Mon Rêve s’aboucha souvent à sa ventouse;
Mon âme, du coït matériel jalouse,
En fit son larmier fauve et son nid de sanglots.
To wax in my ear,
Melting hot oil I poured into my ear and for you, with the tips of my finger, the lids of my pen, I went scooping, scooping for you, as it smarted, my ear, with hot oil. Did it work? Did it fuck. All heat after dying, all blood and bone dry: you remained. I could feel you, and hear. I could not get you out of my head. Into my conchas, picked up off an epaulette, when the odd crumb of you would slip out: I, nosing your perfume; I, rubbing you down, made of you a fragrant paste, spread across my lips as a salve. Not enough, however, treasure – hot, wet – slipping out to dress the ancient wounds; nor to illustrate the new illuminated manuscript – as I wanted, I figured you too; nor to seal the unwritten alas which enciphers your name. You, I hardly remember at all. Nor me, you – you who yet remains, tenderly, on my membrane.
To a dear cotton bud, un bâtonnet ouaté,
Forgive me for not responding sooner. I left without saying much, not to you in any case, not after that summer, the state that I left in: reeling, indignant, in pain. I was in no mood to explain. My own fault, you’d have told me. And it’s true. I was warned about you years ago. ‘Stick nothing in your ear any smaller than an elbow.’ That’s what they told me, my elbows. But then, they would say that. ‘Your ears will stop working, and where will you be then?’ Perhaps a build-up of wax obscured the message. One night, just after being out, swept up in the stagecraft of an album that was playing; the urge to clear the wax now back, to make the lyric out I disobeyed. What point was there of you in any case – designed as you were, presented as such – if not to be cast in my ear? And in, indeed, you dug yourself, deeper than an elbow could get: down into the pit, against the inner core of my head. I writhed on the sofa. I tingled with pleasure.
I moaned as I rolled you around with my fingers, not imagining then – because not thinking, then, of your head as an endoscopic lens – the spinning images such manoeuvrings might record: mobile abstractions in pink; rolling landscapes of golden-brown. Yet, soaked though you were in verdigris and honey, but for one yellow stain on your head – which I held and beheld, abuzz in the knowledge that, deep inside my ear, as well as the wax, was an itch rarely felt, hardly softly scratched, certainly never soothed by the music of a touch – no ball of built-up anything came out. I bury a word in the chaos quite certain if you ever do receive this letter (if I ever buy an envelope; however many stamps) you’ll detect it. That softness round a hardness sounded, up against the edge of each canal, so close to my interior, dreamy as white noise at night, tumultuous as the wind against the window over which – before lying down, to plug you back in – I drew the curtain; now, with each electric drone-caress came on a new sensation, charging from my ear down to my asshole; an exchange, though at once more intense and of greater duration, transmitted all along and through those tissues which vibrate when someone’s upper arm – a bicep, say; a shoulder-ball: above the elbow anyway – leans furtively but certainly into another’s arm, walking down a sidewalk one fine day. I felt my cheeks, my forehead flushed; my hawing mouth hung open, twisted; tongue curling taut. As my eyelids – which once you entered closed, folded over, covering my eyes – unfolded, I felt tears running out, running till the morning when I left. The whole of that night swept over me today, after waking from a dream in which a figure, in a star-studded coat – clutching you, cut in two, as mallets for a xylophone just larger than a matchbox – kneels before an audience, attempting to play Bach minuets. Set down on the stage floor, next to the xylophone, the microphone that’s plugged in to the speaker looks enormous. Yet, thanks to an alarm ringing off in the vestibule, most of its sound, drowned out, is inaudible. What do you reckon this means?
To my dear stylist,
Often I’ve imagined that you live above your shop. But as I’ve no way of knowing this for sure, it could be quite a while before you get this – by which point, I’ll have left the country. (‘So much the better!’ I hope you wouldn’t say.) I’ve been coming into you for a couple of years, but my name isn’t one that you’ll recognise. I’ve never booked a sitting with you. The last time I came in was October. On your red leather couch, as I waited, it struck me how I’d missed this: not alone the silence of your work, your preeminent artistry; nor alone your little measured tugs; but the texture of light in that room, where a halogen glare, so bright as to be tortuous elsewhere, feels subdued, atmospheric. But I’m mixing up subjects already. I think you ought to know, as my stylist, that I’m not feeling good about my hair. Please find enclosed (as well as my number, should you wish to get in touch) a photo I took yesterday – which will give you some idea how things stand. I’m pretty sure you’ll recognise me. Owing, I suppose, to how it started – my haircut, our Project – not fifteen minutes after handing you a print-off of a film still, you always do; that was late one afternoon, as I recall, not fifteen weeks since I first sat for you, when – early one night, having arranged to have dinner with a friend, having not slept at home; in order to retain an impression of freshness – as you were sweeping, I called in. Before you took the image in your hands – the sight of which resulted in you spitting an odd laugh in which I heard delight out – you slowly rubbed your palms. All those strands, you can see, have grown knotted. The whole retains its shape, it’s true. But I can’t find any comb nor a brush or a pen to push through it. I’m such a tangled mess these days. Look, I love the way you cut it. You know I do. But I’d be lying if I told you that I didn’t, sometimes, especially in the morning, imagine how much simpler it would be, had you cut it like the figure in the still which I brought in (which showed Anja Plaschg, as Bachmann, in Beckerman’s The Dreamed Ones (2016): Do you know her work? Did you recognise the cut? Had you seen the film on MUBI?) instead of stepping forward, all ambiguous, with the warmth of your waist on my neck, and the weight of your eyes so intense that I felt, watching your reflection, your gaze pierce through my skull, my cortex, and – on contact with the periscope of my pineal gland – pivot ninety, beaming out my eyes, still watching your reflection, playing with my strands between your thumb and index finger, until finally, our silence ended once again by laughter, you let go. I didn’t ask what you found funny. I didn’t move my face. My shoulders might have gotten tense. You reawakened. Frowning you picked up the image: a bowlish mullet not unlike your own; except, the fringe cut high, the forehead (though curtailed by perpendiculars, cut blunt above the ear) was kept on show. Circling me now, you – pacing back and forth like you were lining up a tracking shot, calculating geometries – returned to the storyboard at length. Eventually, you shook your head. ‘This texture,’ you declared, ‘could not produce such margins.’ As I began to stammer, you smiled tenderly: ‘Do you know you’ve got blood in each ear?’ There on the couch, in the atmospheric halogen of October, as my idle index drew a ruby flake, this all washed over me. That was the moment it started. Look, I know we’re not supposed to. But you know, I’d really like to. What if, someday of your choosing, the shutters kept low, I called in?
To a dear magic wand, mi varita,
I thank you from my heart for your gift – for your gift and for the flowers you enhanced it with. Held dear: the days spent greedily stuffing my head – as I might subtly and irresistibly poke at a sensitive tooth – with your own. Held, too: the deep grinding harmonies; the straining ear; the ragged, monitored heartbeat of a difficult patient; and those dark little landscapes, running with blood. To think that this plumiest and most dazzling of misadventures might lead – by a Turin shroud on the white tip of memory: yours, mine, from me to you, you to me; me-you, you-me, me-you, and you back again – to a clearing. You were able to grant me such comfort, such joy. The death-month of November is glowing with it (Mandelstam again: from the family of the deep-eyed). These days I am gathering up a dozen tribute roses. But away from me I see new flowers awaiting you. Forget this whole business of penetrating – I’d like to receive a few lines from you. Note I have changed my address.
I hope that doesn’t come off too familiar, my liebe – or the inscription in the book I sent might too. I wonder did you pick it up, at all? Given the synopsis on the French flaps (‘Die perte d’aureole betrifft den Poeten zu allererst,’ Walter Benjamin observed. ‘Er ist gezwungen, sich in eigener Person auf dem Markt auszustellen’). I couldn’t really blame you if you took one look then dropped it in the trash. Our showtimes clashed in Holland. But I’ve listened to your work a lot since then. (Do you know, on Bandcamp, your ‘Surrounded’ plays the same track as your ‘Creep’?) Your art is preeminent. You’ve serious taste. Yes: I should have cut the French flaps off, no doubt. Without them, it sits also in the informe. In any case, however. In any case, here’s one last thing about them: apart from the impermanence of currently, the sentence about Belfast isn’t true – not anymore. After three potted years and a sapping book of poetry, I left in September to live with my grandparents – in a house by the coast, in the suburb of Dublin I was raised – for the last few months of my granddad’s existence. In addition to the storied conversation of granny and, until he passed away, my granddad, for six months under lockdown I was fortunate to have, not just a spacious bedroom, but a makeshift office too. I didn’t get much work done there, however. Some weeks after moving in, I noticed something strange. Traced finely in the wallpaper – no longer than a matchbox, just above the lampshade – was a reel (at an angle), a line (of irregular arc) and a hook. As the paper hasn’t changed in twenty years, this fishing rod, discreetly carved, might well have been there long before my desk. Yet to sit beneath this stylised mark, however – verging as I was on madness, in grief – I found to be disquieting, at least. What could it not mean? (‘If to make a mark is already to leave one’s mark,’ writes Rosalind Krauss in The Optical Unconscious (1993), ‘it is already to allow the outside of an event to invade its inside; it cannot be conceived without the non-presence of the other inscribed within the sense of the present.’) Here, then, now, from afar, in the not greatly hopeful belief that it might drop amid your blossoms, I cast the mark with presence and a meaning. Right until the afternoon I left, I’d tacked this postcard over it: Francis Picabia’s Prenez garde à la peinture – which I got, some years ago, in Stockholm. I wonder have you ever come here, often? Might you not know a stylist here, perhaps?
Mit freundliche Wünschen,