Eyes. One of
mine will go eventually –
the sight, or the way of seeing? Theory
as an app. Trite as macula breaking down,
a burnt spot – arc welder – on the retina.
So, I go to the Crawford Art Gallery in Cork
with Tracy to see The Cooper Penrose
Collection again. Two years have elapsed.
I go to see a bird held by the neck – already
dead – to be examined by the protégé,
the heir of Penrose, with his dog alert
and hoping, the boneless patriarch
relaxed between gun and his lady.
The daughter is caught by the bird’s
gaze as well. In a different way? But
I don’t like descriptions of what’s happening
in paintings. I write of paintings but not of what’s
happening – because I don’t know, because
my eyes are all wrong, and one doesn’t
really work properly. Properly Propriety.
I identify with the bird. Of course. But
I twisted off at an angle to stand dumbfounded
before Stella – portrait said to be of “Stella”,
“lover of Jonathan Swift”, he who likely
had no lover, and hated her less than
the rest of humanity so in turn loved her.
That kind of lover. Never alone with the wit,
Mrs Rebecca Dingley, her friend always
a third party to their conversations? Stella
and Swift and “Stella”. But not Vanessa.
Never. Her look? Smug satisfaction,
only talking with gentlemen, never women?
It’s not that. It’s nothing I can describe.
But maybe the parrot; yet to me
that’s no exotica. Not even on estates
in Ireland, not even in a garden of Dublin.
Cotton trade. Plantations. There’s just
no getting away from it, is there?
Tim and Tracy finished reading
Jane Eyre aloud yesterday and we
watched the most recent film. Bertha.
Not far away. Wide Sargasso Sea
and the booze that sank me for fifteen
years? Me Us You in every painting,
film, book. So Swift hating all humans
still loved Stella and couldn’t face her dying.
Gulliver’s Travels a place in which love can’t
prosper, those islands just off Ceduna,
right near where we stay at Shelly Beach
Caravan Park every time we cross Australia.
I saw Stella there once, keeping a low
profile, talking with women around
a table-tennis table. So I hear we’re
going to lose words to a popster?
That Jonathan Swift’s Stella could
never now joke that it’s “Swiftmas”
without being sued. And she such
a deadly wit. She had a circle.
Mrs. Dingley scoffs at the idea
Swift and she ever married.
And that’s the parrot speaking.
I know precisely how this poem will end.
Shouldn’t I always? Know? How it will end?
Crossing the Irish Sea in very rough conditions
I wrote of the swell, not daring an ending.
Today, we visited a town we often visit
when staying in the English fens – St Ives.
The Great Ouse is high there. Tracy took a photo
of a mute swan with a blue sign on a wall above
and the blue took over the photo. The
swan paled. Contrasts. We nearly moved
there once. Behind the scenes. On the fif-
teenth-century bridge there’s a tiny chapel
which needs a key, and on its “battlement”
there’s a model of Romeo calling across
the fast, wide waters to Juliet up in a shop
“balcony”. Double entendres everywhere.
“Romeo, Romeo” reads the sign. ’Tis
the season. And all of that. But I read
Propertius and am planning two versions
to add to our exchange. To re-illuminate
Propertius? The hubris! Cynthia rides
again, only to get dumped into context.
I like how he – Propertius – shifts tone
and approach in Book III, the love-elegy
almost thrown away only to be dredged
up later. The bottom of the Irish Sea,
the River Tiber, The Wash, the Mediterranean,
the Pond. Thinking I know how this will all end,
I can only say that everything I write lives
in scare-quotes. It’s not quite how I speak.
There is a cell. Outside, a wilderness,
not wild, merely in the biblical sense,
not a wasteland of tooth and claw,
of blood and gnawed bones, but a garden
where things are allowed to grow,
where pebbles and stones may have
never been nudged, picked up
by hands. Wild in the sense of miles
before a road. In the cell is a cot.
Above the cell is a pane of glass
separating the wilderness from
the cell. The cell smells of linseed
and ink and the fresh funk of a body
still dying in the slow way of flesh.
Each month, the body meditates
on the news. A small tragedy
somewhere in the world. For a month
the body contemplates every angle
of the tragedy until all that is left
is the slipping away. In this cell
all deaths are stories. All births
are myths. All laughter is a drug,
all tears are magical and ordinary
as piss. On its back at night, the body
contemplates the illumination
of the full moon. How the world
is transformed by light! The body
discovers its inadequacy in such
moments. I have never retreated
for my art, except in this way, trying
to climb out of my ego, trying to reduce
all things to a body – a kind of fleshy
thing – and still it is hard to withdraw
from the rituals of id and ego; and anyway,
you came to meet me in this cell,
I in my brown cloak and hood,
dressed for prayer and penitence.
From my window see the winter-
stripped tree, mute light over
the suburbs, a postman
bringing boxes of books. Yesterday
I lived in faith. I ordered books.
Tomorrow is contained in that past,
and I wait for the arrival of books;
I live in constant faith; it is one word.