a la recherche du temps perdu

Month: February, 2015

Kay Boyle, Duchamp, and Brâncuși

Mother transformed the legendary [literary and artistic] names into familiar people whose dedication to their work set them apart. I do not know how, among countless other divinations, she realized it was important to take me to the Armory Show in New York in 1913 to see Marcel Duchamp’s “Nude Descending a Staircase” and Brâncuși’s “Mlle. Pogany” and his “Bird in Space.” (But what Mother did not and could not have divined then was that exactly thirty years later Duchamp would be godfather to my son. Nor could she know that in Paris in the twenties, when Brâncuși went off to other cities where his sculptures were being shown, he would leave his snow-white Samoyed with me to care for.)

— Kay Boyle, from “The Family” in Words That Must Somehow Be Said: Selected Essays, 1927-84



There should have been a meridian with bleeding cloudlines ransacking the view while the cowslips sunk under a spell as your feet fairly felled them          Neither of us can recall the urgency we felt on top of a skyscraper to take six buses into the middle of the countryside (in March, no less); neither of us can remember what we had hoped to find in green-arbored labyrinths—the azure blur of a sky spotted swellingly with eerie moorland gusts—apart from solitude yet here we are still joined like marionettes at the hip with no fortunes in our hands and no lethal means of severance          Binocular vision you hawk your gaze askant and swear you can see Snowdon in the east so I turn west toward where Snowdon actually is and say nothing encountering only fog and lowlying smoke which I thought we had left the city to avoid          On an outcropping of rock I imagine the primed back of Friedrich’s wanderer and his planted dangerously dangling toe and feed you pieces of applewood cheese straight from a knife’s serrated edge almost wanting to draw blood but smiling pathetically instead          You do not even touch my skin, I can no longer remember the last time you spoke my name aloud while looking me head-on in the eyes, I look upward and around to view nothing but to sense rather the perilous power of nature and a sublime kind of erection and I no longer wonder if what I sought was the same as what it was you did          (the same horizonline refusing a pattern resisting a building’s pointed linearity the same banal mood that stems from the threat of rain the same stench of our lackadaisical bodies—yours rank like a dying lamb’s, mine bold as a guillotine’s—the same sound of potent silence between us which not even touch being absent can assuage)          I take a mossy patch of stone beneath my skull for a pillow and shut my eyes against the balking barrenness of fields the yawningly monotonous hillocks pretending for a moment a moment quicker than the flick of that steed’s tail that you and I are back in the city—the smell of you helps the memory along its fiction—with the same gulf between us only less room than the moors which serve now to exaggerate rather than to obfuscate


I dreamed you once a mountain, sloppy thighs where you rub the stories out, stories spun by antecedents you never knew apart from portraits hanging in a Georgian foyer, tales of exchanging a Rembrandt for a wife, a complete set of Baedeker for a one-night stand, a heelless shoe found lying by the side of the

But I’m not telling you anything profound; this is nothing next to your mythologies passed down from lung to lung and fashioned haphazardly into laborers’ songs like that summer your grandfather wheezed a chord, grabbed your wrist to force your stubborn skin against his drugged heart murmuring a word like “traitor” or “comrade” and then telling you about his hiding place in the back of his bureau where there were stamps, knives, and he said a word that only you could free

I could free you of nothing. One night in September you pushed me sharp against the banister so the bones cracked, leaving abruptly with your passport, a pack of condoms, and a screen of deceptions you pulled off wool eyes and all your mother even rang while you were sweltering elsewhere; she kept repeating sibylline: “I hope he knows what he’s doing”

I ransacked the flat, pulling out drawers, throwing hangared clothing on the bed, rifling through filing cabinets, the trunk of your car; I thought I could only locate what your grandfather had left you in your absence, knowing you would never travel abroad with such treasure; I thought I could fix the cracked banister and salvage what had come between us if I knew what you held sacred—instead I spread my legs on top of our clothes-strewn bed and fucked a stranger somberly, getting at some semblance truth for a mere moment before he exploded

You arrived back in quite a state, your thighs and cheeks lobster-colored and you didn’t even say hello before launching into explanations: how you understand now why the Rembrandt meant more than being solitary; why the aesthetic and cultural components of all cities can never be caged truthfully in prose because it is a visual phenomenon that surpasses the capacity of words; why the great authors of your grandfather’s country threw their heroines beneath trains or men or rocks or hard places

You unraveled the entire narrative from beginning to end as if it could possibly be mapped chronologically; but I had heard these prophecies before when you were drunk on a fire escape in a city we both hated but hated to leave behind. Why choose me as a confessor when you confessed to spending the whole week with him? Instead I loll my head outside the window toward a skyline I always resented, body of stagnant water, chain smoking and leaving my fingerprints all over the cupboards, the countertops, the paintings, the bookshelves, the cat

Fucking was irrelevant but expected—you pushed my head into the pillow to silence any questions, I was whomever you wanted my body to be, and when your mobile buzzed off the nightstand I feigned an orgasm because we both knew it was him; we both knew he knew you better than I ever could; I hold my breath for sixty seconds while you take the call out on the veranda in your boxers

I dreamed you once but hemispheres got in the way, the proverbial “what if” or the ten-year itch, and ironically your mother didn’t ring once as if she knew it was over; you return, semen dripping on the plaid pattern of your shorts, the phone limp in your hand as we both are now you have said you are leaving

How would it have turned out had I dreamt you an archipelago instead of a mountain? Would we remain here by this lake I loathe to finish our days hating but loving each other, breaking glass and fucking ourselves bloody, ad infinitum, ad nauseam, severed in the end like snails perhaps but you might have told me what word he left you: I might now know at least what happened to you

Your grandfather’s KGB history always seemed to me like a red herring; I remember you baiting me with it as if trying to seduce me when I was yet a stranger to you and your foreignness was something to which I was drawn like a cliff’s edge. How was the weather in São Paulo? Did you use condoms at least? When they came for him in the end, he was already dead, a corpse blocking the refrigerator door, but the contents of the bureau crossed the ocean in your carry-on

You say: “We read together there; his hair is growing grey; he has a pouch now where once his belly was flat; but we picked up the thread from ten years ago”—there is a pause, because the pause is in fact me, I am the decade-long lull in your story: instead of feeling betrayed, on fire, murderous, should I feel guilt for coming in between you and

And yet he was the oracle to whom you told everything (even the Rembrandt), every morsel of how you stepped over his body and did as he wished, emptying the bureau before the agents arrived to bury the truth. You have shared your life, your body, your bank account, your soul with me, but this information is too vital, too close to the bone; instead you confess to your ex-lover in a hotel room during carnival season while I am in our flat feeding our cat wondering how much more time we have left

I will never know what you found in either the back of the bureau or in a cheap hotel by the ocean; I can only measure things in terms of loss—the nation, yourself, handed down spoiled but beatific like those fictional railway jumpers or the yellow patina that is the brush of time on the ghostly Georgian faces of your ancestors

In that season when you returned to me only to leave, there is no snow (I am so weary of hiding) so I intimate to you by turning my back that I understand even though I see nothing but shadows; in your absence then as well as since I have read my way backward so that I now lack a language with which to prove to you how empathetic I am to it all: the paternal guilt; the time we spent aloof, rancid; the loves we both lost