Self portrait with foot on baby play mat.
The second cup of coffee is better than the first, she thought. It tastes less like copper.
“You know what’s useless? Poetry is useless. It’s more useless than painting. Fuck it all.”
The air was cool on the patio. The wind was just strong enough to blow out the matches George was trying to light. She handed him her lighter.
“Thanks. I don’t mean to be insulting. Oh, maybe I do. I know you pour yourself into it.”
“I don’t,” she laughed.
“Oh, you do, you do.” He picked up his own cup and gulped at it.
“Not really. It’s just something.”
They had kept each other company during what he thought was a very dull party. “I’m tired of these people,” he told her, “Their faces are boring. No, their faces are boredom. I’ve somehow become trapped in a bad motion picture where everyone is made of pig.”
“You’re so eloquent.”
“It actually makes me angry to see everyone smiling like they just found a nice large pickle in their pants.”
“Don’t pretend you wouldn’t enjoy it. You’re smiling, too.”
She found his notebook between two of her shoes in the hall closet. She put it on her bookshelf and thought she would bring it with her when she next went to one of those parties. But years would pass before she would see George again, and so the notebook remained on her shelf.
Without trying, she laughed at the scene. The car was fully on its side. Other people were still sitting on the ground, although they were not hurt. She herself was fine, or felt fine.
“Your coffee is a little weak,’ he said.
“But it is free,” she said. “And you’re also free to not drink it.”
“It’s better than nothing.”
“What about breakfast? I’m starving.”
“I never eat in the morning. It ruins my mood.”
“What mood is that?”
“Why are you here if you don’t like anyone?” she’d asked him.
“Because every now and then I’d like to spend the night with someone.” He drained his glass. “How about you?”
His voice was very flat as he said it. She felt a slight shiver and maybe a little bit of anxiety. “You’re a bit cheeky, aren’t you?”
“I just know what I want. The difference between you and I is you won’t admit what you want.”
“You know nothing about me.”
“I know all I need to know.”
She laughed. “You really are a movie character, aren’t you? Does that make me a pig?”
The smell was troubling, but she couldn’t stop laughing. Someone had her by the shoulders. There was a small dog barking at her feet.
“Oh, damn,” she said, “I still have a book you left at my place.”
“You do? What book?”
“A little sketchbook.”
He wrinkled his brow. “It can’t matter. Throw it away.”
“You don’t want it?”
“I don’t remember it,” he laughed.
“There is an incessant need to make everything academic.” He leaned back in the chair and patted the table top with his palms. “At least in terms of writing. Painting is a little different, you know. It has few words. That drives the professors away from it. I don’t mean they don’t talk about it, that they do.” He laughed and groped around in his pocket for cigarettes. “But they can’t talk about the painting and really be anywhere near it, if you know what I mean.”
She nodded. “I don’t know much about painting, except by the numbers.”
He narrowed his eyes. “The numbers?”
“You know, 1 is sky blue, 2 is forest green, 3 is grass green, 4 is fire engine red.”
“There,” he laughed, “I think you do know what I mean.”
“In defence of poetry, though, I don’t think the academics really get anywhere near that, either.”
“They wouldn’t, but the poets structure their creations in the most academic ways.”
“Schema, form, patterns, meaning. Fuck meaning.”
The notebook was just large enough to not be too big for an inside jacket pocket. It looked to be about a hundred pages. The cover was a fake leather of some kind, although it smelled like real leather and tobacco. Most of the pages were filled with sketches.
She poured coffee and took the book out onto the patio to sit in the sunlight. The only lawn furniture was a couple of old wooden chairs that came from someone’s dining set and an overturned milk crate. She had painted them white and thought it all looked quite charming. The chairs were not too rickety and the makeshift table was good enough to hold a drink and ashtray (although she almost always just threw the cigarettes onto the lawn).
The early pages of the book were a little indecipherable. They seemed to be a jumble of intersecting straight lines that really looked like nothing to her. But a few more pages in and she saw a very cute pencil sketch of a dog with its leash coiled around on the ground in front of it. The dog was a spaniel and its head was tilted in the regular spaniel way. The next pages had more rough scribbles on them. She looked to see if maybe there was a structure being built in the jumble of marks. But George left no clue as to what he may have been seeing or imagining.
A few faces peered out from the next pages. One was definitely her friend Ann, although she wasn’t aware that she and George knew each other. There was nothing distinctive of the picture, except it looked near-photographic. Ann’s expression was flat and her eyes stared straight out at whoever happened to be looking.
“Did you ever expect to make any money from painting?”
“Well, I don’t make enough to pay for paint.”
“Aren’t you any good?”
“Of course,” he said. “I’m a damn good electrician.”
A dog was barking. Something had happened to her feet. Or she didn’t feel her feet or wasn’t paying attention. Someone’s car had come through the intersection and hit something else and was on its side. A small fire was burning somewhere and black smoke was filling the air. She was sitting on the sidewalk. Someone was asking her something and shaking her shoulder.
“Whose car is that?” she asked.
“Are you okay?”
“Can someone get this dog out of here?” came another voice.
She shook her head, “I’m fine.” She stood up and smoothed out her clothes. Something was missing. She looked around on the ground and saw her purse next to where she’d been sitting. One of her shoes was off. She slipped her foot back into the shoe and picked up her purse. The crash had shocked her and something had knocked her down but she wasn’t hurt. “Are they ok?”
There were a few blank pages after a few more pages of scribbles. Then there was a drawing of some trees at the edge of a field. She thought that scene the most idyllic and banal.
“There’s a kind of noise that seems to permeate existence,” he said.
“I think I’m a little tipsy,” she laughed. “And I’m starting to wonder how your neck tastes.”
“I think most of us ignore it but that everyone can sense it. Like the sound of an untuned radio. The noise of no station. But I think that noise is there even when the radio is tuned. But I’m being too direct in this description.”
“I’ll have one more of these little glasses of Cointreau. But then we must go somewhere and lapse into a supine stupor, although I’m not averse to some physical activity, perhaps a bit of contortionism, done in the nude of course.”
“It’s no different when you look at something.” He closed one eye and put his hand up to his nose. “One eye sees the hand, the other nothing, but the hand as seen by the blind eye is part of what the seeing eye sees.”
“Now you’re not making much sense.”
“And at some point, this thing was pulled out of the noise. The noise is all there really is, you know.”
“This reminds me of something. But you wouldn’t like it.”
George closed his mouth and put his hand back on the table. He looked at her. “We’ll go, then. Where will you take me?”
“We’ll have to walk. And I’ll have to help you, since you’ve had too much to drink,” she said.
“I appreciate it.”
“I would love just a bit more of that coffee.”
“I think there’s some left.” She poured the last into his cup. “It’ll be a bit thick, I think.”
“Always the best bit, the mud at the bottom of the pond.”
He lit a cigarette and stood up. He walked to the window. “I was talking about something last night before we left.”
“My memory is a bit hazy.”
“Good. It wasn’t anything. I hate when conversations start being about how things really are. Truth isn’t that kind of monster.”
“Truth is a monster?”
“What do you think?”
“A poet must think that truth is a golden egg.” She smiled. “And a poet thenceforth spends all eternity staring at the backside of a goose waiting for it.”
“It’s on the contract you sign to get your poetic licence.”
She thought maybe she should stay but she had no recollection of what happened and her daughter was still waiting for her at the store. She patted down the wrinkles and tried to brush off the dirt. At least nothing is torn, she thought as she walked away.
Later, she would realize her glasses had disappeared in the excitement.
“You don’t want the book? There are some lovely sketches in there.”
“It’s nothing I need,” he said. “I don’t need to be reminded how terrible I was.”
“It’s not terrible.”
“It doesn’t matter.” He sighed. He leaned back on the bench and let the sun flood his face. “What did you write? What was it? Something like ‘How bright is the sun?’”
“You remember that?” She felt pleased.
“What was it?”
“Oh, I can’t remember exactly. Not been doing much writing, lately.”
how bright the sun
as seen on that naked back.
these work, toil in field,
hardened by the shovel and pick,
an imagination works hard
to see them entwined,
as love works hard.
a perilous lust overtakes
a sterile mind watching
flesh through flesh.
how bright the sun
but the light is cold