- Vol. 06
- Chapter 12
There were parts of her that were never her own.
A diaphanous mucosal tissue, returned broken and bloodied. A hollow cavity enveloping a home.
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.
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:Read more >
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?’Read more >
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.Read more >
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.
Babes in an Earthquake
My body hurt,
It would be a shame
if after my head and torso
I found my limbs in atrophy.
Before them, I set
a simple wooden chair,
photocopies of rehabilitation
exercises given after consultation
A daily regime:
I asked my partner to conjoin
with me in this extreme
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.
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
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.?'
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
Eventually you find the joke that hurts
It's a museum
of injuries, he said,
and I had to guess.
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—
A museum of loss—
Okay. Okay. That one stopped me.
I know the pun.
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.
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
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
Pieces of her
from dawn to dusk
until her limbs
were no longer hers
she twirled with
that her body
and fell into
a montage of despair
in a blue cloud
her only hope
amidst the pain
to rest awhile
return all to self
find the missing pieces
and become whole again
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.
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.
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.
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
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
The Last Drop of Water
To touch the leg that dances across the universe,
to feel the pulse of a thousand suns shining—
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
You are the light touch of dawn
when the shadows flee.
You are the last drop of water
on this earth.
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
and the boys say ooh
Who be dis
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
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.
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,
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,
mass extinction of the planet;
she found she was crying.
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.
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.
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.
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
my memory’s a serial killer’s cellar
Frankensteining bits of you together
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 MERead more >
gold statue gold statue
recalling all recalling all
the golden the golden
her weight her weight
in gold in gold
Out of Art
struggle to produce
Frag mented life,
brushes in hand
too many choices
laid out before me,
head tired, so tired.
Feeding the need
bursts of color
jumble of words
How lovely the day
when no choice
A day of art
and nothing more
no outer voices,
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.
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.
Silence in Motion
There is no sound
but the rhythm of
foot on floor,
foot on floor,
and the slap of hand on
and the song of air,
foot on floor,
foot on floor,
each step, turn,
They’re lined up ready to go on stage
These dancers of the Folies Bergère
their mouths reddened,
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
but they are together
and they really can
at least to each other.
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
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.
Flippant in the half-light
with Leda; half swan, half
I watched you twitch
and wing towards her circus;
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.
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.
With rigid torsos and fluid arms,
they feel the bend and stretch of leg,
paired muscles pulling –
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
or an energetic cancan.
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.
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.
I traveled in the waves of time
I came with love
in the world the noise
and in the heart of man
In the Colors of the West
and to the light of oblivion
I was disobedient
Signs I left on
The clean conversations
to secular and aged
times have been silent
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,
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
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.
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,
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.
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.
They said to me,
Just prance around in a tutu
Do the splits, the Can-Can
Maybe interact with the audience
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,
This is serious stuff.
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.
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
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 >
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.
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?
The gallery is a sacred place
of safety and of symbols
it encloses and encapsulates the past
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
replace this sterile order
with our own chaos
our frivolities and follies
love lust anger hate
blood war destruction
or we die
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.
Alice, InterruptedThe 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 >
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.
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;
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.
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
Neither blue nor sweet
Warning from control tower in cloudy weather
It may tear the eardrum
Bright red crescent moon
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.
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.
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.
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.
but the dancer
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 indestructible dancer
The incongruous culmination
the fragmented thoughts;
broken and ripped apart
frayed at the seams,
a mishmash of provocative
ideas woven together
which blurs the formal definition of a body
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
which covers and devours us every day
we are continually trying to untangle this
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
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 >
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!
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
The Body Natural
We dress them up
We embellish our flesh
My drawing professor honored
as if nudity were landscape
as if fluidity of line
stretch of arm
bend of knee
turn of hand
as if the body unadorned
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.
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.
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.
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
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
an art gallery
doesn’t fool me.
I’m used to teenage boys.
Could be worse, could be
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
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.
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
Pull at the need to escape
its way back through
As the child pulls her mother back
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
she is bold
a work in progress
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.
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.
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 >
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.
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
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.Read more >
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,
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.
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.
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
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.
The differences cover
the common ground
like a mask,
like a hammer and chisel
splitting the skeletons,
creating artificial divisions—
neither half is willing
to bear the cost
of a bridge—
Should we tunnel to freedom?
can we dig deep enough
beneath the years of debris,
the lines incised
to reach the bones?
I can’t remember if there was ever a time that I was considered more than the sum of my parts. Maybe when I was young, before I knew the extent of what my body could do. Before anyone knew. But then, is anyone really afforded such consideration? To be judged not on the extent of their body’s abilities, but on merit, or goodness, or kindness. In the end, most of our worth is based on how productive a member of society we can be.
If you look at it that way, I am just like everyone else; exploiting my body to its limits to make a buck and get by under late-stage capitalism. Except for the fact that I can remove my limbs and reassemble myself based on my mood that day. Or the mood of my employer.
Typically, I’m employed for decorative purposes. One of my greatest assets is that I can elevate a dull room without really trying. I simply sit in the corner and attach my leg to my shoulder and my arm to my hip and bam—art. I get paid pretty well, too. It’s a freelance gig, so that really makes it worth it. Some months are busier than others, you know how it is.
I’m also pretty likeable. Often I’m left sitting in the corner like some kind of ornament, but I try to encourage clients to take advantage of my bubbly personality. One guy, a curator, likes to have me greet people at his exhibitions, looking as normal as anything, except I have a leg on my head. People think it’s a riot!
Of course, there are creeps too. You can’t be a woman and avoid creeps, that’s the truth of this world. But let me tell you, that goes doubly so for women like us. Honestly, I’ve got a million stories I could tell. Most recently I had a guy who wanted to spend two hours alone with my nose and my left ear. Of course I said no. You learn to say no to things like that pretty quickly.Read more >
Gone are the walls of endless mirrors and narrow barres
The Gallery now stands in their place,
white walls graced by paintings
statues of heroes, lovers, and dancers
captured in marble immortality,
replacing the living dancers.
A dreamer hears the tap of her heels on the floor
hears again the strains of Swan lake
one, two, three and four and plié
to the ballet master's tap, tap, tap of his cane,
one, two jeté, one, two, arabesque, one, two pirouette.
Once more she feels the strain of tights on tense young limbs,
the pull on her muscles as she stretched, agony of her toes,
the sensation of flight as she leaps across the floor.
Once more alive with the music,
alive as she stretches her lycra-clothed limbs,
She dances with all her being, to the strains of Swan lake.
A gentle tap on her arm ends the dance, "It's closing time, Madame."
The dreamer looks up, once more, feels the ache of damaged feet,
nylon on her legs, the fabric of her dress.
She gazes as if for the first time, at the paintings on the white walls,
turns to the guard, smiles wistfully, "See you tomorrow, Pierre"
and leaves in time to the tap, tap of her heels and her cane.
It's an odd sort of feeling
To be a collection of parts and not a whole.
Dream of pulling apart the pieces
And rethinking the entire composition.
Other people seem to do it better:
Emphasise that which could be covered.
In the old myths people transformed
And, better or worse, it might stick.
Look back at old photographs,
See which bits to chuck away,
And which, collage-like, to put together
Until you finally look like you.
Beware the Emptying
Every living person is allocated a sizeless, infinite box.
Boxes bulge weighty with knick-knacks and once-loved trinkets. They brim with many forgotten things that belong to the fickle, the frivolous, the mindless or the decadently rich.
Forgotten is lost – as if it never were.
Everything previous, broken or unremembered accumulates in an unnamed pile of waste. Memory thieves wade in and sift through, choosing snippets, emptying our minds to fill the boxes. Zipping like shrapnel through cracks in time, the stuff falls. Crashing out of consciousness into the boxes, that fill the space between us.
Losses vary: childhood memories of outgrown toys, catapults, yo-yos, and comics. Others are experiences, vapid with no tangible physicality: empty dreams and desires. Or nightmares that rattle. Niggling worries: their bared teeth and gaping mouths, trapped and hungry in a limitless darkness. Happenings: revisited over drinks. Details of years, resisting the fire of synaptic connectivity, like phantoms in a deep sleep, until nudged to haunt us. And then, one day, they disappear forever.
The memory thieves are singular beings, nifty, shadowless and silent. They write inventories and label everything ever forgotten. Creeping through time, they squeeze stuff into the realm of the beyond. Their job is to catalogue the void. Human possessions flushed out of the foreseeable present and ultimately out of use.
After moving house our crates sat in tidy unopened towers. Their excavation regularly relegated to the holidays, pushed to the bottom of an invisible to-do list. Crates dusted superficially, their contents a substance from before. Read more >
Here it comes, she thinks, not long now
He’s gathering his intention
Hesitant like a cloud inside him
And even though he tries to sound cheerful
It’s only ever a front.
“I could murder a pint!”
This constant desperation that holds
Such quiet power over him
“You go on, I’ll meet you later,” she says
“There’s much more I want to see here.”
Her gaze wanders over ankles strapped into shoes
Restraining hands clasped under a thigh
Flesh holding back flesh
While he drifts off
She stays exactly where she belongs.
He’s like a positron, she decides
There and not there, both
One thing and the other
A tiny annihilating charge
Pretending to be attractive.
Nothing like my father, she reflects
You knew where you stood with him
Do or don’t do — no half measures
What would you have made of all this, Dad?
I can’t see where it’s going, myself.
In the apartment she stands
with her back towards the window,
hand clasping a cup of tea to her chest,
you with your leather shoes
and hair tied in a knot on top of your head.
She pulls a straight-backed chair
away from the table, sits down,
lets herself relax into the wooden struts.
For you there is a weight,
an unbearable suppression of knowing,
of having eyes that see
through lies and locked doors,
the image of her soft limbs wrapped
around someone else’s.
From her dozing position she
sits up abruptly as you move closer.
Do wide eyes mean surprise or fear?
And you with your fists clenched,
and the immovable image like a nude
painting on the wall, a heat rising
in your neck, earlobes throbbing with blood.
What is the difference between
a hand which grips the seat of a chair
and one around a throat?
The whispers of tulle
Taut, crisp tangles of nylon
Each receptor poised
In a pirouette of perception
Drawing outlines of the body
In and out like breath —
The quickening of the heart
Painting into position
With heat and light;
A museum of materiality,
A muse of mortality.
Bodies of Conversation
Leg over leg,
layer upon layer.
In the gazing silence there is still conversation.
Her eyes leave his and his follow
as she, at the peak of his nose, recalls to him
with the faintest smile then bitten lip
of when she knew, all those months ago;
that she reached the summit first,
how they stopped to survey the scarred valley
And that it was then that she decided.
He reminds her, catching up
at his unshaven cheek — her dimple,
that he thought it was after, when he asked to join her table
in the corner at the quaint coffee shop
at the slate foot of the mountain.
Their pupils dilate as one
and they let each other know
with the flush of pink that promises more.
I took you to lunch, he blinks.
I took you to bed, her eyes open
and he wills her pout to part again.
It does, clinging dryly and
he closes his eyes.
There is no feint when in the moment
she chooses to check this kiss with words:
OK, but you know it’s over, don’t you?
They left them here
Surplus to requirements
All shapes and sizes
Still hosed and shod
Powdered and painted
In all their glory
But loved no more
They’ve seen some high-kicking
Some low moves
Strutted some stuff
Walked their walk
If only they could talk
What tales they’d tell
Baby, We’ve Been Having Sex In Art Galleries
The word ‘aein’ could be translated as ‘intimate’ in English. I’ve told you about this before, right? No? How is that possible?
Ok! So, I learnt this word ‘aein’ from a Korean film, by the same name, which I’d watched many years back with subtitles. No, we hadn’t met till then, I think.
When I masturbate, my mind often transports us to an empty space – it’s a scene from this film, Aein. The space is like of an art gallery but without an exhibition – empty. Yeah, yeah baby, no furniture. Nothing, at all.
We walk towards the last wall in that room. The heels of our shoes echo against the marble floor. Of course, nobody else is there. Empty, completely.
No, it’s not dark. In fact it’s well lit. A plain room where everything is white: walls, floor, ceiling, everything: milk-white. Nice yellow lights. One of the wall, sometimes, is transparent. Like a glass. Anyway, you get the point right? It’s modern architecture.
And like the characters in the film – who, by the way, were strangers in that scene, and after this meeting start a torrid love affair – I’m always in a red georgette blouse and pencil black skirt; you, in a light blue shirt and dark blue jeans.
No they don’t take them all off. But that’s good. I think that’s why it’s good. Remember they are strangers? There is, between them, an irrepressible, bold desire.Read more >
The Performer or The Fallen Dancer
Her body and soul are broken in so many places.
Legs and arms come out of her head.
Her body spreads across the cracked planks of woods on the stage floor.
The spotlight, hanging above, highlights her pain and discomfort…contorted joints, dismembered limbs and humiliation.
Under the curved sinuous shadow lies her broken soul (which hurts a lot more…), while the silent screams are growing louder inside.
She contains her expressions and sounds (she is a performer after all), while still trying to stay beautiful, if at all possible.
The royal blue tulle skirt covers her sex, gently touching her crotch. And her light pale pinkish breasts lie down flat over her motionless torso filled with broken ribs.
The music keeps playing for a few minutes, which feels like infinity, and a reminder of the absurdity of this moment.
From where her head is placed, she can only see the adorned ceiling of the old French Vaudeville theatre, which reminds her of fresh cream cake decorations.
For a few seconds she forgets all her misfortunes.
Her body is trained to perform, bringing pleasure and beauty (to the boisterous audiences), but from distance, it looks like this scene came from a car crash or a horror movie.
But it is the soul hiding underneath the shadows, that really hurts the most.
The grimy smile, the (face tinted with) heavy make up, the long unglued eyelashes, all conceals the real tragedy that she has carried internally.
There is a momentary relief that she no longer has to pretend to be perfect; her body finally matches how she feels inside.
Suddenly, her expressions become peaceful, almost (content) happy.
Read more >
my under thigh goes taut with that ouchie good that goooood stretch of pain. but the other girls do it so easy, leggy and slick as cream their feet go up to the ear, while ouchie my crotch bone is on fire and my tummy is doing none of the work, all the work is between my hand clutching my ankle, my two ends grabbing for each other, joined at the wrong end of minus and plus so i’m wonky. sandra sometimes goes round the class with her two fingers swiping at our buttocks clenched like fists in first position and says ‘you need to lose some’ to some. you lose things with the constant push higher like i went on pointe too early and my toenails. one by one. went black. and all fell off in a week. hehe. when you smile you light up a room though, honey, shuffle in the queue. hush. melanie sight-reading on piano, twinkly stravinsky, lights up, head up, chin jaunty, toes pointy, flourish of the arms – spraying cloudy taffeta over my awkwardness, much more awkward. just notice it is dark outside the classroom and think about having chilli con carne for dinner. and hair pins fly out in the pirouette, hair sags into old granny bun, stumble on the final ronde de jamb, land the jeté like a heffalump and scuttle off as it all goes quiet.
Yoga in the Gallery
She saw the pose on the poster. That stretch, the straight leg, hands clasped around the ankle. This must be chair yoga. In her class they did this pose on the floor. It was a long time since she lifted her leg like that, but she could only try. And a gallery was an inspired place to conduct a yoga class, all those white walls and silence. So calming. Walking around, her mat rolled under her arm, she thought the pictures might be a bit distracting. Statues and paintings to demonstrate poses, interesting idea. She hoped it wasn’t nude yoga. But the thought made her giggle. She remembered when William did hot yoga. He said it was yoga in a sauna. He was always joking. She looked around. Where was he? Ah yes, she had seen him lying in a box.
‘I suppose you’re going to tell me it’s a resting pose,’ she had said. That shut him up.
‘Am I in the right place for the yoga class?’ she asked.
The uniformed man smiled as he opened the door and her heels clicked on the polished tiles as she walked through.
‘You are indeed, Mary, he said. ‘Just follow me.’
Inner Self on the Outside
The fragments of her self are coming back together after years of struggling to find herself.
Years of abuse that she colluded in have finally been overcome.
She recognises the beauty in herself as her confidence returns.
She feels safe to present her inner self on the outside and she is not afraid or ashamed to present the reality of the woman she is, the one she has become thanks to the experiences she has lived through.
She is who she has become and she is proud of herself.
THIS BEGAN AS A MISTAKE
I walked into this gallery a week
ago; not as an art collector or
a storyteller but as an observer.
I came here to peek at the arts that were
born in brush and could not point Pastiche from
copies. Copies are spies, you know.
I heard the canard they create these days.
I sleepwalked my way around and still got
This began as a mistake.
The perfectly pointed feet in the air,
placed in the middle of nowhere, and
connected to nothing, cut through my eye.
I didn’t come to the gallery, to
But I saw in blood without any blur.
I grabbed the feet and I felt her future,
With stories hidden in it;
She carries a lot of secrets in her shoes,
and not on her shoulders and
a part of her body is covered in
black for safekeeping.
Her music comes from the tattoo of the
world around her. This drives her to the floor,
where she dances in leggings without
unlocking a single rifle.
She is the one everyone is trying
to hold on to, though she holds on to no one.
Split into Pieces
I find art museums cathartic, especially modern art. It takes my mind away every day worries and to an alternate world. I’m fortunate to have a museum a few blocks from my apartment.
Saturday, I go my usual time to the museum and fortunately there is an art exhibit with a full house of art enthusiasts. While struggling through the crowds of people, I find myself in front of an unusual statue. I fixate on it, studying every aspect, and the artist's name reads "Anonymous."
I furrow my brows in awe. An outstretched arm in midair holds onto a woman’s leg, wearing a stiletto heel; the leg is covered in grey stockings. My mind goes to the artist portraying a dancer. Even more fascinating is the blue feather shawl with the arm stretching down and a hand holding onto a white chair while the other leg is stretching outward to the right, with a hand leaning gently on it, holding what appears to be a blue mirror. I’m bleary-eyed and can’t make out the rest.
“Interesting piece of artwork,” a woman comments to me.
“Indeed, it is.”
“Not quite my taste though,” she says and walks away, leaving me in wonderment.
Yes, I think. I know what the artist is portraying. A lonely dancer split into pieces.
Yes, that’s it. Split into pieces, just like me.
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.
Find out more: