The ouija-board messages from beyond that began in two previous collections now culminate in the longest and probably most dazzling part of Merrill's risky poetic undertaking. The familiar souls who acted as guides to the other side in the earlier parts--W.H. Auden, Merrill's and David Jackson's Greek housekeeper Maria (revealed to have been Plato (!)all along), a doctor friend, and the recently dead Robert Morse--make the initial contacts through the board and cup; introduced now are two superstars, the angels Michael and Gabriel, who tutor JM and DJ on the original whys and wherefores of matter and reality, of idea and innocence. With breathtaking balance, Merrill hops from the angelic highwire to the gossipy asides of Auden (who, kibbitzing, corrects the prosody of Michael's lessons) and to the stunned astonishment of his ""junior scribe,"" auditing self. An example of the angelic lessons: ""THE BLACK/ BEYOND BLACK IS ON TIME RUNNING BACK./ THESE SOULS WERE CAUGHT IN THE FRICTION, STRIPPED LIKE GEARS,/ GIVEN VAST POWERS THAT COLLAPSING WERE/ SUCKED DRY OF EVERY HUMAN DENSITY./ JUST AS CERTAIN STARS, SO CERTAIN SOULS."" And JM, delighted and amazed to see his ""motley alphabet"" on the board throw up the speaking presences of Callas, Gertrude Stein, Muhammad, Wagner, Pythagoras, Flagstad, responds with virtuouso subtleties of rhyme and rhythm. Not ""easy poetry,"" it's not really arcane either, like the Cantos are; and Whether it will last as a monument to the eccentricity of literature or to the literature of eccentricity (like Yeats--who also makes a brief appearance--and his A Vision) isn't yet clear. But either way and despite that, it is an extraordinary project carried off with fluency and great success.