• Vol. 06
  • Chapter 12

Avarana

There were parts of her that were never her own.

A diaphanous mucosal tissue, returned broken and bloodied. A hollow cavity enveloping a home.

A name.

She conceived of herself, that these parts were made to be given, were happily given as a crown for god. And men.

She of rib and bone and grit had learnt how to give all the pieces of herself from Amma whose back now slumped forward with the weight, as if somebody had slipped her vertebral column out whole, she was imagined without spine.

They did not see the uniform composition; the rod stacked up against her, inside her. The shape of her was already written.

An interloper in her own story and skin.

1

The Cure

The doctor prescribed at least two hours at a gallery or museum, followed by at least fifteen minutes of what he called ‘personal observation’, to be repeated daily as long as he deemed it was required. The printed prescription seemed unnecessary, with nothing to collect from the pharmacy, but he said it was an important part of me taking his recommendations seriously – which weren’t recommendations, exactly, but rules I had to follow if I wanted to be officially discharged. It’s important, the doctor explained, that the exhibitions include sculptures and paintings which portray the naked female form. The pain will get worse ,the doctor added, before it gets better.

The first day was harder than I was expecting. I could barely bring myself to look at the sculptures – their fridge-cold bodies of milk, their elegant wrists. I found it helped if I focused on other aspects of the artwork, either present or heavily implied. A red apple held aloft with a perfect white bite. A heavy metal chain. Dark clouds, thick with rain, and the pale sunlight spilling through them. The walls of the gallery itself, even, which were clean as a field of snow and smelt of fresh paint.

Personal observation was even more unbearable. The small, circular mirror the doctor had given me was awkward to hold at the right angle, and I kept catching my face from below – grimacing, avoiding my own eye contact. My fingers kept slipping on the glass, and holding it between my bare knees left painful red grooves like my skin had zips. I could feel my heart, like a fish, slapping the length of its silver muscle against my chest. As directed, I noted my observations in a small leather notebook which the doctor had also given me. It was important that my observations could be applied to both the art in the gallery and to myself:

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2

Sheer

The stockings were a provocation, pulled taut over flexed leg, held there just so. That was the word he thought. Provocation. She was talking and then she was not talking. He watched her pause on the edge of the bed, hands pulling back her calf, head lost in scuds of clouds.

‘I forgot what I was going to say,’ she said. ‘It’s gone. Poof. Just like that.’

‘Like your dignity,’ he said.

‘I lost that a long time ago,’ she said, laughing, getting up from the bed.

A pencil skirt and stockings. Did not need to show him this. Could have conducted the conversation through the door, rather than be shown her undergarments. The trust implied in that. Or not trust, but provocation. That word again. Why now to feel that? Because of stockings? How easily we are tested; how easily we become the suspicious eunuch in the lady’s chamber.

‘I shouldn’t be too late,’ she said. ‘If I am, I’ll call. The spare room’s made up. I’ll be back before Sammy wakes.’

She applied lipstick, looked him up and down in the mirror.

‘You okay?’ she said.

‘Have you always worn stockings,’ he said. ‘I’ve never noticed before.’

‘Sometimes,’ she said. ‘When I want to surprise someone.’

‘All the years I’ve known you,’ he said. ‘I never knew that.’

‘It’s hardly something to know,’ she said. ‘I mean if someone were to ask you about me, my wearing stockings sometimes wouldn’t be top of the list, would it?’

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3

The Zookeeper

Once, we met a woman who was a glutton for the humiliation of others. We didn't notice it at first. It was only at the end of our customary Friday night dinner, when we all sat heavy and sated, that her hunger presented itself.

One of us was holding forth about bad tattoos; how could someone be so careless with their own skin? That's when we noticed the glint in her eyes, as sharp as the tip of a blade; the sideways smirk slashed across her face. That's when she slapped both of her legs on her table, rolled down her stockings, and revealed her menagerie. She was covered, ankle to thigh, in cartoonish scribbles. There were peacocks in crowns; sailors with bubble muscles; lopsided hearts skewered with arrows. Each tattoo, she explained, was a totem; each totem, a person; each person, a lover.

Those greedy eyes drank in our astonished expressions. We laughed a little too loudly, praised her ingenuity. She rolled her stockings back up slowly. The elastic snapped against her thighs with a satisfying smack. Nobody's eyes had left her legs.

We drained our drinks. Someone produced gin in a dark, squat bottle, that was being saved for a special occasion. It sat sharp in our full stomachs, but we didn't care.

One of us got up to change the music, selecting something with a honeyed melody, something irresistible. We found ourselves heading toward the middle of the room. We started slow, our toes scuffing the carpet. Our guest led from the hips, and we dutifully followed; soon, we were gliding like oil. And hands! We seemed to remember that we had them all at once. We clicked, clapped, dipped our partners. We laughed – at this time, we'd usually be in cabs, train carriages, beds. Yet here we were.

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4

Impassioned Choices

Notions of Sapphic love unsaddled her brain.
Figures – one hers – entwined, refrained
from their fathers' common sense, grasp of reason.

Prone, her legs, one extended high
as its twin deferred and knelt, senses glazed
by sight of sumptuous flesh. Her round
knee, tattooed, flaunted her lover's flowers,
swelled desire. Two blooms beheld each other,
mirrored female limbs trembled together and came

unperturbed by a supplicating hand –
male, fine-fingered, hidden behind
striped strokes, his erstwhile privilege batted
away like ping pong balls, light and unnecessary.

5

Babes in an Earthquake

My body hurt,
so I
unzipped
unbuckled
unsnapped
the extremities.

It would be a shame
if after my head and torso
are well-rested
I found my limbs in atrophy.

Before them, I set
a simple wooden chair,
photocopies of rehabilitation
exercises given after consultation
with physiotherapists.
A daily regime:
strength
conditioning.

I asked my partner to conjoin
with me in this extreme
meditative reaction
to modern life,
let loose the flailing
structures always on the go.
Always one for timid half-measures,
she unbuckled only her legs,
unwilling to abandon touch.

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6

This is not her

This is not her.
This is her on mirrors and other surfaces, hidden behind
Suits and ties, schoolboy uniform and wife-beaters,
These mirrors only see what they want and can’t have,

This is not her.
Do not let her be known as such a flower, without a stem,
Cut and put in vases and seen in captivity, adored,
But only as a fantasy apart from herself

This is not her.
Let her be the fullness that she is, a magnificent tree,
With leaves and stems and trunks and barks,
Break those mirrors and have new ones that see her and not this

7

Exhibitionism (Westminster Blues)

Straw-hued hair tousled, askew;
Adolescent hormones on fire;
Ill-fitting suited and booted regalia,
Etonian precocity, curiosity...
Scuffed shoes, unknown stains,
A budding arousal in his loins.
Uptown; sourcing arty inner thigh,
Décolletage and, frankly, genitalia
Of a female persuasion; shocking
Glimpses a must; gusset, heels, stockings.
'Name?' 'Er, Johnson; Boris actually...'
'This exhibition is for over 18s only, I.D.?'

8

3D Twister

The arrow had spun
Pointed to blue
Claimed by his hand
Wrapped around thigh
Spying the gap

Spin again they cried
The sculpture of flesh
Contorting as they reached for colour
The dangling red
Snared by a spiked heel

With every twist
Stockings tore from skin
Shimmering in the hazy light
Limbs claiming wanton limbs
Reaching ever closer

The spinner never stopped
Watched by eyes, devouring movement
Wondering if they too
Dare join in, give themselves up
Become meat and eat each other

9

Eventually you find the joke that hurts

It's a museum
of injuries, he said,
laughing,
and I had to guess.

Bruiseum.

A museum of alcohol!
He stared expectantly.
I knew the answer,
but refused to say it.

I won't say it.

A monochrome museum—
no. I won't.
A museum of the Hebrew people—
please.
A museum of loss—

Okay. Okay. That one stopped me.
I know the pun.
Loseum.
We all got the pun.

But there was something more there.
This was a place
I wanted to go
just, you know, to see.

To see the things
I had lost.

10

On Display

Leg
held
erect
Biellmann spin
highlights black nylons
reveals refined flesh
above the dark hose, below crisp
blue taffeta tutu pleats as
long, hairy fingers on a dismembered hand clenches
a mirror, fanning garter belts
casting second leg
illusions
folded,
braced
on
a
wooden
chair, surreal
third leg standing on
toe ignores Daphne’s sculptured arms,
baroque marble limbs that reach skyward towards Olympus
seeking divine deliverance
from Apollo’s chase
transformed to
laurel
tree
boughs.

11

Pieces of her

she danced
from dawn to dusk
until her limbs
her mind
were no longer hers

she twirled with
such ferociousness
that her body
splintered
and fell into
a montage of despair

her heart
her soul
entangled
in a blue cloud
of confusion

her only hope
amidst the pain
to rest awhile
return all to self
find the missing pieces
and become whole again

12

Hidden On Display

sleepwalking ginger blossom
mannequin of wax and sinew,
in endless muddled numbness.
wounded body parts, scars
on display, hidden, buttoned up,
choke of victorian lace, queen anne’s
seeds unbloomed, flower
of a million buds, repressed.
cracking plaster, eyeless stare
uninhabited, haunting. her skin,
degraded alabaster, tattooed,
covering a delicate heart of gold ruby
glass, violently stolen, smashed,
shards tearing stockings, heals, purity,
across veins of antique limestone.
fragments glued back together
solely to be shattered again.
drops of blood, royal finger prick,
trauma unseen. only chilling, petrified
parts, an intricate nest of hollow
plastic bones, and crumbling remains.

13

THREE QUIET WORDS

I’m lost, she said to the empty room,
I cannot seem to catch a breath,
and – in fact – it seemed her lungs
had quit while her head still rung
with the echoes of the shrieking death
of the love they’d shared … she had assumed.

Three quiet words he had but spoken –
flaming trident which had scorched her heart:
turned rib-cage to naught but ash
and all inside but embers
smouldering, while her disjointed parts
reminded her that she was broken.

14

She’s not there

She contemplates this echo of her thigh,
this grey ghost of her arm:
cardboard copies he made
up in his studio
on the old street.

He’d say, today: I have no memory
whatever of that time.
That blue plume? What he tried?
No. I can tell you that
it is not true.

He’d join her in this pallid gallery
and grope that lofted limb
again, and shake his head
and, baffled, say, oh no –
have we two met?

They’ve met; but never mind. Now, anyway,
She grandly tours the room,
wending from nude to nude.
Intense attendants tut
and hiss: no photos!

She does not say what caught her absent eye
back then, beneath the storm:
not him, not what he did;
instead, a lightning show,
scarring the skylight.

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15

the art of the leg

the toes’ downward slope
fishhooks the eye, tugs
the catch to rounded crevices
secret depths, forbidden return

or swishes the eye toward sky
to revel across curves and valleys
stretched sinew, long muscles
of delight and whimsy

bent it snaps a whiplash
boomerangs desire
embrace of thigh and calf
folding itself into mother

of pearl conch or lotus
it lies upon a dream
of koi-drenched ponds
a slip of silk on flesh

16

The Last Drop of Water

To touch the leg that dances across the universe,
to feel the pulse of a thousand suns shining—
this—
this is where we must live.
We create and re-create our world.

The curve of my knee is irrelevant.
Can you see inside my veins?
Can you see into the heart of each word,
waiting to drip onto the page,
like a Dali painting?

Our only hope is connection.
I see the sculpture of your youth
and notice the fleeting beauty,
which we all possess in early years.
What I want to understand
are the less traveled cells,
where the truth of who you are
sings the highest note without shame
or regret.
You are the light touch of dawn
when the shadows flee.
You are the last drop of water
on this earth.

17

Ooh La La

Ooh la la
she jiggle her bra
like desire and delight
no be far

Leg up leg down
breast point like crown
hip swerve den curve
feather blue
and the boys say ooh

Who be dis
nameless she
old like age
in her porcelain cage

Make like she simmers
inside your gaze?
silent eye turning
from opaque to rage?

Lie lie! Fake news in your eye!
girl never complain, bitch never sigh
she not get energy
I tell you for why
girl no get heart
her best is body parts

18

A Juggler’s Aria from The Pyrenees of Ice and Mist

When a wig lends itself to no head
gymnasts of the Dordogne
in the flooded Tuileries Gardens
truly make me think of France.

On display at the Louvre,
a thigh from Frankenstein’s monster soldered to a plate,
Is it true Madame said, Let them eat cake
on her way to the Guillotine?

Leipzig’s Mendelssohn and Guernica’s Picasso
invited Sister Muses of the libretto arts
to step out in leggings on a runway
the aim, Immaculate Perception.

I wandered about, gossamer blade
of glissando strings, wondering aloud,
where to lean a wooden ladder to catch
Rapunzel’s tumbling avalanche of hair.

19

Practice Unseeing

Standing akimbo,
with limbs askew, she
pulled herself together
and started anew.

Level with mortals,
on a pedestal no more,
she picked up the pieces
and strode 'cross the floor.

Leaving the safety
and sweet adulation,
for authenticity
and a new vocation.

Exiting the revolving
door to the right,
she enjoyed the feeling
of hot, bright sunlight.

She stopped at a newsstand
for a paper and juice,
sat down in the park
and opened the news.

People were starving,
immigrants dying,
mass extinction of the planet;
she found she was crying.

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20

PROMISES ARE MADE TO BE BROKEN

Men tell me to peel my skin like a carrot before I ask, ‘Do you like what you see?’ Say it’s sexy when I leave my pantyhose and high heels on while everything else comes off. For a moment I’m worried because I think I look silly. But trust me, you don’t, they say in a voice that shows me they know what they are talking about.

A three-minute song to dance to is on but our tastes differ. We don’t mind the clocks, despite our differences. They love my skirts that are easy to take off. I love to put all my weight onto my hands and squeeze their thighs near the groin before they touch the elastic of my panties and stop breathing to say nothing looks as sexy on a woman as a broken heart.

I thought once a promise looked sexy on me, on them, telling me to wear it like fabrics that feel good on my body. My old clothes are full of holes and don’t fit properly. I should chuck them out, but seem to lack the strength.

These old bones don’t do dancing anymore. Yet, I often hark back to what once was to remind myself of what I’ve been missing.

21

SHARED APPROVAL

When I arrived at the gallery I felt faint. I needed to sit down. I’m not as young as I was and what with my arthritic hips I couldn’t sit on the floor. There was no seating in the gallery, then I spotted a white chair occupied by a group of disparate limbs and sundry objects. As there was no-one in the room, I carefully removed all the items on the chair and reassembled them in the corner. I slumped on the chair, exhausted. Then a party of tourists came into the room and gathered round the reassembled limbs and took photographs on their smart phones and admired the reconstituted sculpture. From my little white chair, I nodded in shared approval.

22

marlene

clad in blue, with blue
eyes besieged by brows
sharp like arrows,
aimed at angels.

limbs caught in a blue feather bower and tights.
limbs are both hunger and bait.
her voice sat on a chair
as desire takes flight,

like the smoke out of
an unfinished cigarette
gasping for a mouth
to suck it.

23

Unreliable narrator

funny what you remember
how your head reshuffles the deck

it wasn’t a boa draped around your neck
I just wished for snakes
and there you were
all long and loose limbed supple
I remembered you in part
left out the bits I didn’t care for
turned out that was the most of you
I gave you credit for a wealth of good stuff
that I stole from somewhere
such a lot of someone elses
many who I’d never even met

when I think of you
when
my memory’s a serial killer’s cellar
Frankensteining bits of you together

24

INTERCHANGEABLE ME

This, then, will be my epitaph:

          Haughty, naughty, cold as ice
          bet you can’t walk past me twice
          hold your glance
          don’t try to stare
          think that I am unaware?

But, did you ever think of my thoughts as I furtively gazed back at you?

No, you saw me as a woman only to mirror your desires

          for you I became a nurse, garbed all in white, to erase
               your childhood abandonment

          or a dancer, twirling lithely, on the stage of your ever-
               changing sexual imagination

          then a statue, standing breath-holding still while you
               conjured yet another me

          and sometimes a slut, dressing in 5-inch heels and
               spewing filth to arouse your flagging libido

Those endless pictures burned into my mind are fragments of our world together, arranged by you

          always by you

What you wanted was what I quietly became

          never ME

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25

interdisciplinary ekphrasis

        aesthetically     aesthetically
              pleasing     pleasing
          gold statue     gold statue
                posing      posing
      contrapposto     contrapposto

       anatomically     anatomically
                correct     correct
                golden     golden
              -ratioed     -ratioed
             physique     physique

anachronistically     anachronistically
        recalling all     recalling all
         the golden     the golden
                   ages     ages
                   past     past

    approximately     approximately
                 worth     worth
          infinituple     infinituple
         her weight     her weight
               in gold     in gold

26

Out of Art

comes struggle,
struggle to produce
time
          money
    art.
Frag mented       life,
arms akimbo,
brushes in hand
too many choices
laid out before me,
heart
           juxtaposed,
head tired,      so tired.
Feeding the need
in snatches,
bursts     of color
                           here
jumble of words
     there.
How lovely     the day
could be
when no choice
     is necessary.
A day of art
and         nothing more
no alarms
    no chores
no outer voices,
                 just me.

27

Dancer

I danced the can-can
in bonds of lace, ruffled
the ears of front row voyeurs.

Leg met hip, forged waist,
climbed to shoulder,
soared to a pillar of neck.

My face, I don’t need to describe,
it was mere introduction.
My body performed.

All those eyes trained on
the heel-kick-arch of my step.
I invited them,

but not his hand.

28

In Pieces

Individually the parts
looked OK. His grandmother
always said he got her legs
and they looked good
in stockings—he preferred
the old kind with the seams
running up the back:
There was an art
to keeping them straight.

And he could rock a pair
of heels better than his sister!
His arms had not gone to flab.
They were firm and attractive.
But then he wasn’t taking
the hormones anymore.

Which meant the hair
on arms and legs and hands
had come back full force.
He wanted to be Aphrodite
but he was Ariadne
chained to the rock
of a past mistake.

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29

Silence in Motion

There is no sound
but the rhythm of
foot on floor,
foot on floor,
and the slap of hand on
shoulder, thigh,
shoulder, thigh,

and the song of air,
inhaled,
controlled,
exhaled,

foot on floor,
foot on floor,

each step, turn,
jump, slide,
step, turn,
step, turn,
step, step,

each pause,

each movement,
so painstakingly
learned and
relearned and
repeated and
repeated

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30

Can Can

They’re lined up ready to go on stage
These dancers of the Folies Bergère
their mouths reddened,
stockings suspended
heels high as heads
ready to dance
their Can Can.
And yes they can
they really can
kick their legs that high
and wave them around
as if they are disconnected
as if their bodies are barely held
together
but they are together
and they really can
hold on
at least to each other.

31

THE BRINGING TOGETHER OF PARTS

as a study in anatomy this is partial
where there are three legs involved

it's a day in parts too — all kinds
of nice with fun included — swept away

on the moment that happens — has
constituents of arms and legs

guided without a head of steam
sensuality a bi-product of a stocking

in place for its full meaning
though a tangle here that hangs together

as a specialty of balance in space
as a wordless time of stillness

as a garden of delight torn apart
as a mingling of parts without a single name

32

Human Touch

I want to know what it feels like to be with a human.

I want that gentle feeling of another human; the love, the affection, the excitement that runs through your veins and the electricity that a human touch gives you. I want to feel it, to touch someone, to hold it, run my fingers along their lifeline and feel their energy. I want to know what I have been missing.

I don't know how I came to be in isolation, but all I know is that I have been gone for quite some time, and that the place I once was, is no longer the place I will ever be a part of again.

33

Leda’s Children

Flippant in the half-light
with Leda; half swan, half
advert, invasive.
I watched you twitch
and wing towards her circus;
blurry, humming.
Years later, a fifth child;
fished from a darkroom
in a verge of stockings, netted
shoal-like with tumbled meanings.
Friends sip red wine
and stare, old philosophers
gathered to deconstruct
Leda; half swan,
half advert, invasive.

34

The Price She Paid

Though she knew it would cost her and arm and a leg,
upon losing the bet, she would have to renege.
When she offered tattoos which they couldn’t reuse
they demanded a payback she couldn’t refuse—
her head and her torso and then even more so
her heart and her soul (which were darker than coal)
which they’d send down to Hell for they knew very well
naughty views of a muse were a very good sell,
then her arm and her leg they’d send to a museum
where people would pay for the privilege to see ’em.

35

Legs Dancing

With rigid torsos and fluid arms,
they feel the bend and stretch of leg,
paired muscles pulling –

not pushing.

A dancer’s calves and thighs
are strong from point and rise,

plantar flexion in action
in graceful bend and stretch

worthy of Rodin or Lautrec
brushstrokes in a gentle
ballet composition

or an energetic cancan.

36

You Can’t Outrun Squally Rain

Outside a fisherman ties his dingy to the dock.
He runs for shelter below a lean-to sheet of plastic,
as if a person can outrun squally rain. Nothing
compares, being chased by a tropical maelstrom.

I've sheltered in a cafe with plastic chairs and tables.
I glance up at the waitress who sets a sweating bottle
of beer on the table. She asks if I’m ready to order.
Salt and pepper shrimp, a vegetable. M' goi, I say.

The rain beats against the awning and pours down
on to the wooden dock below. The fisherman waits.
No rush — this is Lana Island. None are in a hurry here.
Time keeps its own speed in China.

When I was young, and my soul was still half empty,
I let the world fill me. The world was my home.
Wherever I went, whatever I saw, each place left a bit
of itself in my soul. And I left a bit of myself behind, too.
A kindness for kindness. Memories for memories.

Like the heat of Singapore as I walked across the old
iron bridge. Dazed, I thought I heard footfall behind me.
A curse, equatorial heat. It scorched my neck, my arms.
No fan would cool me, no cold drink resolved my thirst.

I once stood at the base of a glacier. Listened to its
white ancient mass groan and snap, it shattered the air
with a landslide. I remember my feet begging me to run —
but my legs refused. I learnt what it meant to freeze.

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37

Woodstock, 1969

It was all legs and feet and arms
trampling Max Yasgur’s dairy farm.
His hand, reaching out to tame
the generation gap, brought
little money, lots of damage
and neighbours’ scorn. It was
Woodstock. It was
for love and song and free.
Now, pristine in a gallery
arms, legs, hands
have long forgotten
the psychedelic love generation.
Where once in mud and grass
hippies loved and laughed
in summer warmth,
now a compilation of limbs
sits on marble, stone-cold.

38

DISOBEDIENT

I traveled in the waves of time
I came with love
in the world the noise
and in the heart of man
wandering
In the Colors of the West
and to the light of oblivion
I was disobedient
Signs I left on
hidden corridors
secretly sealed
and sacred

The clean conversations
to secular and aged
times have been silent

39

By the Time I Get to Phoenix

Leg stretched as if reaching for the ceiling
in the Cosmopolitan Hotel in Atlantic City,
Isaac Hayes on the portable record player
Nancy W. brought together with the LP

in 1969 after the moon landing a month
earlier and before we went back to school,
thighs burned by sun and calves rounded
in a way that stays until bones break.

I don’t know when I decided to go West
but it may have been in the long slow
introduction to the song in a voice
of Southern blues.

I don’t know when I decided only
a Western man would do but both men
I married were of desert lands once seas
but neither would ride horses into mountains

with me after all the trails I wandered near beaches.
The only one before me to head from Pennsylvania
to plains was my great-grandfather to shoot
buffalo so the railroad could go through,

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40

A Jagged Collection

Our worst chaos
is a flood of bent arms and legs
that don’t have torsos.
The muted voices in a department store
liquidation are another sign of our economy’s decay.
When we walk through a closed store
without smiling faces or displays,
we soon realize that all the manikins
quietly form in dismembered unity,
a jagged collection of gender-less models
in the abandoned darkness of despair,
secretly having a vigil for the dead
without candles.

41

A New Self

I cannot fly or make things appear,
I cannot make the heavens open or the earth tremble in fear,
I can’t live with myself; I’m amazed not at myself,
My love, my beauty and the pity of myself.

I am taken by my failures, astounded by my fears,
I am stubborn and childish and open to all tears,
The mist of the wreckage of life I hold,
And the tales of sorrow I told.

I practice being myself; I learn to be me,
And then I found parts of myself never dreamed of by me,
They were goaded out from under rocks in my heart,
When the walls were built higher on the earth,
When the water was turned off, the windows painted black.

I followed these signs like an old tracker,
And followed the signs deep into my own temper,
I followed the blood spotted path deeper into dangerous regions,
And found so many parts of myself in divisions,
It taught me that life is not everything,
And gave me new eyes to see through all things.

People spoke, but sunlight came out of their mouths,
And I was laughing at me with their mouths,
We laughed like children and then we were quiet,
No laughter was then in my mouth as yet,
Where is the laughter? I asked myself
And my new self smiled at the shattering of myself.

42

To The Woman In Black

I could have asked her would she
like to be the woman of the sonnets?
But instead we just sat silent together
in the dark movie theater.
Her hair was short and black.
Her face was pale of course,
made even paler by makeup,
but black around the eyes.
And her lips were black,
kissable black.
She wore a black sweater
though it wasn't so cold inside or out.
And her dress was short and black,
showed off the long black stockings
that disappeared into the shadow
of the seat in front.
She was the kind of woman I imagined
leaving flowers at the graves
of long dead movie stars.
But she was with me, at the Palace,
digging her black nails into my hand
as the horror film unfolded.
There were moments I averted my eyes.
There were times I bled,
red blood I'm sure,
though black to my trembling knuckles.

43

EXPERIENTIA DOCET (EXPERIENCE TEACHES)

Visitors are instructed not to touch the sculptures,
to keep their dirty paws off the art, to stand to one
side and not to look too closely at the pictures.

Any one of our attendants will be happy to explain
how these tactile objects feel against the skin. If you
have an itch to know then please feel free to ask.

What is this fear of us discovering for ourselves?
Why this aversion to let us gently scratch the surface?
To connect with the artists, to carefully place a hand

where their hands have been. When my only wish is to
receive their gifts in person, I’m frustrated once again,
left irked, miffed and peeved, rankled, vexed and

piqued, galled, riled, displeased, upset by the turn
events have taken. As I shoulder one more warning,
I’m led by the arm and ousted from the building.

44

Performance Art

They said to me,
Just prance around in a tutu
Do the splits, the Can-Can
Maybe interact with the audience
But remember
This is serious stuff
The gallery has a message
Disconnected nudes are perfectly fine
On a chair in front of the exhibits
But Do Not Touch the real Art here
Your nude leg is too disturbing
Those arms appear out of control
A striped fan to cover modesty
Detracts from pure white space
Deconstruct your disability, yes,
But remember,
This is serious stuff.

45

No Pedestal Holds Us Up

Rather, a child’s chair bears
A measure beyond gauges.
Meanwhile, we’re surrounded
By the encrustations of past ages:

The marble, the oil, the stormy skies
Ravishing stormy landscapes.
These would quail under the weight
Of the age we’ve just escaped.

Stockings protect very little there.
But the hand bearing the present?
We don’t trust it either. Why should we?
The color is all wrong, unpleasant.

There is no center here,
No solid being, no settled mind,
Only a portion that cohered
Somewhere else in a different time.

Our pumps clack on the concrete.
Our chair scrapes like a turkey call.
These others call to us, too,
Chanting in their dead languages.

46

After Logue, After Carson, After Auden, After likely some Housman I’m forgetting, After Keats by Way of Chapman, By Way Of Pope Lattimore Fagles Etc Etc Etc forever&ever… After Homer

God it’s always the same:
The same axolotl Scamander
Salamander growing its white river legs
back in the rain.

The same big spreading oak in the
Middle of the plain, Schliemann, oh anathemas,
Schliemann! The death mask which may or may
Not have rested on Agamemnon’s
Unexpectedly dainty face.

Ships viz black prowed, pitched pine
All those names, and the Shield,
Enumerated endless assemblage

A leg, an arm, a fan, garters;
The artful patterns of the
Not-Entirely-Indifferent gods,
Especially to describable metalwork.

I’m not going to talk about the Shield.

I’m not, but instead,
The steaming cauldrons tripods of
Goulash, calabash stews of autumn, Read more >

47

The Body, Eroded

The woman with bad knees has lost her spark.
The bones of her left hip are grinding one another
to history and need to be traded for well-tooled
and polished parts. The woman once worked
in a surgical suite and has seen by glimpse
and gander every phase of hip replacement.
The tools – delicate and incomprehensible, or
prehistoric and direct – might belong to a plumber,
or carpenter; or a boy building a clubhouse
out of salvaged nails and lumber from a half-
dozen neighborhood building sites. The woman's
orthopedic surgeon would have been that sort.
The kind of boy who speaks in mandates. Hold
this. Go get that. Get out of my clubhouse. Lose
thirty pounds, then we'll talk about surgery.
Uncomfortable as the princess on the pea,
the woman shifts position in her recliner.
On the kitchen counter, not that far away,
a broken peanut butter cookie calls.

48

QUANDARY

Your subservient palms steady a muddled self,
Pull away, pull through, push closer, push back,
It makes no sense whatsoever,
Bring a mangled body back to life, strive not to let your spirits down,
Why does it matter anymore?
Drop the dead weights, exhale the slavery out,
Walk away as it has begun to grey,
How do you make someone human, by just re-arranging a pair of limbs anyway?

49

Follies

The gallery is a sacred place
of safety and of symbols
preserving art
recording history
it encloses and encapsulates the past
sanitises revolutions
removes the barb the sting the danger

we can’t crystallise ideas
coat them with varnish
fix them in marble
and expect them
to serve us well
we can’t halt progress
we can’t go back

but we must infiltrate
liberate denial
replace this sterile order
with our own chaos
our frivolities and follies
love lust anger hate
blood war destruction

or we die

50

Deconstruction (with apologies to the artist)

And so they come...the great and the good, gleaming as they arrive: the art collectors; the paparazzi (“Isn’t that Lady Gaga?”); the experts who’ve abandoned their fields for the evening; the wine and cheese (but definitely not Wotsit) lovers.

Yes, they are all here, oohing and aahing as they tread the obligatory path, admiring every installation, making sure to dedicate the same time to each piece.

However, one exhibit in particular is capturing everyone’s attention; its bestockinged leg beckons, and the gaze duly follows. This artwork is so hot, the man with the fan in his hand feels obliged to waft air towards the crotch of its tattooed thigh. A Dali-lookalike strokes his curly moustache, the art critic declares it genius, the millionaire demands to buy it and I...

...I pull my cap down further to hide the amusement in my eyes and wink at the child who quickly rebuilt the exhibit.

51

Alice, Interrupted

The following is a transcript of a speech delivered by Tate-Tech Museum’s Director, Olivia Shelton, at the opening night celebration of the exhibit, ‘Time, Contested’ on October 3, 2029.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thank you for coming to the opening night of the Tate-Tech’s latest show, ‘Time, Contested.’ The show is comprised of a wide variety of pieces from artists all over the world, each of whom delivers a critique or comment regarding our current prevailing assumptions about the 4th Dimension: Time.

Before we open the gallery, I would like to say a few words about the highly anticipated art offering called, ‘Alice, Interrupted,’ which we at the Tate-Tech are extremely proud to be premiering this evening. It is, without a doubt, our most controversial piece. Perhaps the most controversial piece in the Tate-Tech’s history. Found Object Artist, ‘Restes’, is a politically passionate TD-2 Artist (Techno Dumpster-Diver, for those of you not familiar with the term), who collected this piece from the trash bin behind CERN, on the French-Swiss border. As is his habit, he offers no commentary with this submission.

I do, however, have a few things to say about it. (laughter)

With regard to CERN, and this piece specifically, conspiracy theories abound. Much is suspected, little is known.

What we do feel certain about is that ‘Alice, Interrupted’ is the product of an experiment gone-wrong in the hadron collider at CERN. We believe it is the result of an accident that occurred at the facility in 2009 which involved the destruction of several of the magnets located in a sector of the machine which is known by the name, Alice.

Read more >
52

In Time For Lemonade

Thinking back on that summer, nothing comes to him fully formed.

Trips to the beach.

Visits to galleries.

The heat seeping into every single movement.

Coral-coloured nail varnish. His sister holding her fan like a fragment of sky.

It was the summer before that famous journalist was killed, very far away from mint and rum and crushed ice.

They didn’t talk about much, but they walked a lot.

Their mother had spent most of the school holidays in the hospital. She made a big fuss about wearing what she called good shoes, even in there, and good tights. Whenever she got out of bed, anyway.

When she did, the three of them would walk down to the water’s edge. Greet the waves, then turn back. In time for lemonade. They put too much sugar in it, there. Which didn’t feel very healthy.

As the summer waned, his sister took a pair of their mother’s heels away in her rucksack. Staggered away from him down cobblestones.

53

All of Me

I am the sum of the equation
My lover tells me;
He builds exhibitions like dolls' houses,
Lovingly tended with tweezers.
I don't attend but wait for reviews:
"Her legs are cornerstones –
Pumice waiting to be worn down by waves"
Who will appreciate the tiny, miniature me?
Who will dress me in polka dot raincoats?
Critics come and go like weary travel agents;
I am flown around the world,
Magazines feature me,
Women mimic & men swoon.
He states: 'This is all of me' –
But I save some for a real collector.
In white nacre; my glove-box grown wild;
Priceless.

54

Pull

i want to find myself/stuck in the bones of your making/
how is it that this is the song we chose to sing?

from here, i only move backwards/daydreaming about the stuff
you're made out of/i can't fall in any further without losing completely/i can't dive without having my hands slice through the spaces i have never been welcomed into.

the air in there is leaving/slowly slipping through/i never quite learned when to cover my ears/remind me again how to count the scars/how to want to.

see, i have forgotten how to look with my eyes closed/how to touch without causing shatter/pull me back
in/drag me back out/i promise i won't lean over the railing/the waves don't whisper in the same way they used to, anyways.

55

Crescent Moon

In the promised swamp
There are bluish shells
Such as the tiptoes

At the kiosk in the airport on a remote island
They are sold as rings, eyeballs and madeleines

While ambushing on the muddy runway
A woman curses ephemeral insanity
To a man who caters In-flight meal
Her passion is immeasurable

A comedienne balances on a ball
Rolling the candies on her tongue

She senses strange flavour
Like mustard
Like Tabasco
Neither blue nor sweet

Warning from control tower in cloudy weather

Higher

Higher

It may tear the eardrum

Bright red crescent moon

56

THE ART LOVER

Kandinsky. Malevich. Miró.

To my best friend, a lifelong art lover, these were abstract pioneers who created their masterpieces in line with Plato’s belief that 'real art' – whatever that is – is found in geometry rather than realism, much like classical music.

“They’re so spiritual,” she’d say as we walked along the Tate Modern, ten times slower than every other visitor strolling along the iconic gallery.

“Yeah, they are,” I’d say to mask my impatience, secretly hoping to move on to the next room of pretentious art which I could once again attempt unsuccessfully to wrap my head around.

I knew what she meant, though. Much like Plato, I knew I was supposed to gawk at these so-called works of genius with a sense that I was gazing exclusively into the minds of composers my grandmother listens to, like Mozart or Debussy, richly evocative and a certain flamboyance yet somehow managing to be deep and melancholic.

And yet, no matter how hard I tried, they just appeared as if I were looking into a migraine; my disorderly aura rolled into fine art.

I felt bad for my best friend, the art lover, because as always, love had clouded her judgement.

After all this time, Plato had got it wrong.

57

Awkward Testimony

The skull contains many rooms.
Push the button behind the books
and the shelves slide, exposing yet
another door, a hidden room containing
lifelong testimony and celebration
of the women who left a mark on him.

The mind beyond the bone, an exhibition
of sorts, a gray-scale museum, shades of black
and white, platforms, prominent circles
and squares, a man’s museum of the women
who conquered him.

Fractured disunities, women on chairs,
on pedestals, captured in frames. An orgy
of parts pasted to parts of another, sometimes
disjointed, leaning haphazardly against, a black
stockinged leg kicks for the sky, suggesting joy
of free movement.

These are the favored aspects of women
he mothballed to memory long ago.
The framed picture is of first love.
There should be a wall size photo of her
complexity, captured in her eyes, fixed
upon his, demanding uncompromising
honesty before she will uncover her secrets.
Not in the picture is the moment just after
when she shifts into her wild animal self.

Read more >
58

The me I knew has been disappearing

Nothing fits the way it used to fit; nothing feels the way it used to feel. The emotions that I used to wear are tight across my chest. Before, there was room to move, to twist, to dance.

I can see the lines that I was drawn in, shifting. Where hands used to be there are feet; and there are no arms to hold me anymore, for I rock myself to sleep at night.

Mothers and fathers have become framed paintings and sculptures that I have created. Look and do not touch. See merely what you long to run your fingers over, if only you were whole.

59

A mess of convoluted loveliness

There's something sexy there all right,
Your legs, your hands, your can-can thighs,
all balanced on a tiny chair,
and Venus, too revealed,
shy-blurred and sleight.

I'd make love with you a-gusto
if you'd only let me in,
and show me where,
and how I might begin,
provided first, of course...
you promised not to bite.

God help me, what a mess,
of convoluted loveliness, you are.
Something unafraid and free
In all your unashamed sensuality.

60

but the dancer

makes herself
out of yielding dead
wood and maybe a garbled
lyric floating by
tuneless still almost a song

she cups the length of her leg
in her own hands
a bid to piece new bits of herself together
she is not over she may be tattered
yet she is unbounded

she is eternal
takes flight half-finished
exalts in her movements
she’ll pay with her pain or
whatever it takes

her measures erode any unhelpful sense of
which way is up, up or sideways or down
she knows infinity she also knows
as long as bodies can break or be broken or bought
dreams can be flogged like spirits

but that’s why
the dancer
the indestructible dancer
makes
herself

61

Menagerie

The incongruous culmination
the fragmented thoughts;
broken and ripped apart
frayed at the seams,
a mishmash of provocative
ideas woven together

This enjabment
which blurs the formal definition of a body
this entanglement:
trying to create a meaningful picture
out of this chaos
a feverish attempt to extract the essence
out of our severed limbs

Trying to sort out this mayhem
this dissonance:
which covers and devours us every day
we are continually trying to untangle this
around us
by every passing minute;
by every fleeting second,
Man and his struggle for existence
trying to solve this riddle
putting sense into the self

This matrix of corrugated desires
this collusion of surreal
dreams and desiresv wants and needs

Read more >
62

FEEDING HUNGRY MINDS

The coach pulls in, and eighty-seven eager nine-year-olds pour into the street.

Head-counted, divided into the groups and assigned a responsible adult to keep a track of their whereabouts during the trip, they’re navigated through the busy Exhibition Road, around the corner, and into the group entrance of the most exciting places in London.

Once all the questions about an earlier lunch or a pre-lunch snack have been addressed, we begin our ascent to the sanctuary of knowledge. Plunged into the white noise of the children’s lively conversations, occasionally reaching the painful level of 150 decibels, we, unknowingly, become the subjects of the first experiment of the day.

At the top floor, we’re greeted by a theatrically enthusiastic girl with the signs of late-night partying on her face, eyes and in her hoarse voice, which she strains trying to bring the storm of overexcited children to order.

“And so, unlike in other museums,” she finishes, energetically clasping her hands in front of her chest, “where you’re not allowed to touch anything, or to step over the red line, in our Superlab you can do all these things! Touch, feel, experiment. In other words – have fun! Any questions?”

“When are we going to have lunch?” asks a shy voice from the back.

The girl smiles and steps away, letting the children into the lab. Knowledge-hungry, each group explodes in through the narrow entrance and, like particles suspended in gas, moves around the perimeter in a Brownian-like motion.

Read more >
63

That Leg Follows Me Around the World

That leg follows me around the world
in purple-red-magenta-lit window displays,
stitching itself to a hundred thousand people,
and I think some of them might welcome it,
might harness its power for a short time,
but always, always it unpicks itself,
sags away, abandons them for a younger
or embeds itself in poetry.

It’s there in the old films too.
In light pushing through plastic, silver salts
and gelatin, to dash across the heights of a cinema
to paste that leg over a dusty screen; there it is,
coming out of a limousine, obscured by furs
and wide hats and the elegance of cigarettes,
steaming manholes, charcoal trees, lights of
skyscrapers blurred by soft focus.

Detectives stand over it.
They flip open notebooks and draw diagrams
of the scattering of fabric through grass,
down an alley, embedded in soil,
and the leg is zipped up tight and stored metal-cold
in a bank of deep drawers, where white uniforms
plump and paint, and someone back at the office
writes a pamphlet to warn children
that: the leg is coming!

Read more >
64

Barque of frailty

Barque of frailty, full of reformed rakes and bookish hearts
Block of fealty, full of knees doffing and hats bending
Barker of fantasy, full of bodies’ memories and memory’s body
Baroque of felony, full of fire curves and wavering sin
Byzantine of fertility, full of ground awakenings and blue sighs
Burst of fragility, full of hairline universes and breaking beats
Bloom of futility, full of pause buttons and waiting rooms
Brioche of flexibility, full of lifted crusts and spongy beds
Bridle of fashionability, full of revolving time and entropy’s glitter
Bulb of formidability, full of electric light never off since 1901
Blush of facility, full of a click’s ease and railway charm
Burial of fallibility, full of resurrected promises and wave logic
Brick of feasibility, full of home lies and silent explosions
Buyer of falsibility, full of nothing much and everything everything

65

The Body Natural

We dress them up
     adorn them
     with heels
     stockings
     ink

We embellish our flesh
     become elaborate
     ornamental
     exhibits

My drawing professor honored
     human form
     found adornment
     in undress

as if nudity were landscape
     where arch
     curve
     contour
     displayed flourish

as if fluidity of line
     stretch of arm
     bend of knee
     turn of hand
     rendered beauty

as if the body unadorned
     were enough

66

They called her Broken

They called her broken.

That's what she was was.

Her parts were scattered across the floor like files on a messy office floor. Her hopes and dreams were melting away in her shaking hands. They were shattered on the floor like ceramic.

She had tried so hard to put herself back together.

But she was distraught.

She had never quite gotten it right. One leg and one arm, stitched together. Another leg, angled in what she though was an elegant fashion. She tried to use elegance to hide herself. Her arms clutched a leg, hoping to steady it, keep it from collapsing. Another, third leg stuck out at an angle, but it was not her own. She had tried to take from others what she so much desired. She clutched a chair. She shook all over. A hand that was not hers, clutched an unknown object.

I could see myself in a museum. "Broken and Misplaced" would be my caption. People would look at me, to ease their stupid worries, shake their heads in mock disappointment, trying to make themselves feel better.

When the museum closed, the statues and paintings, such beautiful works, would laugh at me. "Who are you?" they would ask.

They would laugh.

They would call me broken.

That's what I would be.

67

Pieces of My Love

This is a disembodied installation piece that the artist Franz Joseph Isouphi II had recently installed in the exhibition wing of the Royal Gallery. Using both artistic skill and a few crucial dollops of pure ingenuity, Mr. Isouphi has managed to create this deconstructed piece using found materials, in this case, the body parts of his former lover, Marguerita Illanina. Ms. Illanina will surely no longer need her corporeal parts, her spirit having left her body under mysterious circumstances two weeks after she threatened to leave Mr. Isouphi and run off with another gentleman. Critics have tried to stir up controversy and implicate Mr. Isouphi in her tragic demise, likely inspired by the fact that Mr. Isouphi’s relationship with women has historically been controversial, at best, and some would even say problematic, but anyone sane and sober enough to examine the details will immediately see that it is their jealousy at Mr. Isouphi's phenomenal artistic success that leads them to such wicked conclusions. Anyone familiar with the facts, who has also read either the coroner's report, or the account in the local broadsheet, would have already been disabused of such nonsense. Scotland Yard had recently concluded that Ms. Illanina's probable cause of death is suicide by drowning. She is said to have flung herself off the embankment and drowned in the River Thames, deranged with distress, unable to choose between Mr. Isouphi and her new lover, whose identity remains a mystery. Women! you would think, and maybe even say to yourself privately. If you or I were her, there would be no question of whom to choose, of course, for there really has not been an artist as talented, as original, and as successful as Mr. Isouphi in this country for decades. His installation piece, boldly entitled "Pieces of My Love," is included in the general admission, and is available for viewing until spring of next year. If you want to be amazed, darling audience, then I highly recommend you drop your quotidian pursuits and rush off to see this mesmerising work of wonder as soon as possible.

68

Objectify

Beautiful perhaps
But not just body parts for use.
There’s no permission on my part
to allow the showing
of what is mine and mine alone.
I’m not here for your viewing, your voyeurism,
your leering glances and hungry eyes,
slobbering mouth and greedy hands

I’m not here to be above,
to save or worship,
to be too fragile, special, soft,
to hide behind doors or be kept inside
or left behind in the daily fray.

I’m not here to feed your thoughts
or fantasies of submission, domination,
perversion, bloodlust, death at your hands.

Nor am I here to take from you what is yours,
to put you down, to make you less.
We can share this world together.

When even art depicts the ugly,
the brutal rapes, dismemberments,
when words and music call me names
that too makes me less, takes
my humanness, and cuts my soul.

69

Remade

Like sweepings from an abattoir floor
I lay in pieces before you
Battered, bruised, broken

I blame myself — how can I not?
Your power gifted to you, by me
Gullible, guileless, green

Like Icarus I flew on makeshift wings
To Helios crossing my emotional sky
Blinded, bewitched, bedazzled

Yet now I see what others saw
Your light an illusion, a cruel disguise
Compelling, concealing, covert

Breaking your stranglehold has used
Every ounce of strength and will
Desperate, despairing, determined

With friendship’s glue I’ll be remade
But doubt I’ll ever be the same
Unlovely, unfamiliar, unrecognisable

70

You Don’t Know What it’s Like Until…

Arms and legs
piled up everywhere
no sense of order
nothing put away
not even filed by type.

I had the same trouble
with his Father

The picture on the wall
trying to make it
look like
an art gallery
doesn’t fool me.
I’m used to teenage boys.

Could be worse, could be
motorbikes.

Oil and spanners
all over the house.
Worse than blood. Smelly
difficult to get out
of carpets or vacuum cleaner.

Vacuum’s right — sucks things in
his room a black hole
full of spare parts.
Hard work it is
being
Mrs. Frankenstein.

71

Visual Impact

Surreal scene in a modernist gallery
Is it exercises to reduce the calorie.
Grand masters would turn in their grave
Or are they amused and extending a wave?
Curiosity about limbs intertwined
Where are the eyes
They must be blind.
This artist certainly carries clout
Monty Python eat your heart out.

72

Breaking

Breaking away from her life
The statues that caress are lost
A multitude of single legs
Baring dancing shoes taunt
And a severed hand
Holds a mirror onto
The nothing she has left
Interlocking fingers
Pull at the need to escape
Iconography screams
its way back through
As the child pulls her mother back
From breaking

73

Be(ing)

arm and femur disjointed at socket
surrounded by sculpted nudeness
striving to find some meaning and some more

She is woman
in deed and in truth
by her shoes ye shall know her

striving to find the missing pieces
to be whole
be(com)ing

she is bold
a work in progress
a masterpiece

74

Look Closely

It’s her. It’s always been her.

The beauty amongst the rubble, the ugly shining through the perfect.

Shattering the anticipation of what “should be” with only the ability to be what she is.

Look closely. Do not pass judgement based on what you think you see or think you know. She is not any of that.

She’s loud. The edges are rough. The surfaces are smooth. She’s tender and aggressive and bold and shameful. She does not look and feel like the others. And that is where the beauty is.

Most importantly she’s unexpected.

It’s me. It’s always been me.

75

The jugular vase

The hand, is a gorgeous thing
It strokes each line, to the fore
Massages it’s oils through layers,

and often, it clears a melodrama,
often acted out in prose,
it’s continuous isms of ignoring the past’s work.

It is detrimental, to the power of an en passant, it circles its wants the way the clergyman plants his thoughts.
No two hands have the same relationship with the self,

Such as the relationship between nature and art, someone may connect, with prejudice and disassociation with the present.
It’s fiery dimples bury something meaner in the stomach.

It’s contemptuous glaze, a thick honey, a dollop coated seat, a viewfinder, or a spot of lunch, is the tea cozy of modern interpretation.

76

Un coup de des jamais n’abolira le hazard

The polished concrete floor of the gallery gleams with post-industrial swagger and in the centre of the white-walled room sits 'Untitled, 2019'.

Watching the lighting technician test out the angles, the mid-career sculptor considers the work.

She is good at concealing true feelings behind an asymmetric hairstyle, loud jewellery, colour-block coats and distracting shoes. People make the assumptions they make. Untitled is her preferred mode of being.

'Untitled, 2019' is not her best piece. She knows that; her agent knows that. So, she suspects, does the gallery owner. But it has reached that point in her mid-career when she will always be shown in a Shoreditch space.

She will bear the private view, attended, as always, by a mix of family (proud but bemused), friends (intrigued), professional contacts (polite) and art critics (inscrutable, until the reveal, days later, in print). She will drink the wine, she will shake the hands, she will kiss the air. To allow herself to feel (to enjoy?) the fleeting glory of attention, a birthday child.

But what was it she been trying to say, with 'Untitled, 2019'? Stood there, with the light teasing at it, running over it like water, she is suddenly unsure.

The piece is witty. Yes, that’s it. Witty. Sex. Play. Sex play.

Looking again, though.

A child’s dining chair: squat, robust, bottom-heavy. The absence of self-consciousness. Sweet and small and white and innocent.

Read more >
77

What Gives us Life

We are made of limbs that grew in womb water.
We broke out of the womb with all our stretching,
kicking, pointing and poking, the water spilled out before us.

We were born from and with a desire to live and move
and have our being in this world, to dance, to sing, to praise,
to sculpt to build, to frame our lives with amazing grace.

See how we who grew inside our mother’s wombs have become
like misplaced limbs waiting to be lifted up and put into place?
We are all part of a body here, hand, arm, shoulder, foot, leg,
On bent knees we long to be brought to life, to be put together
and prepared to do the work prepared for us in this world.

What gives us life is balanced, front and center
on the chair, living water, without which we cannot
walk, see, dance, breathe, live, move or be in this world.

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Shoes, an outer covering for the foot

The single use stiletto, fit for purpose.

The 'beautiful game' gift hugging birthday boy's
sleeping foot, watch by the wine soaked slipper.

The yellow daisies left singing in a puddle
washed from pink wellies wading to a Festival.

The new owner with downward eyes, swaggering
his two-tone wages through red dust, diamonds hidden
in his sole.

The pile of broken sandals, waiting since sunset,
guarded by a torso; vestiges of violence

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Theseus

She calls herself Theseus. She’s a fixture in the galleries and museums. She goes to all the openings, drinks wine from long-stemmed glasses, talks knowingly about perspective, layering, composition. Every step she takes in this abstract world is a step taken away from the concrete, away from where she’s been.

Her stocking-ed calves ache from wearing heels all day. It’s a good pain, far removed from the growing pains of her youth, when Mother rubbed Tiger Balm into her calves and whispered, “Cara mia, va bene, va bene.” She remembers Mother’s strong fingers and the smell of camphor in her nostrils – a sweet sting like a happy memory.

And the first time she wore heels, her sister’s, going to see Rocky Horror Picture Show at the Village Theatre. She was a virgin then, dragged up before the crowd, tottering in the unfamiliar shoes, stripped to her pants. The audience laughed and called out but there was no threat in their voices, no malice. It was the first time in her memory that she did not feel ashamed of her body.

She started going more often. Every Saturday night. She taught herself how to put on makeup. She split herself in two and lived in both bodies, longing to put herself back together into one – the one that wore boas and corsets with pride. This body came with its own family and the feeling of their love was intoxicating.

It was her chosen family that convinced her to sing. She never before realized that she had a beautiful voice. She used to be quiet, still was around Mother, who also had a beautiful voice but rarely sung. In the darkness of the Village Theatre, she sang loud enough for both of them.

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Life Class

I am reminded of the day in the biology room
when the teacher told the girls
go home, take a mirror, open our legs
and take a good long look

‘Your body is beautiful’ she said
“learn to love every part of it’.
Years pass, and here I sit, legs akimbo
(like my Nan always told me not to do)

while all around, on pedestals or
looking down from whitewashed walls,
marble-fleshed goddesses
bare all, take flight, submit.

Not me — I’m all high kicks and tattoos
a face, a heart, a name inked in places
that are just for me to see
look if you must, but know I own

all this: my awkward limbs
my unyielding skin, every part of me.

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Balancing Act

Who else here is tired of art
imitating life, tearing apart
the human body at joints
and junctions? War points

the way to destruction, becomes
a game children play, strums
the subconscious of unstable men
until some act out battles on women.

We relive and recreate violence.
Hate begets hate. Anger is now incensed.
Picasso’s Guernica becomes wallpaper.
Bullets, buttons. Knife points taper

into fountain pens. We write, paint, sing
and dance brutality. But the good thing
is, we can do better than this. If we just
find and recreate kindness. Let trust begat trust.

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These Legs

I'm old now. My legs are heavy and swollen and I wobble when I walk. The world appears foggy and dull as my eyes struggle to focus. But, in the long hours that I sit by myself, my brain entertains me with my own personal movie show. Vivid and glorious reminders of the tenacity of my youth invoking a mixture of emotions as I remember the power I once had.

The opening scene... I'm standing at the bar. The camera dips to my delicate ankles and shapely calves, perfectly displayed in a pair of heels and a soft curtain of skirt hinting at what lies beneath. I am fully aware of my sexuality and sensuality.

I'm dancing now. My legs are strong. Their movement creates a swish of my skirt and a wiggle of my hips. I'm confident and carefree, not meaning to be provocative but I am attracting attention and I feel powerful.

I feel the warmth and slight roughness of a male hand on my knee. I have a twitch of vulnerability and a surge of excitement and anticipation... I'm climbing the stairs allowing my admirer a glimpse of a silk stocking-clad thigh.

Final scene. Pulses racing. My strong legs are wrapped around my lover.

These legs still feel the warmth of a masculine hand now and again. The chiropodist, the district nurse, the paramedics. They have no inkling of the power they once had over the opposite sex as they help me into my wheelchair and fasten my ghastly Velcro slippers

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Theses of Passion

In the gallery everybody is seized by somebody,
though the paintings and sculptures have flown
from the hand of the artist they are not free.
She may have exorcised her heart,
his mind with the intention of a liberation
but they are still of them, a soul’s imprint.

In a collage of mess and ownership
blue hair perms, hands are not of her body
no longer hers. A chair is a child’s present
on which a woman sits paddled by the fate
of the past and gripped by memories of a future
reaching out, misplaced, unsure appendices.

Love is all a pleading, a tragedy, some god
and maiden in the woods, Clytie turned sunflower,
Echo calling to the empty ravine, ravine, ravine.
Always in the background some battle rages,
a Guernica, a triptych, a Hemingway off to war,
mortality left to a morgue, or an eternal shadow-burnt.

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In Collaboration with

This issue of Visual Verse is published in collaboration with M Museum in Leuven, Belgium, to celebrate the 51st conference of the International Visual Literacy Association taking place at the Museum this month. The wonderful visual prompt has been selected from the Body Language exhibition at M-Museum:

Artwork: Valérie Mannaerts, Orlando (Legs), 2013, Cera-collection & M-Museum Leuven
Image: Exhibition view from Body Language at M-Museum Leuven © Alexandra Colmenares

Visual Verse would like to thank the artist Valérie Mannaerts for allowing us to share this wonderful work with our writers. We are also extremely grateful to the staff at M Leuven, particularly Kim Claes and Eveline De Wilde, for helping to bring this collaboration into being.

M Museum Leuven Logo

Find out more:

Valérie Mannaerts
M-Museum Leuven
IVLA conference 2019

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