Chapman discovered Keats atop a step-ladder adjusting a photographic self-portrait that he had placed on a large oaken joist that traversed the room. “Isn't that what's known as a selfie?”, called up Chapman proud of his grasp of contemporary parlance. “It is indeed”, replied Keats descending, “but no ordinary selfie, for if you look closely you will see it shows me holding a mobile telephone upon which is displayed a photograph I took of myself – it is a selfie within a selfie”. “I see”, said Chapman unsure that he could, “but why put it there?”. “It is a picture of me within a picture of me...” hinted Chapman. “Of course!”, exclaimed Keats after some reflection, “'Me's on a beam!”
Thursday, 13 November 2014
(A performance piece for a(n ideally French) female with musical accompaniment)
In the valley in which I live there is a zoo;
It is beautiful, but difficult to find.
It is far from any large road
And the signs that advertise its presence are poorly situated.
The zoo is small, but well stocked
The feeding of its inhabitants,
Particularly its carnivores, is expensive.
I learned of the financial challenges during one of my many visits.
I was one of the few visitors
And, after a time, I got to know the owner, a tall man called Didier.
We were roughly the same age and both single people,
But we did not become lovers
As he was preoccupied with money problems
And I found him physically repellent
(I have never been fond of tall people).
One day I noticed that next to the animals' names on the descriptive labels
There was a price tag:
20 euros for a Dwarf Goat
15 for a plum-headed parakeet
200 for a yak
5 for a Malaysian Giant Land Snail
And so on
I was immediately concerned that someone would buy the animals
And deprive me of their company
So I bought what I could;
I bought the aforementioned
And a Wild Pig.
Having nowhere to put the animals I was obliged to leave them there.
I continued to buy animals during ensuing visits,
Gradually selling off my extensive collection of 18th century chinoiserie,
Until I had bought all the zoo's residents -
Even a Giraffe, whose extreme height I found particularly unappealing.
At first Didier was delighted
He suddenly found himself with money, he bought himself a small and sporty car,
Though he rarely drove it as it could not carry bales of hay or buckets of offal.
To feed the many animals, none of which were now his, he continued to use his van
In which he would roar up and down the valley
Even though his business was saved and he had a sporty car
Didier resented the fact that the animals were no longer his,
The animals seemed to sense this, even the Ostrich,
That tall and dim-witted bird.
The creatures would gather around when I neared their enclosures;
When Didier approached they shied away
As if they knew he had betrayed them.
It didn't help that I had taught the assorted parrots and macaws to say “Hello Odile” -
For my name is Odile.
I would take them titbits,
Choice collations I would create at home
Much preferable to hay and offal.
This proved to be the last straw for Didier
Who said I was making the animals' diet unbalanced
And barred me from visiting the zoo
Despite my being the establishment's only season ticket holder.
I countered his action by standing on some high ground upwind of the zoo
And raising my arms in order to better disseminate
A heavy perfume, “Dolce Vita” by Dior, that I habitually wear
And that the animals associated with treats.
As soon as they detected my scent
The zoo's inmates grew restless
The lion growled -
And roared -
The Hyenas cackled -
The elephant trumpeted -
And so on.
Eventually, as a consequence of the cacophony,
Didier was obliged to lift the ban.
To tell the truth I felt a little sorry for him
He was looking stooped, shorter... more attractive...
As a gesture of reconciliation
I taught the Mynah bird to say, “Hello Didier”.
Didier seemed touched by this and we have since become closer.
In the afternoons, after Didier has finished his rounds,
We sometimes stroll through the zoo together.
There is rarely anyone else around,
But we never feel alone
What with all the “Hello Odile”s and the “Hello Didier”,
And the roar of the lion
And the cackling of the hyenas
And the trumpeting of the elephant
Thursday, 6 November 2014
Four doors down from my childhood home was a cosy foyer inhabited by the Pooles, the happiest couple I have ever known. Tom Poole was a window cleaner, an exemplar of his trade. He had all he needed: a selection of shammy leathers and cloths which he was constantly wringing out into his galvanised bucket, wooden extension ladders that he would stack on his push-cart and the ability to whistle tunes loudly enough to announce to an entire street his trundling arrival. And he had Mrs Poole, above all, he had Mrs Poole.
Mr Poole always looked at Mrs Poole with a joyous, almost febrile, intensity, as a boy I assumed it was because he was a bit mad. I later realized that I was right and that his was a happy madness born of love steeped in desire. This small epiphany took place when I overheard my mother talking to an ex-neighbour (an attractive, leggy woman who used to live at No 3) a couple of decades after our row of houses had been demolished, they both agreed that they had been envious of the way Mrs Poole received such lusty attention from her husband. This surprised me as I had not previously seen the short, almost spherical Mrs Poole in a sexual light. I was certainly attracted to her when I was a boy – any time I called by I would be rewarded with a heavy slab of home-made cake whose secret recipe made my teeth tingle - but the way she folded her arms over the horizontal planes of her bosom had never stirred any carnal longings in my prepubescent psyche. Mr Poole, on the other hand, found her posture so provocative that his brow would glisten and necessitate vigorous dabbing from his shammy.
Besides being the muse of a window cleaner Mrs Poole was also by far the most garrulous person in the row, not that that bothered Tom; he would stand back indifferent to the incessant torrent of gossip, all the while feasting his eyes on the curves – or curve, perfect curve – of his wife who, by the way, was known as “Winnie”. This was not a contraction of Winifred, but of Lavinia. Lavinia, the flame-haired oracle of the Aeneid, Lavinia, a name whose liquid euphony would have had Nabokov ululating in lingual bliss. My mother felt that Lavinia's parents were irresponsible to give her such a name, wasn't it obvious it could be shortened to Lav, outside Lav...
The Pooles had a daughter, Joan, an only child some ten years my senior. Slightly plump she seemed genetically destined to assume the geometric form of her mother, but, to the dismay of shammy-wringers everywhere, this wasn't to be. I know this because years later, when in my late teens, I saw a lithe Joan in a Family Planning Clinic. She was unaccompanied and seemed troubled, not that I cared as I had more pressing concerns; I was there with my girlfriend who had arranged a rendezvous to “go on the pill”, a phrase whose revolutionary promise took me to the brink of cardiac arrest.
I didn't feel at all comfortable in the clinic. I was there only because my girlfriend insisted I be and
I couldn't risk my absence threatening my chances of having an even better time than I was having already. There was a grown up feel to the place, lots of posters evoking responsibility and transmittable diseases and other subjects irrelevant to my needs. I pretended not to notice Joan as she belonged to a childhood I was keen to distance myself from, though no doubt Joan, had she looked up, would have seen little change in the boy who would call by for his cake, the composition of which he was blithely unaware.