Sixpence and the Moon
It’s good to see you, Willie.
And you, Dirk.
Long time no see.
No, not since Italy.
We almost passed each other in Dunkirk
It was five years ago.
Unknowingly, had simultaneous plans--
You here to Paris, we to Amsterdam.
You never met my wife.
I’ll have the chance
Now that I am relocating. I am
Finding the life in London rather stale.
Do you know I was born in Paris, in
The British embassy, and without fail
My love of France persists: the joy, the din,
The culture overflowing on the streets
In Paris. But you haven’t changed a bit.
Oh, yes I have.
Then it’s the feat of feats.
I hardly notice any sign of it.
I was ungrounded, like a flighty bird--
But when I met my wife—you must meet Blanche--
It was as if a miracle occurred,
And I became more settled on the branch
Within a happy nest. After we met
And married, that’s when I decided to
Come to a place where I hoped I might get
My finger on the pulse of what is new--
I mean in painting.
My paintings sell,
Which is good fortune, even as I hear
That your books have begun to do quite well
Within the marketplace, both even here
And in the Netherlands; also I’m certain
At home for you in England.
My home now
Welcome home. So now the curtain
Rises upon your next act: I’ll allow
That you look different now. You seem maturer,
Perhaps it is the product of success--
Also more confident, worldly, securer.
I think it might be just the way I dress.
Yes, you’ve become the dandy—not that you
Didn’t possess the trait those years ago,
But it’s grown more pronounced.
Back when we knew
Each other budgets were more tight, you know--
You work only for you. I have a wife,
So even though success is not a stranger,
I have to budget.
That’s the way of life.
Though of starvation there is little danger.
Have you been married.
No, well if divorced
Qualifies—it was such a bad mistake,
But by paternity my hand was forced.
I’m not at all the type of man to make
A pleasant husband.
You must try again.
I’ve never been so happy—these last years
With Blanche have been terrific, and have been
Productive. You must meet her. She endears
Herself to me more strongly every minute.
In fact, to tell the truth, I hardly can
Imagine a good life without her in it.
A good woman is very good for man.
You paint a picture that is so idyllic.
I tried it once, lulled by a good sales pitch,
But then it seemed, set faster than acrylic,
A good woman transformed into a bitch--
Though, to be fair, and you can say I said it,
I was no gentleman so many times,
But acted ways that were to my discredit,
My misdemeanors merely petty crimes.
But I have learned a lot, about myself:
My passions lie, not where I tried to force them,
Between ideals and fact a bitter gulf
Lies—subsequently deeds from dreams divorce them.
O, you have not met Blanche.
I’m sure I will.
She is of a kind-heartedness so rare;
In my eyes every want she does fulfill,
And seems angelic, but without the glare.
Could Boticelli paint her? I don’t think so.
Could Rembrandt capture all the shades of meaning?
A score of poets would not waste their ink so
On falser muses, Blanche but intervening.
I think you see, I’m not a little smitten.
I’m very glad for you, you have your Blanche.
Once is enough for marriage. I got bitten,
Troubles ensuing like an avalanche--
But who knows, in the corners and crevasses
In Paris I may meet with my desire;
Smitten with Montparnasse’s lads and lasses
So many see their heart ignite to fire,
Or so I have been told. In London, we’ve
Nothing like that. It seems sedate and dull,
Where everybody has some private peeve
Perhaps because the belly’s always full.
You always were a gadabout.
You need to settle down.
Blanches are few.
She is a rarity; but love may hit
Even a rootless rascal such as you.
True. In some way, my roots are here in Paris,
Yet in another way, they stretch way back
To some obscurant Anglo-Saxon terrace
Where stars reveal the universe in track
And moon sends forth her influence—that’s Blake,
The poet, whom I quote: the roots run deep,
And it is motley varied, saint and rake
Comprising of the company I keep.
You were a storyteller.
That I am--
And I follow the thread of narrative
Even it takes me off to Amsterdam,
To the Maldives—thus rootlessly I live,
But never ruthless, as so many do
Who live in fear of dreams, the heart’s desire,
And merely for a good station pursue
Pecuniary pleasures that must tire.
I have been lucky.
When we in Dunkirk passed
Five years ago, what then were you pursuing?
Then I was homeward bound.
The world is vast,
And human foibles—deeds of mortal doing--
Are in the smallest villa manifold,
If in the city seeming yet complexer--
My curiosity had taken hold,
I sought to help a woman who did vex her
Over some problems which have proven less
Troubling perhaps than any had surmised--
She runs a typing business, in distress
Established now successful: it surprised
All her acquaintanceship, the modicum
Of good success she had, but always growing--
The nature of the problems were, in sum,
Of marital relations, ever-flowing
In regions problematic—but I came
Here on a fruitless mission, of which further
Detail is hardly necessary. I tame
The facts, perhaps, or add a flagrant “murther”
Transmogrifying to substantial art
The raw material that I gather up.
In fact, to change the topic, so you start
My mind’s mechanicals to grind, and grope
Toward an idea, a memory in fact
Which first took birth in Paris. Have you heard
By chance—being the city does attract
Artists and would-be artists, sane or weird,
From all the world—of such a name as Strickland.
He came from London, over here to paint,
Some years ago? He left the pale and sick land
Of London, pallid pallor never quaint,
To seek the brilliance of Parisian colors--
Strickland the name, Dirk: have you heard of him?
This is amazing. Many men are mullers
Upon some dream beyond a secret scrim
Of an artistic grandiosity,
Yet when they put their brush to canvass they
Produce a mass that could but only be
Called inarticulate some basic way--
I paint idyllic scenes of an imagined
Italy I remember that has faded
In fact; on canvass I present a pageant
Of color that is sentiment-pervaded.
The first group may consider itself having
A genius—but deceit from self concealed;
While I do work not for all-time’s engraving,
Having no genius, but for simpler yield--
And yet, so long as humankind exists
The pinnacle of greatness we observe,
We document, nor any soul resists
When stealthy genius shows its vibrant verve.
Manet was laughed at, nor Corot could sell,
Yet time has proven each of them possessed
By something genuine: my mind’s eye can tell,
I mean discern, if not perform, the best,
And, Willie, I affirm to you without
Reserve, the man you mention, Strickland, is
Of the first-rank, genius without a doubt
According to my estimation. This
Shocked me at first, but I have studied him,
And I believe, although he is neglected
By those who would prefer a fancier trim,
The large majority, here undetected
In Paris lives and works the man, unknown,
By whom the art form’s fate may be determined
Insofar any painter as does hone
His skill make work to last more than a moment.
I can’t describe the canvasses, and he
Thus far refuses sales—I have approached him.
Roundly the man is mocked, and he may be
Bitter, but no competitor has touched him
In terms of talent genuine I believe.
Again, it’s my opinion, for the mass
Scorns him—they crank and lunatic perceive
Unfit to touch his sandal in the grass.
I am amazed! I knew Paul Strickland briefly;
But insofar as I have knowledge, he’s
Not been a painter long. I knew him chiefly
For personal connection—here you seize
Fast my imagination’s wonderment,
And I desire to see his painted work,
To view, though of such arts I’m innocent,
What he has done. Can you arrange it, Dirk?
Ah, that is not so easy. You can meet him.
I know where he hangs out—a small café.
Perhaps next Sunday you can go and greet him.
They have a chessboard there. He likes to play,
And maybe, if you are a friend of his
He’ll open up to you, and talk a bit,
But usually his habit silent is--
Who knows his mind? He is no counterfeit.
Sunday it is.
Will you come by my place?
I would like for you to meet
My darling Blanche, the beacon of sweet grace,
To tell me if you find her grace so sweet
Of if I but imagine it.
I do remember, now and then we went
Through many a gallery—ah, youth, in Rome!--
And I recall you not so innocent.
You sold your paintings, I recall, to tourists
Near where the English poet John Keats died.
My customers have never been the purists;
Yet why my head to hang or eyes to hide
In shame? The medium has brought me success,
If not esteem. I, in a different way
Than Strickland, have been ridiculed no less,
But more because my customers will pay
For canvasses called facile, obvious, simple
And sentimental; him they just dismiss
As crazy, arrogant—a kind of pimple
Blotting the canvas-face that Paris is.
Mostly I sell to Holland, but as well
Norway and Sweden, Denmark on occasion--
Success breeds envy, but it doesn’t smell;
So sometimes age will deprecate the très jeunne.
When I’ve tried to present his work to dealers
It was rejected out of hand, with laughter
Or anger—snide remarks or snickers, squealers,
But for Strickland success may wait till after
This age has passed—a pity for the man,
But so the vagrancies of market selling.
We’ll go to the café then if you can
Sunday—I have no inkling of his dwelling,
But first I’ll introduce you to my wife.
Surely she will impress you so relinquish
Such prejudice pre-formed that may run rife:
I’m sure you’ll like her. By the way, she’s English.
See you on Sunday, then. So that was my
Arrival to the country of my birth
Where I relocated, of London I
Having grown weary, seeking greater mirth.
My husband’s friend from Italy is coming.
He knew him before Dirk and I got married.
He is a famous author now. One slumming
In Rome I was—that ancient past lies buried
And I’m afraid that he, an Englishman
Will chance to dig it up. I knew the kind:
Out on sabbatical, ambitious plan
To study language, art. Them I did find
Tedious—though the truth is I would neither
Have chosen Dirk without the circumstance,
But he is a fine husband, if the breather
Too deeply of his own dreams of romance.
But that’s a small price for a wife to pay.
He will arrive here soon—however let
Me absent-mindedly mistake the day,
Dirk’s proud appointment thereby to forget
Tarrying while I shop the marketplace
For household goods. He will be disappointed,
But I would rather not this morning face
The ghosts of my Italian past disjointed.
I was so young then; now today I’m happy.
Dirk is a good man, so his English friend
Will be, but possibly by some mishap he
Perhaps remembered me—I don’t pretend
That I had been an angel in my days
In Italy, but I would keep that silent.
I am not worthy of Dirk’s highest praise,
But fear the truth of it would strike him violent.
I’m sure I never met his friend the author,
But just in case, let me avoid the juncture
For making his acquaintance—either loath or
Afraid of seeing Dirk’s illusions puncture.
Besides, the reason they are meeting is
So he can go and meet the crazy painter
Whose paintings—this not overemphasis--
Dirk venerates as though he were a saint or
Miraculous appearance. He invests him
With godlike qualities, but even faintly
I fail to see them, and my soul detests him,
Strickland whom I consider hardly saintly.
There he is by the chessboard.
With no partner.
Someone will come along. That’s how it is.
Haggard he seems, yet Spartan—life grown Spartaner
Like someone who has gazed at the abyss.
He’s lost in contemplation.
We would say
“Staring into the void.”
To make an interruption.
By the way,
I’m in no hurry. No one’s running late.
He’s looking at the magazine. I wonder
What has absorbed the man’s attention so.
It’s just a magazine.
Lightning and thunder
Erupt: the other patrons do not know.
You’re reading into it, this little scene,
New meanings of your own. Dirk, after all,
He’s merely looking at a magazine.
I wonder which it is.
Then it’s no gall
To ask a question, and so settle it.
I hesitate to interrupt the great man.
You see his greatness, but it is not writ
Upon his forehead.
He is no sedate man,
But genius makes appearance in his work.
There is a fury there, yet calmness too.
I told you that I’d like to see it, Dirk.
As an old friend, he might give leave to you.
It never got so deep as friendship. We
Had an acquaintance, but I nothing knew
About his art. That’s what I want to see.
Let’s talk to him and see if he will do.
He’s turning of the page. To interrupt
Would be a travesty.
I feel a fool,
Spying upon a man.
His chin is cupped
Within the palm of his left hand, which you’ll
See is his casual pose when he’s relaxed.
Dirk, everybody does that.
Yes, but not
Intensely as he does, a fury mixed
With a perturbless calm, is what he’s got
Hidden behind his eyes. The work, the work--
The canvasses he does. Willie, you trust me
Enough to know I’m not a soda jerk
Pertaining to my judgement. I disgust me
By my lacking the means to reproduce
The greatness I have seen, that I have studied
By my own hands—but it is little use
To cry about it. I’ve not gotten bloodied
Exactly by my talents, but have made
A life of happiness and comfort by
Dint of my brush, Italian scenes portrayed.
I’m sorry we missed Blanche.
I don’t know why
She wasn’t there. She must’ve been out shopping.
She hates him with a passion. Maybe it’s
A sense of jealousy: you know I’m dropping
What matters lie at hand, to favor art’s.
The greatness of the masters does obsess me,
And I believe the making of a master
May be what we are witnessing.
Have more to go by, one can’t be forecaster.
Willie, don’t you belittle the great man.
When you have made acquaintance you will see--
Acquaintance with the canvasses—each than
The next one greater. This you will agree.
He’s putting down the magazine.
It isn’t pleasurable to me to have
You spying on me. When I’m not at work
I like fraternity. Don’t lurk so grave
There in that corner.
I’ve brought an old friend.
I need a partner, or the pieces won’t
Move by themselves. My intuition kenned
Someone observing me.
This is his haunt.
You’ll find him most days on a Sunday.
Or don’t take up the chair.
I’ve brought a friend,
An old friend is the thing I meant to say,
A friend of yours.
Do you play chess?
To stay away from games.
Me it relaxes.
During the week, my work is all I do,
It is more sure to me than death or taxes--
Even on Sundays I am stuck like glue
Before my easel with a brush in hand.
Painting is what I do, but as an artist
Gestation time is needed also and
I come here. Dirk, play. I am not the smartest
Opponent one may face. Are you familiar
With what the rules are? You can watch—or are
You the sort who thinks there is nothing sillier
Than such a game? I mean it isn’t war,
But exercise that helps keep one’s mind nimble;
For me it’s both relaxing and convivial,
Very straightforward, not a lot of symbol,
But cut-and-dried. Perhaps you find it trivial.
Mostly I play at bridge, or when alone
That’s like the world I left behind.
Paul, this is an old friend of yours.
No such a person, or else I am blind.
I saw your wife the other day, and felt
That you might like to have the latest news.
Old Bess! Both a surprise and shock you’ve dealt.
It’s a good laugh. I wonder if your views
Ever recovered. Dirk, this is a friend.
Dirk, we were drinking absinthe.
I had never
Let myself go to that extent.
Multiple volumes since then. You were clever,
But maybe life has humbled you a bit.
Growing old does. I read the magazines,
I’ve kept up with your name, though I admit
I’m not a man for novels. Their false scenes--
Fictional narratives—all bore me quite.
You’re looking dapper. I don’t have the head
For novels, sad to say.
No, that’s alright;
For me I’m glad when someone has not read
One of my books—I’m happy to consort
With someone who is not an avid fan.
That’s why I’ve moved to Paris, to cavort
Amongst people who take me for a man
And not some personage of great esteem.
Success has changed you.
But vigorous and healthy as it seem.
Willie here thought I was a rotten sinner:
He told me so, but then we both got drunk.
There’s nobody more disciplined than me,
Spartan perhaps—I’m never in a funk
But always occupied productively.
You almost made me waver, I confess,
But how can I regret a good decision?
Time has supported me. How is old Bess?
I hope she’s gotten over her derision.
She sent me several letters, but I never
Bothered to open them. I threw them out--
Before you try to think of something clever,
What’s going on there I don’t think about.
I’m curious merely. Willie here belonged
To my wife’s social set, whom I abandoned.
She’s justified to hate me. She was wronged--
But I’m too busy to play the defendant
Within the court of someone else’s grudge.
I hope she’s gotten over it, but she
Has her own path. You almost made me budge,
But I forgot the reason. She must be
Employed now in some situation or
She has a little typing firm.
See, it was better than to be a whore
Which is what women are. I make Dirk squirm,
But he has such an “angel” whom he’s wived--
In many ways the worst whores are the wives.
I can’t say that I have exactly thrived
In terms material, but the art which drives
My utter being and is my major passion
Has paid me back for all of my devotions
In all the intervening time. An ashen
Mound marks the past for me, with future oceans
Yet to traverse. I never backward gaze.
I always keep determined forward motion,
And as sea laps the shore throughout its days
So I make progress, if but by erosion.
I never think of death, but time erodes
Us all, and he who hesitates is lost.
Within my art I make my ceaseless inroads,
Though they dissolve in wet before the coast.
You never reach the coast, and that is art.
Dirk, you don’t have to jot that down. He’s always
Making a note like I said something smart:
One gains more living than in all the hallways
Of wealth and erudition, galleries--
I’ve learned my lesson from a few good masters,
But then it’s up to me, as I may please
To do the work. They merely are disasters
Who are content to play perpetual student
To some fop in the school. The more you listen
To me, Dirk, who with words am never prudent,
The more the gist of talent you’ll be missing.
He paints quaint pictures of the countryside
In Italy—lush garbage all of it,
And it is well to earn, I’ll not deride
Earning a living, as requires some wit--
God knows I need help—but to merely slide
To habit and repetitive hebetude,
Yet leaves greater divinity denied,
Human potential thereby to extrude
By crudest mechanism. It is habit
Defines the death of art, Dirk, write that down,
The more you lose the more you try to grab it,
And miss the spirit true that was your own.
He’s got a wife. Society’s enslaver
Of men by surreptitious means, and we
Do it ourselves—you almost made me waver--
But I’m the apex of eternity.
Isn’t that grandiose?
Each one of us
May be. You have to sort it out. We are
Finite and all of that—coterminous
Our ends and our ambitions—but so far
As God has given each a special spirit,
A talent, then we do that God dishonor
Caring about our stocks and bonds. O, wear it
Respectful: every life is but a loaner,
And one must give it back duly anon.
You see? I wish that I could take dictation.
He always wants to jot my ravings down.
It’s lunatic I tell him—desperation.
Don’t worry, I can save some part of it
For a fictitious novel yet to write.
You can remember?
Well, the heart of it.
No, you must get the words exactly right.
There’s no way to remember.
If I can’t
Recall it then I’ll utilize invention--
He means to make it up--
The basic rant
Is fairly simple, and if my intention
One day is to portray the “artist type”
I’ll draw upon it freely—without notes.
He understands it. From a little snipe
You’ve turned into a man that knows his oats.
Development is what it’s all about.
That’s narrative—except the truth in fact
Is that such a portrayal, I rather doubt
I’ll have the use to draw. Writing’s an act,
No doubt like painting, in which the intent
Of the practitioner, is less important
Than what the medium wants. An instrument
The writer is, although the truth seems mordant,
Displacing those who want to be “creative.”
It’s true, Dirk. If I wanted what you want,
And thereby was of my true gift ablative,
I’d paint the way you paint.
You say you paint,
But I have yet to see a thing you’ve done.
Come with me to the studio.
Check on my wife. It’s in the outskirts. One
Ambition I have had, has been to just
Visit the place you work—he never lets
Visitors there disturb him—but I find
That it is my bad luck: a husband frets
When he has other matters on his mind.
I must decline to go.
One has a choice
In all things.
She was absent in the morning,
And I am worried.
So much of life’s delight, turns joy to mourning,
Wouldn’t you say so, Willie? I believe
No one is coming here today to play.
Yours is the luck.
So we might as well leave.
Precious your opportunity today.
The years passed uneventfully. I never
Returned to live in England, although I
Maintained my friendships there, not wont to sever
Connection or let old acquaintance die
As Paul had done. I grew to know Paul better,
But truly it is said none knew him well.
Of course I had news about Bess by letter,
And of his children, useless though to tell.
He had no interest save his reigning passion,
And later, when he traveled to Tahiti,
The place he died, there were no friends to caution,
Or held their peace, and made him no entreaty.
I came to know both Dirk and his wife Blanche
Better than I had done, but that was prior
To Paul’s departure. Dirk, who was most staunch
Supporting Paul—lone voice then there no choir
Backing him, he too already had left,
Because of what transpired with Paul and Blanche.
Betwixt this happy pair, Paul drove a cleft,
And Dirk, as it is said, “disposed the ranch,”
His happy home life all let slide away
Perhaps because he overvalued both,
Hubristically forgot the gods make play
With mortals, even sacred marriage oath
Dissolving at a whim. At this time also,
I had a visitation from the past,
A happy one. The past I seldom trawl, so
May recollection’s net today be cast
Without asperity. Let us begin
With the news, shocking, horrifying then
That Paul had taken ill; had grown more thin,
And deemed about to leave the world of men.
The doctor has prescribed him medication,
But he’s delirious. He needs constant care.
His attic home has got an infestation
Of pestilence—he’ll die if he stays there.
I don’t know why, since you first met him,
You’ve held this deep aversion for the man,
But he will die, if you insist to let him,
The doctor gives him none too long a span,
And he has not the money to get purchase
On proper care.
That was the choice he made.
He is a genius.
But genius lurches
From destitution to death in the shade.
What is the man to me, or I to him?
Humanity—despite his death—will prosper
Or not. You love his art, and feel as grim
His sickness unto death, since what he does, per
Your own ideals of convoluted greatness
Excuse his actions if not justify.
I bear him no such love. His sufferings rate less
With me, so I’ll stand by, and watch him die.
Darling, no man could have a better wife.
This home we share is all of your creation,
But he is drowning in a world of strife,
Submerging in a sea of deprivation.
How can we idly stand and watch him?
All that you can to help him, even give
What money we have saved, if you want to,
But don’t ask me to let him come and live
Within our home—the one thing I refuse.
In all our years, I gave you my consent
In everything you asked; that which you choose
Do I defer to, and remain content,
But not with this. He is an odious person,
And if he comes, contentment so may roil
Within this home—I’d rather see him worsen.
A happy home no interloper spoil,
I beg you Dirk, and most of all not him.
He is erratic—an inhuman monster
Despite his art. The chances will be slim
That it remain unscathed with him ensconced here.
Our happy home too precious is for that.
Ask of me anything, to bleed for you,
To slave upon the mill, but let no rat
Into our granary. The deed will do
More harm than you surmise, I beg you, Dirk.
Why do you hate him so? Is it because
You hate my admiration for his work?
Darling, it’s what I do. In all my days
I never saw his talent, and it is
A privilege to try to foster it.
I like your paintings most, and never his--
There lies the greatness, but you won’t permit
Giving a compliment about your painting
Which I love better than his mixed-up pigment;
But that misses the point of it—untainting
Him as does your imagination’s figment
Pretends him other than a reprobate,
Home-wrecker, child-abandoner and deadbeat,
Which you excuse because you think him great.
He grinds up happy homes like they were red meat,
And my sweet home is threatened. Don’t you back
Me in a corner, Dirk, or all the onus
Will rest with you. Good warning you don’t lack
Against the crisis your rashness has thrown us,
Telling him—he might come here and be nursed.
Selling my services.
He needs attention
Or he will die.
But must I be accursed
For his well-being?
No. All the sins you mention
He left behind in England. Here in Paris
All he does is make art. He paints and paints,
With little rest, or sleep, or food, and there is
No taint to that—enormous his constraints.
Darling, please show compassion. You are so
Gentle and kind, without the least of malice.
If he comes I have to go.
I know that I provide no grandiose palace,
This home we live in—it is little, since
I know that you have known better, but we
Have not got resource as befits a prince,
But what I can, I give exclusively
For your contentment and your happiness,
Because you make me overwhelming happy--
But Paul has no good fortune him to bless.
He made his own choice wand’ring off the map.
Is driven by a genius. God, I wish
I was possessed of such a saintly madness,
But he has nothing. Daily joy you dish
To bring my life fulfillment, never sadness,
So that is why, this hatred you aver,
Strikes me discordant, so unlike yourself,
As though your sweet unblemished character
Were infiltrated by a peevish elf.
At first I noticed, when my old friend Willie
Moved here to Paris, you showed him disdain
It seemed—your apprehensions proving silly
We all are friends, and is there any pain?
He’s a relic from Italian days,
Queer in some habits by all standard measure
So I suppose, yet you give him your praise,
But what makes Paul the demon, with his treasure,
His gift artistic bringing to the world.
The two are different.
Yes, I know they are--
But mention Paul it seems your lip is curled,
Almost a malice that does beauty mar,
Only I know, you are not capable
Of malice toward another.
Dirk, you drive
Me to distraction: everything is well
With Paul, and everything superlative--
But I have given reason, and enough.
I ask you to forbear: I’ll work to gain
Him money, but I ask you out of love,
To spare me this, and spare yourself the pain
That might ensue, if we proceed henceforth
According to you dictates. Dirk, how much
Is this sweet life—our home together—worth?
I know that you profess me love with such
Intensity, but I am fearful I,
Acceding to your wishes, in Paul’s place
Might be the person then who has to die.
Do as you choose, and I accept with grace
To stand by your decision. Let him come,
Or give consideration to my words.
I love you, by your wishes will succumb,
Because I vowed to you true-love’s accords
And promise you according to my vows.
Only, we must not endlessly dispute.
Tell me if you will have him in our house.
That which you choose let my will not refute.
Blanche, Blanche, sweet blessèd Blanche, thank you my darling--
I know how hard it was for you to see--
But let no conscience-pangs be churning, gnarling
Within your heart. To Paul’s infirmity
Together we will minister, by heaven’s
Consent and by God’s grace; the illness past,
Because good comfort healthy spirit leavens,
Then he will go, and we return at last
To our connubial solitude and joy
Which I hate to disrupt as much as you.
Bless you, dear Blanche. ’Twill not the gods annoy,
Your generous solicitude and true.
Willie, it’s good to see you.
Where’s your wife?
My new wife. She is following behind.
It is a sunny day.
It’s part of life.
Paris, je t’aime, I say. We wined and dined.
How have you been recovering?
A man to stay unmarried. Those few weeks
Were miserable to me. It’s not too hot
Today, nor yet too cold. We saw antiques
Like one would never find in London, plus
We wined, we dined, I even danced a little.
Why not, life’s to enjoy.
The two of us
Are aging. O, I feel a bit more brittle
But marriage has rejuvenated me.
Rose! Good to see you.
How is our
About the way you see.
Doing well—reaching for the height of power
Just like the sun above the boulevard.
It’s nearly evening, dear. Time for decline.
I fell behind while window gazing—hard
To see, and not wish everything were mine.
The items on display are very pretty,
Glittering in their ostentatious wealth--
That’s how the masses live in this dear city--
We have a greater thing—and that’s our health.
The Colonel told you about Petra then?
Yes, Rose. I heard about it in the cable;
He called himself the happiest of men,
Divining me to guess. I wasn’t able.
You are surprised to see me?
It seemed the perfect season for a jaunt.
It’s not a honeymoon, you know.
Keeps teasing me. She likes to tease and taunt.
But we’ve proven well suited towards each other.
I have been lonely, having been divorced.
I looked upon the Colonel as a brother.
Rose helped me to traverse the very worst.
I say, you seem the very dapper chap,
At home upon the street amongst this swank.
Mine is good fortune.
Like a thunderclap
All life can change. She likes to use my rank:
It’s Colonel this and Colonel that. Dear Petra
Had no such habit. She’s a lively soul,
My Rose is. Worthy of a poem by Goethe,
So many virtues that he could extol.
We’re learning Spanish now.
To go to Spain?
It’s all my fault. I want to travel
With Rose around the world—to see again
The various ports. Not that I want to cavil,
But I would like to live before I die.
Rose would like to see South America, but
I’d like to see the islands. You know I
Had various careers but in my gut
I most remember the merchant marines.
It’s like a Kipling poem, there in the East.
My husband told me that I “made him scenes”
So never traveled with me, but the beast
Had other reasons going it alone.
Tell me, I know the city’s very large,
But do you ever see Paul Strickland? One
Wonders how he succeeded—I should barge
In upon him today, just for a lark,
If I knew where he was.
I do, but it’s
Not well for him right now.
By that remark
You mean it has been well then? It omits
He’s been ill. A friend of mine
Knows him quite well. I see him on occasion,
But poverty is his.
He was a swine,
Committing the great sin: not tax evasion,
But of responsibility wholesale,
Leaving a wife and children in the lurch?
How is Bess doing?
Well, she’s not in jail.
Not either in the jail or in the Church.
She works, you know.
I send her manuscripts.
Not merely you. It seems by word-of-mouth
Her business keeps expanding. She encrypts
Documents for the army—it’s been growth
Steadily for her firm. Now she employs
And I suppose her daughter’s one.
No, not at all. She’s busy chasing boys,
But she intends to nab a rising sun.
Bess says that she will marry well, not work.
He’s going into stocks.
His father did.
Let’s hope he doesn’t shirk
Just like his father did—he’s a good tike,
But he has to repay me the tuition
Merely becoming no one’s social burden.
He’s been in very poor condition,
But if you saw the setting—how absurd—in
Which he was living, dingy little attic,
Then you’d not wonder how he got sick—he’s
Improving, but delusional, erratic,
It’s not the swiftest of recoveries.
Perhaps he’s faking.
I don’t think it’s so.
His weight went down. You wouldn’t recognize
Him as the ghost of Paul from long ago,
But he’s an intense fire burns in his eyes.
So I suppose he left that silly scheme
To be a painter. These things don’t pan out.
He’d rather be a bum.
A man may dream,
But life brings schemes delusional to rout.
No, not at all. He’s kept the painting up.
Dirk—that’s our mutual friend—calls him a genius.
I hardly know. His work is not my cup
Of tea. It’s primitive, and seems extraneous,
But on a closer looking, one asserts
That there’s a unique viewpoint on the world,
Sometimes unpleasant—so his work converts
Very few acolytes—but he has hurled
Himself along the course that he proposed
Early on settting out.
I give him credit.
To Paul’s feelings, Bess kept her vision closed,
I’m sad to say. It is the truth, I said it
Unthinkingly without foresight perhaps,
But she felt he should work, work, work to death,
So she could stuff her battleaxes’ traps
With cakes and crumpets, doily underneath,
And then a spot of tea to top it off.
Discussion of the latest bric-a-brac
Seen in a magazine, then—cough cough cough--
Did you hear Mrs. Reynold’s had an attack?
Oh, was it palsy? I heard it was gout.
No, it was panic, silly thing, because
Her husband—who is not a perfect lout
Was seen with Mrs. So-and-so, she was
Clinging upon his arm. Oh, no! Oh, yes!
Clinging upon his arm? That’s what I said.
They went down by the river. Goodness bless
My soul the next thing she’ll be in his bed.
That’s how these women are, the little group
That formed her coterie, and Paul sat silent
There in his wing chair, hearing all the poop,
Wishing that he was on a desert island.
Willie, do you think deserts can have islands?
Perhaps I meant deserted.
Perhaps you did.
There are all kinds of places: wetlands, drylands,
And I would feel that I ought to be chid
Did I not let Rose see what I had seen.
Look at this.
It’s a magazine.
It makes it seem idyllic; pure and pristine,
But when you’ve been there, chickadee and plover
Give it a whole dimension photos miss.
“I bummed around the islands” is the title.
I snatched it from a shop.
May I keep this?
Certainly. It’s amusing, nothing vital.
We’re learning Spanish to communicate,
But not in Spain.
I have a bit of French.
How could one not? But only second rate
Compared to yours.
We manage well. I drench
With sweat so easily but I think today
The climate and the weather are just balmy.
Let’s stroll together.
Let’s head toward the quay.
It seems to be I feel adventure call me.
I think it’s neither hot nor cold.
The Colonel is perceptive of the weather.
The rank is honorary; but I know
Rose likes to call me that when we’re together.
We never are apart.
It’s Colonel and
Simple, if not short.
Enjoy the boulevard, enjoy the strand,
Tomorrow we’ll be in a different port.
You go ahead, but I’ll follow behind.
There’s something over there that caught my fancy--
It has been stated, “seek and ye shall find,”
But either way, sometimes it can be chancy.
Society is driving me away.
Look at this magazine that Willie brought.
My strength’s fully returned.
You mustn’t stay.
I’m not a fraud.
I’m fearful you’ll get caught.
Caught doing what? I’ve done nothing.
No, that’s on you. This little magazine
We read together. You gave me a kiss
Without my asking.
Could it be obscene?
I’ve worn my welcome out. A man’s a fool
That lets a stranger stay home with his wife.
You’re so attractive.
I’m so sick of gruel,
But furthermore, this sickly kind of life,
Where everything is cooped, or has a label,
Wearies me—for the sake mostly for art
I’m going to go someplace where I am able
Better to live, a new beginning start.
I don’t know what I’ll do.
If you leave.
Just what you’ve always done.
Oh, what is that?
How the hell do I know? What you believe,
Desire, want, hope for, I don’t wonder at.
Do what you want to do.
It’s up to me?
What if I said I want to go
Off to the islands, so I could be free.
I’d say that you’re a fool.
I love you so.
Do what you want to do.
My husband is
Exasperating; and he’s growing weary
Of giving room and board to you.
Is only proper. I’m not sad and bleary-
Eyed about any prospect, though I’ve had
Comforts that I’ve been missing for a while.
Comforts mean nothing, even though they add
A sweetness to a life.
And make one smile.
You husband’s tolerated more than what
Anyone should. I’ve been here months and months.
You’re hurrying to see this chapter shut.
You’re still ill.
That man’s a dunce,
Painting his little scenes bucolic. They
Appeal to stupid minds, and stupid souls,
But he is happy, frittering away
With never any new thought to emulse
Or inspiration. Blanche, my strength is back.
It’s time for me to go.
When I was young
I read a story; all the night was black,
Except two lovers, had a candle strong
By which to read. They read a magazine
Together, and gazed in each other’s eyes.
“Paolo,” she said—and both of them were keen
On the novella’s story two did prize,
“Paolo, how bold and brave the hero seems”
She said to him, the both of them Italian,
And he said, “Such a tale’s the stuff of dreams,
Francesca,” then he reined her like a stallion,
And two of them, they read no more that day.
And then what happened.
Then they went to hell.
Stories are stupid. I’ve no more to say.
I didn’t think you’d say it ended well.
Don’t trouble me with nonsense. It’s a game
Invented by a dull pathetic mind
Neurotic, not erotic, and a shame
That it some better usage could not find.
Blanche, must you be a fool?
If you love me
Then I won’t be afraid.
Flee from yourself, flee from indignity--
What you may do, I treat it equally.
Would you fight Dirk for me, if he found out?
What are you saying? There’s water on the brain,
Intelligence is losing the assault,
A woman proven certainly insane
Because the substance of her deepest wish
Was nonsense on the vacuous water floating,
Expressing fraudulence in gibberish,
Providing it a honey-treacly coating.
I may be like a bark that’s dashed on rocks
Upon my journey, life a hostile sea,
But I at least was not led like an ox
Into the slaughter in docility.
I wake up every morning, and I think,
Buried beneath debris, with wounds to stanch
From night’s artistic struggle—no hoodwink
Mastering me—thank goodness I’m not Blanche.
I look into the mirror and see foreshadow
Of my impending doom—partly intending--
And know that I have done just what I had to.
Not every story has a happy ending.
Heaven and hell are child’s play. Just amuse
Yourself to death, it’s all of it a choice,
But I uniquely, unlike Blanche do choose
A separate footpath, and I do rejoice
Even as tumbles down the avalanche.
Thank goodness, yes thank goodness, in this world
I was not born Blanche and I am not Blanche,
So leave me then to the abyss be hurled.
When life’s trajectory is a fiasco,
Where do we come from, whither do we go,
What are we and where did the last wine flask go,
These are all questions that the soul should know
Enough to ask, but ever does Blanche ask it?
No, she would like to have her Dirk in toe
Delivering her peaches in a basket,
While even leeches have feelings to show.
Thank goodness I’m not Blanche. We say adieu,
Even unto the fairest of earth’s bliss,
The fair, the fond, the foolish, and to you
When Blanche is but a name for the abyss
And I’ll not be a cretin any longer.
Dirk is a good man; but, I—by my art--
Have only grown more voluble and stronger,
And it is the occasion to depart.
Paul, I see you’re walking well, and it’s
Time—more than time—that you depart my house.
Your health permits it, while your presence splits
Tranquility betwixt a man and spouse.
I’m going, Dirk.
I’ve thought about this for
A while now. If you need time to arrange
New lodgings, take it.
Here’s an open door
And I am leaving, rather needing change
Than pleasant hospitality.
Visit us when you like. I always have
Given you loans which you fail to repay,
But nothing, Paul, is changing when you leave,
Other than Blanche and I retain our quarters
As if you hadn’t come.
I’m going too, Dirk.
Lies, deceit have made us both distorters
About the kind of passion shared with you, Dirk.
It satisfies you, dithering like that,
But not enough for me. The idylls painted
Have seemed a little stale, have gotten flat,
So I will then be with them disacquainted.
I go with genius.
I go with Paul.
And if he takes me to my doom
Then I accept it, something never small
But as capacious as eternal room.
You go with Paul, and I remain with?
No, it is wrong: the incongruity
Is Dirk, because I am the most untrue thing,
And source of all corruption here is me.
You two remain, and I will take my leave.
Paul, take the house, take Blanche, take what you want,
Only safeguard your talent. If so, we’ve
Serviced the greater good, and my amount
In it, the bargain, is a sacrifice,
A little thing, but I, a humble man,
I take my sadness with me. Such a price--
Minuscule—to remove the chaff from bran.
What should we do then?
Read the magazine.
“I bummed around the islands.” I can bum,
But here’s a wayside stop, a flush canteen,
While Blanche is better off when she stays mum.
Thank goodness I’m not Blanche.
I love you, Paul.
The love you bear is but a type of pride
Varietal, that goes before a fall,
But so you with your own self must collide.
Dirk rented space outside, and then became
Effectively, a landlord in absentia,
Not charging any rent—the two his shame.
His social circle mocked him for dementia,
Mercilessly, it seemed, while yet he tended
To problems that they faced, and still continued
When Paul faced shortage, letting cash be lended,
Though ridiculed as insufficient sinewed.
It seemed that Dirk effaced himself in thus
Manner for months and months, until she died,
But when the end came quickly, omnibus
Disasters, that was when he swiftly hied.
Hitherto he had let himself believe
That he was serving genius, serving love,
But Paul departed—no one saw him grieve
For him nor her, but he had had enough.
The circumstances yet remain unclear:
Perhaps there was a bitter quarrel, and yet
Paul had departed with some plan to steer
Premeditated. Scholarship has set
Biography in order. He set sail
To the Pacific: first to the Marquesas
Though in Tahiti terminates his trail,
In his pictures depicting ripe contessas
Nubile in dusky nakedness, their beauty
Perhaps the first thing many a young man captures
In his imagination when school duty
Teaches him art, intangible its raptures.
Willie, I found her in a corner weeping
And let her know, my faith remained unchanged
In her, that careful vigil had been keeping,
Yet she resisted frantic and deranged.
It was hostility yet passive,
A hypertensive nervousness yet flaccid
As she had lost her will: her grief was massive,
Then—next day gone—I found oxalic acid.
It is believed that in her mad despair
Blanche stumbled out into the night—hope slain,
Tortured, in torment, of what good was air?
She plunged into the churning, roiling Seine.
They found her body, Willie, when they dredged
The river near her house, a bloated thing--
And yet the truth is, I was privileged
Having brushed close to genius on the wing,
Paul Strickland—and I kept the painting he
Had given me, a portrait of my Blanche,
But let a Jew collect, for a fixed fee,
The rest, then closed the house, “disposed the ranch.”
Now I intend to go back to the farm
On which I had been raised, near Amsterdam.
My parents live there. After much alarm,
I feel much like a hustler on the lam,
Having got out of Paris with my skin--
Yet also, one small painting I will keep,
Perhaps too hard to look at, till I’m in
A better frame of mind, and cease to weep.
Dirk left and that was all I knew of him.
Perhaps he met a woman of his kind,
Though in emotion’s currents let him swim
No longer, nor a sundry genius find.
Many years later, after Strickland died,
I traveled to Tahiti; there I met
The woman who had been his nubile bride,
Older than she had been when they first met.
She must have been a dusky beauty in
Her younger years, and still retained her grace--
A delicacy unblemished in her skin,
Her youthful portrait one can almost trace.
She was, I later learned, one in succession
Of several girls that he took to the bush
Eschewing men’s society, oppression
Seeming to hound, save when he held a brush.
For his age swift and sad was his decline--
Disease venereal that was introduced
When whites beset the islands no woodbine
Could cure, and in this way, genius traduced.
By all accounts—some few remaining knew him--
Despite his suffering, later on his blindness,
He was a happy man, though all review him
Not overly amiable, or prone to kindness.
He was a driven man, beset by demons
Perhaps—his art remained his mystic muse
Till he became incapable; some seamen’s
Reports corroborate the standard views.
The various sources show some confluence,
A portrait we in words might reconstruct--
A man who in his passion high intense
Lived but by poverty, and usufruct,
And yet he did contribute something back
To which posterity retains an access,
Important, in a world where artists lack,
An individual man so set as praxis.
I like to think, he found joy in the warmth
Of she that stayed his lover at the end
Yet time dissolves proofs even month to month,
So we at last on fiction must depend.
The island populace knows that he’s dying.
Ata, bring me my pipe.
It is no secret.
Men die here all the time. It would be lying
To say that such a death is never awkward.
The blasted mercury has done me nothing,
I’m useless now, without the use of eyes.
But I have something: spirit in me frothing,
A sixpence for my pains, one never wise.
Ata, bring me my pipe.
I’m fetching, fetching.
She was a fetching girl, but I can’t see;
I’m in discomfort, pain, and only kvetching
If nothing else, helps in relaxing me.
Here is your pipe, Paul Strickland.
Thank you, child.
These people are not angels, but remain
Within this wilderness, a little wild--
Mild I meant to say. I’m sick of pain.
Wilderness that with white men’s tampering
Is disappearing, even as I go,
I sought to flee from it, and yet I bring
It here inside me, this I also know.
The years as a stockbroker, in a suit,
Collar and necktie, I would rather have
Merely a thin pareo, a woman cute
Who does her duty but man’s peace does save.
Ata, come hither. She must be about.
Here women know that housework must be done,
And children tended to, without a doubt,
But leave—save he desires it—man alone.
Ata, come hither. Ata, let’s a rub!
It hurts but hands upon the back are soothing,
I no longer have patience for the tub.
Pain must be better than to feel a nothing.
Ah, that’s a girl. My days of painting finished,
If I can feel a pain, it is a blessing--
My usefulness has been vastly diminished,
But I am happy for the soft caressing.
There is a softness here one cannot find
In London streets, and all the Paris culture,
Can’t take the place of simple pleasures. Mind
The tender spot. It makes me want to ouch there.
Yet London pestilence, a plague expanding
Will cover all the earth—men, foolish mortals
Consider nature but a thing for handling
Extracting profit from. The devil chortles.
These people here, they haven’t got a penny,
But poverty is not the hardship here
It is in France or England, with their many
Delights that dazzle always insincere.
I went to Paris, just to have the lighting--
Monet, Manet, they made a good impression--
But not all beauty can be caught in writing
Or on a canvass. Water is refreshing,
A pipe, or palms upon an aching back--
Still, man has got an itch, and will be rash.
Ata, why do you leave off? That’s the knack.
Thinking, Paul Strickland.
That is bold and brash.
It seldom does a person any good.
These women think you love them if you thrash,
At least a commonality is understood.
Give me a dark-skinned woman, part abash,
Part bold, more bold than a white woman is,
Or rather, boldness isn’t mixed with snide
Here on the islands. But this world of bliss--
Paradise—changes too. High time I died.
They’ll sell it as a sweet vacation spot
The Cunard line, herds of shod feet come trample
And I am an example of the blot--
Early, indeed, however an example.
Thinking once again?
Feeling a breeze upon my face.
It too. Dear, that’s sufficient. I’m in pain.
I used to have to get you with the belt
To have you do your chores. Not any more.
A woman learns, if she is not a girl.
If I had scoured the endless ocean floor
I think I could not find me such a pearl.
Resplendent fortune has been mine. Have you
Burned all the paintings? I have smelt no burning.
They have been burned.
I wouldn’t want you to
Deceive me. I’m blind but not undiscerning.
You had them in a corner over there.
Now they are gone.
By brother helped me take them.
They turned to smoke and wafted in the air.
You had a bonfire.
My hands did make them,
But all will come to death, as even I.
It was the process, not the product, which
Interested me, though blindness means it die.
I have an active mind. I struck it rich
In every way except the normative.
Life justifies itself, and no result
Can match the pleasure that the craft can give,
Though art is long, and life is difficult.
Poverty did impede me so that I
Recycled canvasses more than I might,
But now the bulk has been sent to the sky
And I am glad that all the world’s aright.
When I was sleeping, then your brother came
And took the canvasses. I said I wanted
These be the hands that would ignite the flame;
But it is done, and I trust you undaunted.
Bless you, my love, my succor and my sweet.
It was a happenstance of untold luck
That you and I should at our juncture meet.
Thank goodness that my feet remained not stuck
In London, shackled to an office chair,
Like hindlegs of a pig as it is took
By a conveyer springing in the air,
Screeching and twisting, caught upon the hook.
So I had been. I do not mind the carcass.
It marks a man as human; but I mind
The loss of destiny, or one as dark as
A dullard when the spiritual light goes blind.
I’ve yet a bit of wriggling yet to do.
Ata, lead me down to the sand where boys
Gather their fish by spears, as we used to.
I cannot see, but hear the happy noise.
No more of that infernal thinking, sweetheart;
We have a little while to be enjoyed;
Conjugal happiness remains a neat art,
Though I am busy staring at the void.
A candid canvass captured me
While I was yet alive,
But now that I have died, you see,
I take an endless dive;
Because it was, within the world
My awful privilege
To be by circumstances hurled,
I’m falling from the bridge.
Press forward never looking back
Is asking quite a lot,
Yet I would rather have no stack
Of salt; but now the plot
Immerses and dissolves in brine,
A kind of brackish bilge,
And for the while I’m feeling fine
While falling off the bridge.
Take heed and learn a thing from me
Before you’re old and grey:
A river’s hospitality
Becomes, in gentle sway,
A kind of sacrament untoward,
Not ever sacrilege,
Because a woman’s never bored
When falling off the bridge.
O, you may take delight in form,
Or take delight in color,
But now my bed is scarcely warm
And death is the annuller
Of happy toys, so while alive
Be pleased to give a smidge
Compassion to your fellows—I’ve
Been falling from the bridge.
Lord, since I was a little girl,
That grew to be a woman
I never knew, when love is feral,
It has an ample room in
It for the making gross mistakes:
A ghost must sins divulge
Nor portraiture can put the brakes
On falling from the bridge.
How good it is to see you. It’s been so long.
I seldom come to England anymore.
But now you have. It seems so long ago, long,
Long long ago, that you came over for
Our dinner parties.
I seem to recall
You often used me for a substitute.
Nonsense! Though you were not yet riding tall,
Really till France laid claim to you—you brute--
I knew that you were destined for success.
Now, that’s a silly question!
Remember, ’twas at your behest, dear Bess,
I crossed the channel.
I made the suggestion?
Willie, it may surprise you—before he
Headed for Paris, Paul had studied art
In night class, if not an eternity,
At least five years: historians can chart,
And when Paul first commenced our courtship, chased me,
You may not know this—I remember him
Talking of painting. I may have misplaced me
Some facts and figures, but I’m not that dim.
My mind is clear enough, my recollection
Never infallible—O, I can list
A score of details that demand correction
From experts, but I do control the gist.
Bess, you sent me to France, and don’t you try
Bamboozling me. Is your new narrative
That Paul was sent to Paris, by and by,
Because you generously desired to give
An opportunity for him to study?
But it’s preposterous. I know it too.
I feel my face already getting ruddy,
The story cannot hold upon review.
No, you mistake me, Willie.
You and I
Are just about the only persons left
Amongst your coterie—since people die--
But your longevity has got some heft;
The only persons left alive who can
Remember Paul within those early years.
Crowds worship at the icon, but the man
In all of the distortion, disappears.
Yes, you are right. I had forgotten that.
I never cover up that I was hurt
When Paul abandoned me, and left me flat,
But I did not send you to chase Paul, curt
Although your language may imply—it was
To check on his well-being.
Come off it, Bess,
Come off your high horse. Such was not the case.
Don’t try to swindle me. I could care less
How you present the matter to the public,
Though having known him, nor is it quite fair
Of you to claim that you control the subject.
Willie, let’s not discuss it. Yes, and there
Are others who remember—Mrs. Douglas.
You mean Rose.
Then she’s remarried.
Well, she always snuggles
Up to some paramour, like many who
Cannot exist without a man. I never
Sought to annul our marriage or divorce.
Bess, don’t pretend that you are acting clever,
When I know you held on for spite, of course.
Can your opinion of me be so low?
I am Paul’s widow.
Is it so much better
Than simply being Mrs. So-and-so?
Bess, don’t try me, or make me a regretter
Of having come to see you while I am
In London—come to see my publisher.
It seems to cover scandal with a scam.
Never! You think so ill of me. We were
Distant, I grant that, Paul and I; however
Your marriage lasted twenty months perhaps.
Even just counting when we were together
Two decades we were in each other’s laps.
You learn about a person.
Yes, one does.
Even though we were distant, I was raised
To value marriage sacred, and it was.
Yes, Paul was not entirely phased
Out of my consciousness, despite the breach;
In fact—you’ll scold me—but I’m not above
Rekindling, as a thing not out of reach,
Within my breast a sacred wifely love.
Well, Paul did not reciprocate it.
Spoken as if you had some details I’ve
Failed to glean, as though a friend would know.
I wrote him letters.
If he wrote you five
I’d be surprised.
I don’t deny that Paul,
Driven by genius—that is the consensus
Commonly held—was scarcely if at all
Focused on common things. If I condense thus
The narrative as you have put it, it’s
Merely from habit, and for clarity.
None of us from that time acquits
Himself entirely, having failed to see
Paul’s genius then in its inchoate state;
Yet you have to admit, Willie, that there
Was something, if unconscious, inchoate,
Attracted me to him: now I don’t care
If you describe it as a talent, or
Genius or some divine spark—I have heard
The various nomenclatures all before,
And quibbling over words would be absurd.
Something there was that drew me to him, and
I’ll not have you, my narrative besmirch--
Remember, Paul pursued me for my hand,
This wedding band was given me in church.
Years ago, Paul had been already dead
A decade, I went to Tahiti—to
Visit the culture. Those that knew him said
Paul was eccentric, that is clearly true,
But otherwise, in outward aspect he
Appeared no further than somebody else
Removed or stuck in eccentricity,
But was a normal man.
So many false
Rumors from various quarters, have had issue--
Not always accurate. In some instances
I’ve had to reach my arm and grab a tissue,
Though you’d presume that slanders should hurt less
Over the distance and the great divide
Already at that date there was
Beginning to be—if none too far and wide--
Some minor clamor like an insect buzz
Over Paul’s work, within artistic circles
Mainly, and actual work was hard to find.
The early speculation truly rankles--
The reproductions on my walls, a kind
Gift from the Berlin publisher, are but
The best available to me—the true
Canvasses priced out of my reach, and what
A shame it is, that those of us who knew
Intimately the hands of the creator,
Should have been beaten in the rush to get
A piece of memory. The speculator
In art’s more crafty than I’ve ever met.
This was before the well of fame, and I
Was not so interested to make a purchase
As curiosity to satisfy
About Paul’s art—but I think it besmirches
Nothing to know the circumstance under
Which he created.
There’s a nigger boy
Telling a tale, a rumor about plunder--
A fanciful delusion or a ploy.
Says that his mother had possession of
Paintings by Paul, but early speculators
Cheated her of them—paintings did remove
Surmising future value. The equator’s
A breeding ground for many kind of slander.
Bess, that could be his son.
No nigger boy
Came from Paul’s loins, and he may try to pander
For cheap publicity; but we destroy
Any validity to such a myth
In the biography I’ve authorized.
A German publisher, I’ve supervised
The crafting of an intimate portrayal--
But I know Paul was not attracted to
Women like that. The thought makes me recoil;
If anything, his greatness stems from true
Celibacy—but there’s no way to stop
Any and sundry, who would capitalize,
From saying Paul did let his trousers drop
To do the deed of fornication. Lies!
There is no way to prove it. I have this.
Forty-two years ago before the altar
Paul gave it me, and I will let them kiss
My ring—the fact of it will never alter.
And there may be a hundred little babies
With some pretentious claim to Paul—but all
Of it’s inconsequential ifs and maybes,
However I’ll continue to stand tall.
Forty-two years that we have in effect
Been married, and I will not let him go.
Paul is my light, my life. And if he wrecked
A young girl’s hopes and made tears copious flow,
Then this is how I will exact revenge,
A just revenge. Controlling his estate
You can reverberate it to Stonehenge--
A wedding ring is never out of date.
Already there have been gross reproductions
But though I’ve no original in my sights,
Though it require gross litigation’s ructions
I am a wife with reproduction rights.
I was surprised you’d sold your business, Bess.
I came to London for delivering
A manuscript, but my writing’s a mess
And my intention coming was to bring
It for your typing expertise—but you’ve
Given it up.
It really was a hobby;
While I have facts and figures to approve
Regarding Paul. Then too, those who would rob me
I have to see in court. It’s time-consuming
Managing the estate of one so famous.
Always there is some sundry fact exhuming,
And my task to determine what the game is.
You really ought to write an essay or
Descriptive piece, about the genius, Paul,
For his fame will exist for many more
Ages while you and I are rather small.
At your age you may not have impetus
To do a simple, biographical sketch
Or an appreciation—but such fuss
Is lately stirred for Paul, that poor old wretch
Pathetically who lived and died unknown
Of some sacred disease—a man unloved,
Distrusted, disenchanted and alone.
For O so many years my husband shoved
Humiliation on me, and distress--
But now, as you said, even just for spite
I’ll have revenge, comeuppance due to Bess
And live so long to set the matter right.
Is that the typescript?
Yes. I had to take it
To a competitor of yours—or former.
“There is more enterprise in walking naked,”
So wrote the poet, and the thing is warmer,
More personal than anything I’ve done--
I have some few revisions yet to do,
But when it’s published, shall I save you one?
At my age I don’t think I could get through
A novel. I’ve such pressing obligations.
I hardly get the time
To settle down to have a game of patience,
But I wish you success.
At my age, I’m
Scarcely concerned with prospect of success
Within the marketplace—I’ve had my share.
But I was once advised, it matters less
To have a single reader out there care,
Than to work out soul-satisfying truth.
The man who told it me was quite a fellow.
In fact the novel centers on the youth
Of an artistic movement: how the callow
Transformed itself to greatness. Paul was there,
If it seemed never at the center of it;
For many people seek, but do not dare,
And many people, even though they covet
Would crucify the Christ the moment his
Back had been turned. It’s like a parable,
Of how a man stared down his nemesis,
Although it meant he had to pass through hell.
It sounds a kind of modern hero.
We need someone like that, within these days,
When charlatans and thieves, remain unruly,
And false distorters gain the highest praise.
It might be said, that I was crucified
By Paul, but like a thing in a cocoon
So I transformed myself after he died,
And like a butterfly, upon the swoon
Of public adulation find my glory--
It is a tale more glorious than fiction,
But I wish you could put this in your story.
I’ve learned to write the truth without restriction.
The man who is the basis for my book
Taught me his lesson. In the light of what
You shared with me today, a further look
Seems necessary ere the matter shut--
I’ll make some small revision, as again
In light of what you have revealed today.
Perhaps, if an ambition fires my pen
I’ll try to work it up into a play.
I do hope you will let me send a copy,
Dear Bess: it might enlighten you a little.
’Twill be impossible to stop me.
The character receives a full acquittal,
Composite as it is but based on fact.
You even may find Paul there.
If I do
I hope there isn’t something to redact.
I stray not very far from what is true.
Then in your promise I am comforted.
For me, success will come, if sundry readers
Will think about it after it was read,
And be convinced, that they too, ought be pleaders
For the unvarnished truth. A special man
Remains the subject, but in parables,
Everyman may apply, there is no ban,
And, failing that, yet there is one thing else:
That I discern the truth, and plainly show
In clear delineation, what is man.
It is the true discernment I would know,
Not purpose else utilitarian--
For in thinking of painting, or of books
Is there a useful purpose? There may be;
But to the artist. False endearing looks
Of approbation, always have a fee,
Such as the public offer. Paul knew better,
If incidentally—he no fool or coward,
And if he died, to many people debtor,
In some ways, he above us all has towered.
Willie, I’m sorry, but I wasn’t listening.
You mentioned Paul. With matters on my mind,
I am distracted. I’m sure praises glistening
Are due you for your efforts. Now I find
That I am late for a pressing appointment
With someone from Berlin. I pray you do
Have a safe travel. Flies get in my ointment
And I have many pages to review.
May peace be with you, Bess.
And also you.
Perhaps this qualifies a sort of truce.
The urgent matter is the keeping true
To one’s own self, though it may seem obtuse.
It is the very least charge laid upon one.
But, I am here to neither praise nor bury,
Upon review I think that I have done one
Adequate job—in spite of mercenary
Distortions that have settled on Paul’s life--
Adequate in conveying, with concision,
Some truth about the man, also his wife,
Without a need to trouble with revision.
That said, with book in hand, then I am keen
To see my publisher this afternoon.
The title is not set, as stuck between
The moon and sixpence, sixpence and the moon.
Thank you for your attention to our play.
I hope that you may have a blessèd day.