The slip was not satin, but poppy. A linen sky gone pale and the long cascading drapes and walls that same cool white but the cypress, its fallen needles, the rooftops were umber, the fence, the beginning of night: small, invisible cries, and like a wing, that wooden fence grew large with shadow as its shape entered the window, umber, amber bulbs exposed below the flaring black shade, plump with filament, lit, pendulous and, it seemed, beginning to rise as the languor of too many months-without-end— enforced, unnatural languor— had gathered, like silk, into the crack of thigh against bent knee, the seam of fleshy upper arm, crease of elbow, the mystery of triangle made by the shade of red cloth fallen high over leg, the shape the covered nipples made as the breasts splayed to balance a hand flung backward, out of sight and into foreshadowing, into the scent of the ganja filling the hallway —nearly strong as skunk—curving its way below the door and into the room through the rough-hewn gap where light crept through at night across the closed face, brow held tight as scar above the nose, kohled eyes focused by a dust mote on the floor or the inner lip of the terracotta urn. Scent of sugar, sweat, tobacco seeping through the old pipes, clinging to the pillows like a second skin. Galangal nights. Arpeggiated dawn. Empty Newport pack on the hellstrip. Mind like ribbons. Leather bangs. Time beyond girdle, the giving up, the belly abundant, the giving in, again, again, again, again, again.
It bothers you, the ocean— the thousand-thousand surfaces colliding in cold light, the way the water seems unjoined and distant— not because of looking down from this great height, but something else. They’ve put you in first class. You don’t feel first class— or, really, anything. But you can’t stop thinking—turning over and over that online article about Bonnard, the recent exhibition, and that painting: two lovers— one about to be his wife at the base of the picture, facing in, three-quarter profile, something else occluded in the brushstroke, yes, but brushstroke as execution of the same perception darkening his gaze, much later, in that angular and razorlike self-portrait in the mirror of the bathroom, as though shaving or about to shave. The other lover, central, is a source of light— several alterations later maybe it’s grown hard to identify the exact measurements and colors of the eyes—but their effect is unmistakable. Recognized. And maybe her hair was really that bright—more light than pale, more midday haystack under sun than moon, her face a ruddy outdoor-colored hue of pink. It’s her effect he gets at with his brush, more than her features. We’d recognize her even in an airport, even from the back. Or from the side. Or from a whiff of something emanating like perfume—not scent, exactly. Something else. And as you recall the many tiny shingle-lights of paint and how they pull the feeling of a moment closer than the canvas, almost like a hologram, you begin to see more clearly something far below the ocean —or its surface—something vaguely red, not bright, but like the color of old blood, dried blood— perhaps an immense encampment of kelp or maybe, after all, the sea incarnadine, incarnate as a low animal, amorphous, bigger than a whale, below the topaz—sea grass? the water itself?—stretching for miles beneath the troubled, vacant surface now grown clear or opaline or gray— a vast and transparent collection from the world’s spittoons, windowing the lower layer of self. Some say she shot herself, the blonde—designed the moment, the tableau for him to see. Others suggest that when he finally chose, conclusively, she arranged a far more fluid exit in the bath— different in tone from the ones he painted, would keep painting of the chosen, who remained, a constant presence, hovering near doorways in glances, or profile, or silhouette, or partially hidden or rearranged in the tub by the clean refractions of yellows and sea-green blues, her body, some observe, never quite coherent as body, anatomically adrift, almost melting into the thicker warmth of the fleshlight of the afternoon, hard to make out, precisely, or cut off above the legs— as happens when one is walking casually by an open door, after cradling, say, in one’s hands, a tiny dachshund, like a second beating heart, and remembers to look in: never vivid. Never whole. Never, ever, a ghost. And you drink the coffee as if you’re drinking coffee, though you can’t make out the taste as you wonder how he’d sketch the almost browning sea on the napkin, as they say he used to do, how the brush would catch the splitting, untethered surfaces in light, this ruffling of these almost-iron shifting shavings of some giant knife, or the gradual seeping up of those other colors.
It Is Not a Bridge
The bed red wood with scrolls —along the side, black ink— the bed or the coffin above the river— the water filled with bats —or birds— I stand on it— on top of the red wood bed above the river in wind— my hair—long, black— and all of the layers of my clothes— swirling in wind like some cubist kimono —the swirling squares of my robes and maybe the blankets I am now standing in as I raise my white sword— my sword, my reed —my quill— long white yellow —as I raise my long sword toward the fish above my head riding my sleeve like a sleigh, like a basket— riding my sleeve like a silk bassinette —that whiskerfish ready to jump in the water before I fall before I strike—
—And I to you of a white goat . . . (Sappho, tr. Carson)
And so I imagined the way we’d come across him there, the creature— gazing at us squarely, loosely chained —that palimpsest of horn a singular, curling pentimento— his throne, a bed of rosemary and bracken and birdlime. It will not surprise you that he caught us staring— or that this was the way he simply caught us. You will remember—I’m certain—how he wore his crown: like a cuff. There was the way his hooves were split and the way he opened time. We had to notice that the sky of his neck was golden: a collar: how it blended perfectly into the metal expanse of light. Sound was the water flowing from the fountain— steady sound. Runes had fallen like petals from the roses. You will, of course, receive this (already know it). Mood rang through the moon— an oval in daylight, sinking slow. This is realism. Under the fragrant rosemary. The fog opens, closes. We live inside these hills.