the scar on his chest or his first fantasy of his cousin. As the
first promised bliss melted on his tongue, Poe shuddered, closed
his eyes. His heart was racing, banging. He was on his knees, the
ecstasy was too much. He was transported out of his life, his sweet
obsession buried with him.

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