Silks involved in balms of Time Where even fictive if expires Vaunt not the coiled, the native cloud Combed in your mirror's lens. Patriotic ranks of stagnant flags Exalt above the vacant street; Drowned by waves of your naked mane I plunge to my eyes' content. Yet, no mouth may be sure Of the savor his bite procures Unless, regal and rampant, he insist, Amidst your immense and copper tufts, On expelling a diamond sigh: The cry "Glorie!" that he stifles. Mallarme
Like Poe's Purloined Letter, I find myself in public, plainly proffered. My back and sides and secret innards exist only as surmise-- the way a pious Chinese burns finial incense for the stacked racks of his crepuscular dead. Aging and insincere, each wayward wardrobe change announces a new soul, a new chance, grand as an imprisoned pasha or deliquescent drag queen haunting the docks. I maunder in the mirror, my fat face an overfull balloon hilarious with helium-- I recite Milton in pipsqueak in a jade smoking robe, too small to square up my embarrassment. I fit into my slippers the way a pearl lurks in a oyster, well-oiled irritant coated to a sulky glow. I am the hidden Imam of my household lolling in the fresh laundry, insouciant and clean as a cat. Never in my nowhere of days did I once suspect myself to be as guilty as I am.
He thought at first he was Mark Spitz, Slickly triumphant in Speedos, Because the mirror kept its own counsel Between more amenable poses. Then he thought he was the Mutant X, Of a DNA not quite fixed,-- Because his brother used furious crayons In the TV's square glare. And last, he thought his death might be A captain's statue, heroic, unruined, Because the sun was shining blandly All that day.
With enough words a philosopher may erase his meaning completely. But not his infernal stench. So it is with my poems…. It is not their sense that one whiffs expectantly, but the echo of their emptiness that excites. If I have changed, through some unknowable alchemy, your lunch habit from bourguignon to bearnaise, or, indeed, the reverse, from bearnaise to bourguignon, then I have succeeded as an artist! In inscrutability I trust. This mechanism of the body is more than its bits of wire and wood, yet we are puppets nonetheless. Punch me, and I piss. Caress me, and I sigh.
It was on such meanderings as these that my brain arranged its damaged afternoon while I awaited the release of Bonadventure from the moil of his malaise. I refer, of course, to his employment, which would furnish the funds for our evening at the cafe. I am aware of the irony. Nevertheless, ironic or not, this was my puppet’s plight. I watched the resentful sun sink into the sludge of an open sewer. Ah, night!
I went out the door, heading toward Bonadventure’s tawdry office. No doubt I would run into him on his way to my own place of deliquescing habitation. The air was both fetid and refreshing; adventure was in it. I was in constant contact, not with reality, but with that renewal of one’s hopes and expectations anticipation can command. How much more glorious and rarefied is this self-bliss than all the millions of realities that confront, offend, and inspire our merely mortal senses!
I would be drunk before the hour was out. Gladness bewitched me–could the solace of oblivion be far behind? The purpose of art is to give us thoughts troubling enough to be worth escaping. To drink because one’s own life is an uninspired drudgery is no more than to renew a scab by one’s idle picking at it; that is not creation, but recreation–however empurpled and painful the process might be. But, to seek out damnation and disorder from a profound disappointment with The Lord? Unassailable and deep are your motivations! Even you yourself will accept your excuses after the first draft of yeasty vintage, the aroma of all the soils of the earth impelled into your nostrils. Ah, night!
I turned the corner down Bonadventure’s street, the Rue de Blandblah, a wolf’s grin on my lips, and noted that the cafe to which we had planned to repair for the evening was between myself and his office. Surely, I could duck in for a quick one, supplying his name to secure the necessary credit from the barkeep. They knew us here. They were familiar with the contents of Bonadventure’s wallet.
I entered the cafe as one enters a tomb: with regret at such an entrance’s inevitability, and with solace at its eternal character. The marble tops of the little tables winked at me, friendly as unengraved headstones. Beyond the tables there stood the steaming silver urns of the coffee dispensers, the multifarious glitter of the liquor bottles, and below these the stained resonances of oak soaking up the brilliant flicker of a million sagging candles. And there was Henri, the barkeep. Hello, Henri! Yes, quite a long, dry day. And beyond Henri’s pin-striped shoulder, I saw a small, balding cannonball glaring at me with withering recognition. After too long a moment, I realized that I was looking at myself, mirrored in a portrait of Hell.
“Henri, a moment of your time, if I may,” I began politely.
I was about to confess the weakness of my situation to a social inferior, to confide in Henri that I was in an embarrassment of finances and would be dining out on the charity of an old-time associate and familiar customer of his; a school chum in fact, one whom I had played marbles with on the library floor as he taught me trick shots and I imagined being God to the planets, and the planets careening under the sofa. School chums! The most pathetic of associations, a bourgeois cliche.
I noticed a young boy lighting the chandelier, carefully bringing small tongues of fire into gorgeous accord, as when Wagner layers the cakes of his musical treats in the second act. The unapologetic joy of these jets of flame made me remember myself, how the poet shines in this squalorus pig-sty of a world: be it Hell or be it Heaven, who was to say? Either way, the poet must play, and the panjandrum pay!
Weakness is not the natural expression of genius, and in me confession most often takes the oblique form of accusation. What I would do, I accuse others of having done; at least I have the horse-sense not to work in government! This way of being was all part of my poet’s daily alchemical transformation from sleep-drugged and dreaming dud to dashing dandy. I first recall threading my schoolboy’s bowtie before a broken fragment of mirror in the secretly accessed attic of a cathouse on the way to class each morning. I tied my knot with a difference, as they say. And not with the regulation twist M. Aupick (or, for that matter, the hangman) approved of: such, at eight, was the picaresque extent of my rebellion!
I demanded a grand pinot noir from Henri, rather abruptly, and returned my dilettante’s attention to the wavery man in the mirror.
How inspiration flared and fled in the wavery mirror–pissed away in a moment’s undertaking. The mercury drop that had glowed with all the hallowed radiance of a fully-loaded moon, was splashed and splattered away by an irritable finger-flick as simply as the trace tear of an unwonted memory.
Yet, my eyes continued to look blindly, to stare at the figure receding to a grey chiaroscuro in the glass, full of their own moony insistence. How dully they intruded on a life as solemn in its unabated farce as a funeral procession. And look, how cordial and curled the crowning crepes of brunette hair…. How deep the pillow’s velvet, the immense pools of bruises, beneath the dry chalky eyes…. Even now, before the vinegared event of my demise, my moony pate is balding to its bone core. What hair adheres does so only as an ugly afterthought–whatever has stuck to the stone club that killed the coney.
Now, as the chandelier’s flare flattens and evening comes coolly through the saloon doors, the mirror robs me of my own reflections. The wine has a gelid, heavy aspect in my mouth, a sort of warm blood pudding. The mirror’s eye delivers me up to myself–flayed as a fish–my human minutiae gruesome in their Frankensteinian detail: pores yawning deep as ocean vents, the clownish nose a clubbed lump of unsmelling flesh; two ears daftly a-dangle as the faux-furred legs of a burst pinyata. Of these cheeks, inflamed with cheap drink, I will simply note their resemblance to rotten cherries beset with bees in the soggy field of an abandoned farm. As for the eyes… oh, the eyes of a narcissist! Probing pin-lights seeking their own centrality, some signal in the self-regard that can assure: I will abide! Piggy-small, yet swollen with a moron’s slow, indeed retarded, self-regard. Baudelaire, how many hours have you mooned to uselessness, transfixed in the squiggly pool of a mirror? Peered at more deeply, the eyes are two black balls balanced on bloodshot tundras of crooked ice; and, through the cracks in the ice, slow lightning bolts of red swell in ghastly littleness–as if the very fabric of sight has been shattered.
“Henri, another ‘draft of vintage from the dusky south.’ An apple brandy cordial, perhaps. I have a need to feel Edenic in my wickedness.”
My eyes had not moved from the mirror. This face, against God! How can it be accomplished? Judas made a hash of it, squandering his chance to shame the creator in betrayal and hatred. His ambition whittled him smaller than he actually was somehow, made him more miniscule than any man–even in the mere dregs of his nature–is. Not that way, not for gold, not as a slave to dead metal, not in incandescent hatred only shall I defy the deity. Against God, this face! Not in disbelief; not in despair shall I have my battle. But how then? How, Saint Judas, shall I proceed? Hear my wild cry, and be you wheresoever below, answer me! At least Judas is remembered, though reviled; his flower shines in the springtime. Even I, his modern afterimage, revile him. Tomorrow, I must be in court. And, whether damned or saved, I must have my vindication. How then shall I proceed? I’ll have to be drunkerer than this.
“Henri, if you please, a dram of absinthe…. Yes, put it on Bonadventure’s tab.”