Qu’est mon neant, aupres de la stupeur qui
— Vies, Rimbaud
The fresco has faded to a mere suggestion. You will miss it, you probably did miss it. In the corner hides a very old man, I think he was young when the plaster was warm, and he aged with the walls. He does not look toward his god; he looks at you, passing by, or stopping for a moment to whisper, one hand wrapped about your waist, something about what the color used to be, before Saint-Saens played, before the barricades of 1832. What the color used to be, when the old man posed in his youth, saintly under a spring sun.
There was gold, everywhere gold, a paradise of gold, a promise of gold, a gold that took the light like a thief, smoothed and smothered it. The light sometimes struggled to be free, and then the painting danced like liquid metal mixed with a shallow tide. Mary kneels to the Angel, whose wings are high, Pelican-white, and half presented for flight behind his back. Mary’s gentle head, her sweet neck, are quiet, as if she cannot quite hear the words of Gabriel. He speaks half in whisper, low and soft, not of news but of a story. Gabriel looks at Mary, Mary gazes upon the feet of the Angel. It is not humility that keeps her head bowed.
Amorgos in October. Rocks, paths for goats and their keepers, young dark boys cast by Bertolucci. At the cafe by the small bay is a girl with long thin legs, rounded knees; she is the color of burnt wheat and when she returns to the limestone shaded streets of her father’s house in Neuilly-sur-Seine her skin will lighten as the skies cluster with autumn rains. Next year, University and complicated lovers and an important exam that she will fail, but now, this early October, she sits by the sea, her regal collarbones moving with her breath, a grey salt-stained sweater revealing wrists so small one can see her veins like bracelets. Delicate cheeks and widened eyes, tinged with pale brass. A mouth small and serious, but her torso moves in the cheap beach chair with a language louche and light. She brings a cigarette to her lips and opens a book with a broken spine. In early evening I climb vertical steps the color of milk carved into the high arcing rock wall of the island. They lead to a monastery of the purest white stone, dug out and built up by the faithful or the enslaved sometime in the 11th Century. At the top a young monk greets me with Ouzo, and I sit with him in his pearl, ringed by the sapphire sea.
The body was alone. At last. Dry heels bitten ankles slender thighs grown thick. Belly concave hips narrow, but sloping, and weak. Breasts of youth, wide and full at the sternum, narrowing to Cubist triangles. At last the body was alone. Arms long and burned, neck long and burned, hair long, unwashed, crusted in parts like a tidal creature with bits of salt. Skin a patchwork of pale Nordic blood and Mediterranean darkened limbs, scars from a jellyfish, scars from a knife, scratched and bothered bites like ruined confetti. Paros. Early awakening, before the sun gives light to the sea.
Emergence. Elemental, the simplest language strips it, skin off a carcass. Emergence. Cold autumnal sea, the same sea of the great gods; only a few miles away the waters split open for Aphrodite, and the waves of the white seeded surf turned red from the rage of the father. Cold cold sea, hardly a movement in the salt-heavy water, still black with the passing night. The sky gains color suddenly, as if surprised by its own creation, and the dark in false humility ushers in the dawn, a dawn, this dawn, never before seen; it must gather itself quickly, as a lady in waiting protects the trailing silks of her mistress.
The body lives in the sea. For an hour or for a lifetime or for the quick birth and slow death of a star. Measureless. The body rests in the sea, turning first into an anemone, attached to a large porous rock, and then becomes the rock itself. For a time it is both rock and water, then, in effortless motion, the formation returns to itself. Once more, the border of blood and vein and pale skin. It is attenuated as an El Greco, fingers stretched and empty. Bone, joint, fascia.
Nos os sont revetus d’un nouveau corps amoureux.
The body is alone. At last. The water dries. The salt blur fades from the eyes, leaving them reddened but sharp as shark fin. Supine, angular, empty as a droughted well, relief spreads, like a vine. Or a drug.
The body travels the Earth, spectral, joyous. Over many miles, meadows wide, rivers starved or swollen, peaks long separated from the sea, cloud-touched, treeless. The eyes no longer reddened still sharpened pierce through every vision. Every vision a visitation. Emptiness walks alongside the body, keeping the visitations from morphing to demon, and the travels continue, hard press of movement, migration.
Men. Women. Animals. Earth. Children, infants, the sick, the wounded, the dead. Birdsong of the jungle, light wind in the forest, the sword-slashed light behind the pine needle, shadows leaning over a fox’s den. Great jaws of a wild cat, the terror of what is hunted.
Wanderer. Endless days endless nights. Light sleep and the visions of the world unfolding, flowering, each petal a universe, the body at the center. Stamen. Fecund mind. The great cities of marble and limestone, red brick, cracked concrete, buried earth. Towers high, men and women at the top, trapped like fairy-tale maidens. No rescue, in the city. Wealth and beauty, the women elegant mirrors, suited men with thin hips, swagger….personnes doucement malheureuses.
Shanty towns rooted to city centers. Weeds of the unwanted. Sickness defines the child, sorrow the mother. Living ruins, broad boulevards in spring, cherry blossom, tended freesia, red and yellow tulips. The city gardener clips the boxleaf. The cities shape what they can, recycle the rest.
Ville monstrueuse, nuit sans fin!
A slow seeing. It is enough. There is, perhaps, a finishing, an ending. Or there is only the sea. Paros. Before dawn. Re-emergence. At last the body is alone. Joy. The body, already water, enters the sea, loses its center. Never was there a center. Only the visions, and that is enough.
Assez connu. Les arrets de la vie. O Rumeurs et Visions!