At the End of the Day

IMG_00000136So an English man and an Indian are sitting in a bar. 

They were old enough to feel old verities calcify and enfeeble in their veins, old enough to cap and trade their vices, their happy hours. They deplored a moment the miserly, narrow lapels and trousers about the bar, the fashion calculated to save material costs around them. The badly built bling of fiscal austerity.
One says to the other
“I’m not sure this is the conversation we should be having but I will say I am a man who finds all relationship burdensome. This makes it difficult for those who love me.”
“I read today of an organisation that espouses the development of”radical empathy” through storytelling.
Oddly, I’ve grown tired of people on the radio talking about story telling, how important it is to tell one’s personal story from one’s particular, subjective point of view. On literary radio shows it seems an obligatory introductory note to strike (for interviewed and interviewer alike) before a writer holds forth on a recent brave memoir or gritty fiction. “For our stories make us what we are”, the radio guests and hosts intone “and where our stories overlap we find our common humanity.
I don’t disagree, who could dare, but the preamble gets boring, the prattle gets predictable, i flick off the sad, but ultimately edifying tale. Even if there is redemption The intro, unctuous with discovery is too often more telling than the story told. It indicates a need to sanctify or justify storytelling, it has an off-putting timorous, coy quality. And also an inflated quality.
Maybe there is more to art-product making than empathy manufacture. Perhaps there is more to literature, to writing, to art, to empathy ,to conversation, to reality, than an anthology of subjective diary pieces with overlapping, similar, passages redlined indicating the commonly human. There may be more to it than a reductionist mapping of a therapeutic, socially hygienic empathy built of mirrors and similarities. Perhaps there is a difference between creating our own stories, and creating our own realities.
There are myths and then there are popular misconceptions. Some people apparently got their narratives overlapping enough to shoot up a bourgeoisie bar in Paris. Things common to all humans are not more human than rare qualities, and are not innately edifying, or even difficult to identify.”

“I am atired of the word “iconic” as used to describe the soup can.”

“i am tired of the words “At the end of the day” preceding some banal pragmatic observation about profit.”
And the other guy says back “I appreciate your narrative”. It speaks to my own sense of language being colonised by its theorists. I’ll try to be mindful of your sensitivities while framing my commentary..”
The other guy says ” Please Don’t frame it. It’s no oil painting. Please .”

“Let me just unpack this.”

Advertisements

Watching Paint Dry

 

I’ve become a cliche reclusive. I live up the long hill past two no trespassing signs. anything I do is predictable, accountable to artistic temperament. This is irritating. My creative binges, my altered states, inspired even, are mere fugue states, embarrassing, best isolated. I agree. The paintings are more welcome out in the world and welcome to it.
I became reclusive when i came back from the deep south. I remember getting on a subway in Toronto and becoming aware that I must now modify my curiosity, my approach and my approachability in the face of indifferent Canadian reserve, which I saw now as smug cowardice.

My friend David said that I paint lovingly, that I am a loving painter. I don’t feel very loving by the time I carve out the freedom of concentration to paint. I feel spoiled and selfish behind the trespassing signs in the lane.

The young lad built a tiny house chic studio. I follow the sun and the shade around the porch of it.

This morning the sky is white and promises heat. I’m living atop a hill so the sky is big. In a pine tower so to speak.

I keep happy most days, fortunate , aware that being among people is a usual necessity, even a pleasure for most people.

People draw my attention away from my work, for in a way, people do not exist while i am working. I don’t give a rat’s rosy red right ventricle for my email and facebook is like, totally grade six. I pursue my own irrelevance.

I weary of rumination after company. It takes up time going over what was said. I don’t have a lot of visitors, it takes fortitude to climb the hill.

The young lad is a social beast. He has a clumsy eagerness for companionship that pinches at my heart. It makes me fear for his eagerness. It comforts me also to know that he will always go to people. It takes a kind of stamina i do not own. I have another kind of stamina.

When I am alone, I think sometimes of what I might say. That I do so indicates to me a lack of acceptance of solitude, an imagination avid for company, but I do wonder what to paint.The same old thing? Something new? Who cares?

My friend Bill the last time we spoke said that the smartest thing I ever said was “I make numinous objects for rich people.” Oh I can be clever.

Oh the fervent radio, the freshly informed and duly inflated host and his guests on and on about dissent and the gentrification of dissent, the gentrification of prostitution( now sex work) of music, of anything that’ll bear the freight of boredom in its search for notional authenticity.
.
Still life painting took a radio beating this morning I fear. The panelists agreed that painting was long ago cleansed of its weakness for painting,(or for being) bourgeois decorative trappings and here i sat eyeing a bowl of underappreciated and unseasonal monsanto fruit on a guilty table.

I gathered I am to paint, to illustrate talking points, the buzz memes, of the politically conscious bourgeois dining table. If not the fruit bowl. Paint the misery they decried. There lies relevance. I am to shed light on the losers.

Ah perhaps I blew my dissident wad long ago, in another country.  The message heavy painting. A signature in each line and stroke. These drove me to Thigh-master mountain.

I read…”The idea that the painting should make the educated expert eye feel naive, and should educate the naive And that the process should be pleasing.”
I read… everything in sight, and note in an old Malraux about “The subordination of the artist to a romantic or sentimental spectacle, often rooted In history”. He talks of how painting “Found its way back to poetry by ceasing to illustrate the poetic whims of historians and refusing to cater to those of an indifferent public by creating its own in paintings that do not derive their poetry from what they present, but make use of what they represent to focus their specific poetry.” Manet, Cezanne, Renoir, that crowd .

It occurred to me that then the artist himself, herself, becomes the romantic, sentimental spectacle, rooted in history.
I read Anita Brookner who says “I was not even pleased with myself for showing a modicum of moral courage, for moral cowardice would have served me better. It would also have been more welcome in the circumstances, whatever the circumstances turned out to be. It was my isolation that had so unwisely spoken, when isolation is never a good card to play.”

I was sick and tired of commentary for sale or rent. Curating was perhaps an art but it was not the art.

The slow accumulation of marks, most of them corrections, evidence gathered. the tremor of the hand and the losing of the tremor over the days.. ppalmyra, the twin towers,which did I mourn most? What good could i say? What favourite brush?. Which did I mourn more?

There’s plenty to do.
I am painting pictures from photographs I took in the back yard in Louisiana. I’m trying to make sense of unfamiliar, unnamed vegetation, complicated in drawing.

I’m following contours with my eyes and running them through the replication or interpretation processes I have running to my hand a year later. memory comes into it but not so much particular memory as general, not so much of the back garden as of the light falling on the city around it the spring days.Not hot yet, not hot still.

I paint from holiday photographs but not to photographic effect. Things people said go off like fireworks in my head. I’m using thin paint, taking off more paint than I leave.

It was a yellow ocher light so I paint on a yellow ochre ground, in thin layers, towelling off half the paint I brushed on with new Japanese brushes.

I’ve always been pretty systematic in my approach to a painting. I always had representational visions to depict but as if from a dream. That was my little sensation, that was statement enough to get me going.

I had no developed self to speak of when I began to paint. Paint was always too expensive to just throw around. I became planned and deliberate.
I choose subject matter for a sense of imperative in my belly. I often wished later I’d been a little choosier, had noticed all the details, had foreseen all the Joe work. at some time in the course of painting the thing I would understand why I had chosen the subject matter, I’d realise some private subconscious symbolism and hope it had lent intensity. I’d recognise some pattern. I’d have accessed memory and understood a little better. That was the payoff. I lacked gravity but could manage nostalgia rather well. It was just something temporary i loved.
I had a new studio and home, a sort of new beginning. I severed most daily connections to my past. The setting was bucolic. I was painting a southern garden.
Out in the studio here carpentry continues, beautifully too; the lads are building a set of stairs to the loft, a complex and nasty last task. Before i sulk totally into my tent of superior moral virtues. Meanwhile the fairly pleasant garden summer chores have been happily endless for me.

All the best pleasures in life are private and the worst things I’d rather forget than write down. The terrain is hometown rural. On a really good day the lad will tether the old canoe up on the half-ton and we’ll crank up and hit the back roads. Put in someplace along the river, paddle up and drift back down. You rarely see a soul.

In heat it feels like the Nile, the iris in spring gliding by and later on in the summer the water lilies, simple and yellow or lotus complex and white, compact or sprawling open in warm water. The dragonflies with their cartoon curiosity in helicopter flight, whirring like paper, clicking like opening fans. The little origami water bugs and spiders. The paper thin tissue of a perfect summer day.
I like the heat more than he does. He tends to mild nausea and cold compresses. But I will fire up the wood stove at home on a gray cool day in July just to take off the chill.

We listen to top forty country on the radio and heartily praise the few good tunes that get through to us. He knows all the words and when to sing them ironically. I can grow sentimental if deftly manipulated. I stare out the window and occasionally glance in the mirror checking out my sex appeal.

After a little time on up river we’ll drift back to the landing; today he swam along behind me while i paddled. We loaded up and drove to a high point where he could get a clear signal across the evening blue receding hills, the dirt road like a roll of ribbon tossed out behind us, and make a few calls.

We visited a friend, recently a widower and we walked around the garden. This friend and I know similar terrain, grief, and I represent to him, I know, a crude survival of suicidal bereavement, in my present almost obscene thriving. As I believe his wife, who I loved too, would have me, gently and consistently remind him. And I should nag at him in her voice a bit too, about drink, or about flying off the handle at idiots, though god knows neither one of us can talk. Not with a straight face about that.

He keeps finding things he had no idea she had planted. Nobody to talk to at night. Try to get him painting something sensible. “Grander the scale the better with him,”she’d say, “He was a goddam house painter for years after all.”

I can ask him things like whether he is aware of missing the intensity of an emergency of love, still doing things as she would have them done, whether he misses having his priorities clarified by real emergency. “I used to lay and listen to her breathing,”he said “That was my function for two years.”

I recall the last few days of words from a lost friend .

“I always kept my hat in the right hand pocket of my coat.”

“Not another summer…”

“You’ll fall in love again within a few years.”

I Could Have Disappeared

grand isle

 

“Letter writing may be an exile’s main occupation” I read this morning. I haven’t written a letter in a long time now. I wrote too many long letters. The memory of them embarrasses me now. I have no need to personally address anyone near or on a far shore any more.

Like I said I’ve been doing the wrong thing all my life and it’s starting to pay off at last. I knew it would  too. All along. I recall getting up in the morning and seeing the water frozen in the white enamel basin and the white of the snow in the yard behind the frost on the window. Then I’d watch adult hands poking at coals in the wood stove, roiling up a fire. This was when I  was a child and this was me this winter in the new studio cabin.   Everything lights up like a Vermeer  when the room warms up at last. I can’t help it if I’m lucky.

I’ve felt disinclined to write here. I’ve been writing fiction (PIGTOWN) so my Jones to write has been satisfied.

I live on forty acres of bush, try to stick to the property. The lad and myself live in two small cabins side by side on a hilltop. We’ve got solar and a good key start generator, hot running water this winter. Nice old steam punk wood stove in the main cabin. Chainsaw sharpened on the kitchen table. Third polar world latrine until another year. We have our devices and desires lined up.

168342_10150104627752328_226375_n

I generally take to the roads every little while but this year I’ve pretty much stayed by. Last time I took to the road I wrote “I’ve been a little testy lately, needed to get out. I needed to go to the city and put the finishing touches on a portrait of a friend. I sensed he was moving on, transcending a time. He seemed deeply happy. I too was happy. Neither of us quite approved of the other’s choice perhaps.

He had never crossed over into my day-to-day life but I knew his little neighbourhood well and could disappear into it. I think perhaps that we loved one another too calmly and comfortably to notice that the clarity and scope of our mutual regard was rare. It remains. But I needed to put the finishing touches on a portrait of him. He had the idea that the leash he held in his hand needed painting out.

So I travelled to him, arriving late for a concert to his mild-mannered fury. My country life seemed an absurdist corn pone tale at dinner.

I painted out the dog leash in his hand and the painting was better for it. Now the centre has no distraction.”

 

I did a round of the bars. Nothing changes much, these giggling ingenues, these café patios in spring, these alternative lifestyles stamped out like legal tender. That hippy girl schtick dreck never dies. No boy ever puts away the last straw jazz fedora. Now the Rolling Stones pound away fresh as a migraine, dreadfully familiar, sympathy for the devil running its course.

Sometimes I just need to get away.

It isn’t always pleasant or easy but I like to be alone in transit. I like to take an exit and test my own stamina for solitude be it public or private. I like to know I can still get around the transit systems and the rooms for one of solitude, manoeuvre the resistance to loneliness and the sense of unjustified defection, of wantonness, that creeps up on me in cafes.

I like to test my stamina for sociability too. I need to test my flexibility. I put myself through some twists and turns, a little bit of road trip yoga.

1919313_207999522327_7431134_n

Sometimes I think it’s the Indian in me but I hate it when people want to know my whereabouts, like my daddy hated it before me, old Disappearing Joe. I piss people off because I don’t answer my phone. I fail to respond. I have no response ability. I write and I paint and I need to be alone to find my little visions. I do not sit outside in one place in the snow or black-flies with my open air kit. I’d rather listen to “The War on Drugs” in the windless studio. I like mowing the grass. Perhaps that is the white eyed small town boy in me.

I feel trapped, even pausing briefly, in transit but I stop in here, in this café, in this little city outside the metropolis where I have a connection to make.

And praise Jaysus nothing ever changes. On the café patio old friends stare a bit then recognise, wreathed in smiles, my thin face, aged a year, aged years. These are people who can quote my own words back at me with an ironic smile.

I am, we are, here, once more in the ghost café, in the tavern near the fountain of our youth, which  ingenues newly inhabit, generations of them now these afternoons, these evenings and of course I think we had more style , were more focused on our visceral callings. We hadn’t had them gouged out of us by the new world order maybe. We had other collective memory, hopes and plans, other educations.

61235_443885107327_4586289_n

I talked to a white kid last night who couldn’t catch a biblical reference in the course of conversation. He’d never heard of Lot’s wife turning to salt, for looking backwards. He shuddered when I  explained it to him, was sorry I had been raised in such darkness, shuddered as if at Christianity’s colonial criminality, at some personal memory of correction, censor, racism, church activity. So be it, long live Dr. Seus, who this kid could quote. Knee jerk adolescent life styles.

I was raised memorizing the good book and I can think about Christ’s parables without the rancour of the brutally colonized. I can separate Christ from Paul and his new church order.

I sometimes contemplate words attributed to Christ in my endeavours, crazy as they be, mere trinkets. Mere drug. Mere infection. Manifestations of the saviour archetype. His words have a certain  koan like genius for me.

This kid was full of contradictions. He didn’t mind homophobia and sexism in battle rap but he took umbrage at the church for those things. He said ” You gotta put it in context dude. It isn’t the content dude, it’s the art.”

I thought “You’d eat a shit sandwich if it was hip.”

1919313_207604557327_3886342_n

The bible begins “In the beginning was the word.” To tell the story. And later the word was made flesh and dwelt among us. That would be Jaysus. Anyway you can see the righteous secular lefty cultural critique running in these kids like ticker tape behind their eyes and mine too and some times I just have to get away for a bit.

Self important, we parse every sentence we hear for  political shading, allegiance, taste. We are known, judged by what we consume. We remind me of the Baptists of my childhood. I duck out in the alley and look up at the stars. I grab a smoke.

62461_447033527327_2532715_n

I am just passing through. I have enjoyed limited success. As people do. I drank here, what, ten years ago with my friend the Polish symphony conductor in his tuxedo. I poured him into his swallow tails, loaded, across the street in my studio, dressing him before the small mirror which he, almost dwarf like, scarcely required, for I was a diligent dresser, a stern, detached ballast. We regarded one another, knowingly, me the half breed painter, coveting the western canon, him the Polish refugee running the Beethoven through his head, cursing the sawing provincial strings section, eye to eye with me, over his small, elegant burden of a shoulder in the mirror.

We could never resist some flourish to irritate the committee that wanted him to play the Beatles set to faux classical arrangements. Something to hum. Something good for tourism. He’d tell them to fuck their mothers. I’d ready him to take the stage, and he would take it. In the little dry fuck provincial Canadian concert hall here. It was a comfortable class tension between us.

He was kicked out of Poland because he wouldn’t cast as soprano ingenue some fat old broad contralto girlfriend of somebody important. He said this. I can imagine that last straw and whatever else he said and did. He found himself the other side of the Polish border with about a hundred pounds in his pocket. Young, charming.

He made his way to Canada where he got to live in a church basement in exchange for teaching the choir. He hot-wired himself some hydro down there in that cold -charity Anglican cellar and learned English from a junk store TV. He clawed his way out of charity and low Anglican chorales. My lover put him in a novel.

I am too tired ten years after he drew his last perfectly pitched breath to even tell his story. I miss my hearth and home. I’m travelling city to city on a trip I can ill afford, like Herzog, so I can come home.

1919313_207604557327_3886342_n

I’ve been doing the wrong thing all my life. It is beginning to pay off. Still everyone is temporary. Stan died neatly, alone. He’d just finished a  European tour. He thought he’d put his feet up. He sat down on his couch and gently keeled over.  Home in triumph. He looked miscast, but beautiful like Nureyev in that awful movie playing Valentino. But shorter.

I’d take him fishing on a little northern lake, sometime in the off-season. We poached bass in tequila. We’d drink round a camp fire while his crazy, slanderous wife slept badly in the  indignity of a tent. She fretted in her sleeping bag like a nagged heart attack waiting to happen.

They were both small and handsome. She was fussy for clothes and wrote romantic novels in which a figure like herself did very well indeed. He’d been a violinist in his youth but he broke a hand and turned to conducting.

On the night I remember now he’d just got back from touring his little youth orchestra around Europe. He’d been booted out once but he was home, playing the halls of his youth. Not playing orchestral arrangements of Beach Boy hits to up attendance in Butt-fuck Ontario Canada this time. No.

The little woman was upset that he’d ruined her European tour. He took her, he took his orchestra, to Auschwitz. She told me it was  boring, that he needed to forget the past, to get over himself.

By the campfire he told me stories about his family carted off to genocide. Just unnecessary baggage. Just history. It was not as glamorous touring with an orchestra as she had expected. She was badly read, but to the bone. I’m being cruel but that litigious bitch was more so. She was once a friend. She had her charms and one would have to have them. She had to put up with him at home.

These were our stomping grounds. We came and went.

I live on the dirt road now, where my family came from. I was always an anomaly there but now I have approval for doing what folks once discouraged. I am an artist and I am good for tourism. My lover wraps me in a seersucker barber cloth and shaves me to go away to the cities. He would like for me to do better. I’ll miss the apple blossoms this year, The lilacs too. Running the roads.

320548_10150399937287328_1911323142_n

I miss so much.  When I shut my eyes just now to shelter them from the bar light and people for a moment the mental image reel I saw was one of  those slow motion test houses in early nuclear test films, prefab, blowing apart. But it is all right I know. I’m overwhelmed by memory in a barroom I used to frequent. I am in the city for a concert.

There is a theatre upstairs. Old friends wave me near. They call my name, take flesh and step out of Facebook where we network and self advertise.

I sneak out in the alley for smoke and a muscle relaxant. I am more muscular now but I hurt all over from piling firewood. My t-shirt is old blue silk. I wear a new denim jacket, I have a twenty-eight inch waist in skinny jeans, low-rise, and Cuban heels. My silver and turquoise belt buckle is Navajo, a hand-made cluster of metal squash blossoms. Hipster shit.

My luggage is light, black, a pack sack and a soft leather brief case. My skin is a little crepey at the collar-bone. My hair is briskly shorn. My beard was shortly trimmed on the porch at home by large rough hands, kind mostly, holding a new clipper machine. The cloth was tight in a nice way around my throat. How lonely I am there where I was born, have always been, while at once so privy to details, and how sparing one is with ones own details, and how incurious we are.

Manoeuvring through one another’s’ prohibitions and allowances, filters, shortage of filters, insights and delusions, it isn’t easy. I crawl off exhausted and alone to the woods for days on end alone to escape human congress, to process the data, and they phone and warn me I’ll go mad for the lack of real engagement.

I heard myself lose my frayed wayfaring temper last night here in the bar. A little hipster nearest me down the plank didn’t like the word Indian. I said “It’s an ‘Indian’ thing” when I ordered a blue light. He came back from the john, leaned over and gently informed me, that the word offended him. He was taking a native studies course and had learned a lot lately about how language was used to further notions of racial inferiority.

some uncle

“Or notions of hipster superiority”, says I. Sometimes these lads  miss the irony they are  rumoured live by. He thought I  strayed into the wrong bar. I’ve been hauling firewood for a week and ran away from the fucking black flies.

I smiled my disarmingly dentured best.

As did the bartender.

I said “Don’t tell me what to call myself so you feel better about it all  sir.”

I said to the bartender “This summer  I’m getting outa the bush. I’m gonna sit right here drinking apricot flavored beer and explore my white heritage with this dude. Fuck this indigenous bullshit.

I’m gonna start an alternative band, dig out my old blues guitar. Yah. White guys with guitars, that’ll be new and exciting.  Perfumed beer. Boot cut jeans.  Trinkets of other cultures dude. Brand new signifiers.  Blonde dreads.

I’ll quit sucking dick and hook up with a trust fund hippy chick named Ariel and we’ll transcend traditional heterosexual roles. Frida Callow panty liners, everything open source, wants to be a shaman. Finds Beyonce empowering. Workshops her feelings. I could watch her make out with a chick.”

He was quiet now and I felt foolish but I had an audience. People are sensitive but they aren’t fragile.

“Buck Owens by heart dude, welcome to the white side of town.  It’s a rainbow world. Stick around you might learn something. Native friçking studies indeed. I am  a fricken native study, tattoo boy. Fuck you. Stick to the trades dude. Tar sands are hiring.”

media-20150321-5

Sometimes I lose it. I try to be funny but fail. I could see the hipster kid adjust his preferences,  condescend to an interesting eccentric to whom he would show  indulgence. I might have some retro trappings he could absorb.

He explained in a folksy manner that he’d just been protecting the ambiance in the bar, wanted everyone to feel safe in self-expression but the word “Indian”. Man, it was a relic of colonialism didn’t I think. He started in again. And this bar was a nice little alternative place where queers and forward thinkers could feel safe.

“So you thought you’d just assume the missionary position and make sure we all spoke your language did ya? Totally excellent dude.”

We had a warm moment.

The bartender guy owns the place. Used to be a kid hung around my studio. He ordered a bottle of bourbon to his own table on the patio. He waved me out to join him.  He said “Smooth rock, that was smooth. On the house. Yer now on the official indigenous aboriginal first nations list and that entitles you to free calming bevies just before the gender bending folk singer.” We sipped.

“Nice to see you still know  how mind your p’s and q’s in the big city.  Ya know when yer not in a two-story town anymore.” He gestured at the street of the café district. “Count em. three. That little hobbit is sensitive..”

We lit up his little electric cigarettes.

media-20150321-1

I tell him I believe I am suffering from an awful dose of acidie. He doesn’t know what that is and I explain that it is the unwillingness to do good. He says ‘Oh that. I was afraid for a minute there you were mixing drugs and alcohol.” I laugh. He says he was afraid I was holding back on him.

I say “I can’t keep up the simplest correspondence any more. I have no response ability.

“Not meeting your Facebook quotas?”

“Not approving my blog comments either. I don’t give a fuck about my stats.”

“Lot of bullshit really, isn’t it. Yer still painting? Billy said you were hanging a show. Some Indian thing.”

“Guy was curating a show of Metis art at some gallery in a bank. I sent him pics. He wanted all my stock. I pack it and deliver. Typical uber busy, Activist hashtag etc. So he hung the show. I Never heard a thing about date and time for an opening, never got a fucking invite to the damn thing. Now I know I’d look better in a suit than that chubby little swine in skinny pants, I had to wonder. Love the crime hate the criminal here or what? Or maybe I don’t look Injun enough to illustrate his thesis. And I had to write him twice after like three months to get him to etransfer the fucking piddley-ass honorarium. Not even data for my like Metis artist CV man, which I need to flesh out since we only got our status cards in 2013.”

IMG_20150320_171001~2

“Jaysus, wasn’t that pretty much the plot of Bert’s novel?”

“Isn’t it just?”

“I can never deny Bert a certain prescience I think they call it.”

“He was an intelligent brute.”

“And he was tortured by his own cheap sentiment. Remember him saying that?”

“No but I only saw his so-called bad side.”

“The harsh side only came out when he was drinking. He was worse than me. The so-called good side was sentimental. But I think the writing came out of the two sides tempering one another. He got to unite them for a bit maybe. More than most people get to do.”

“It was grand to watch.”

“Yah I still have his papers. I put the novels up on-line. Here’s to the art hags.”

“Here’s to em. Bitches one and all.”

I sneak a real smoke and a piss in the back alley thinking how I hardly recognize my face in the  graffiti ringed mirrors of this part of town. I’m back, passing through.

I don’t do anything too exotic for me on these little jaunts. I would, perhaps, should I be so lucky. I am to visit a friend tomorrow, make some changes to a painting on his wall. And sign the thing.

I’ve got a paintbrush or two that do what I want them to do. I’ve got my nexus tablet. I have a cheap little set of paints. I’ve got a change into dress clothes. Two good suits. The boots will go any place they have to go. Couple disposable razors and such. Smoke and fire. Pills.  I wear a corduroy cowboy jacket with a sheepskin collar. Very bareback mountain. I carry sensibly recent compact technology. I packed my Japanese high tech long johns for the evenings.

A skinny man gets chilly, evenings walking around aimlessly. Damp gets to me. There’s some sort of chaos at the centre of my life essentially if you can call it that. I feel it in the chill.

media-20150321-6

I’ve been making a motif of this model off and on for a few years now. It’s a pattern now for me, him sitting, sometimes with his dog, on a park bench. The best of these paintings is somewhere in Japan. The second best is on his wall.

My model is a Japanophile so it was odd that a Japanese woman sat in a gallery contemplating all one afternoon before buying a little painting of a stern man calmly on the lookout with a dog leash held in his hands between his knees in his hands on a park bench and off she flew. On the park bench beside him was the single word life “life” sprayed large. Face I’ve studied.

Some people you remember the first time you saw them. She will remember likewise the first time she saw that little painting. That’s kind of nice. It’s what  it is all about.

“Art is evidence” a friend said “I have always believed that.” She didn’t say what it evidenced, or incriminated but I know the good she meant. She is someone I know from the blog and then on Facebook. Some friends you never put a face on.

As near as I can tell.

media-20150324-3

While I’m thinking of a bar in the French quarter, my little nephew,in the parallel universe of family, will trudge up the icy hill on another outing, putting far more energy into walking than is required. He’ll be heading to the studio perhaps or just gone for a stroll. The little ugly town is such that it is safe for him to do so. He won’t be dressed warmly enough to satisfy his grandmother. She also lives on his street.

media-20150321-5

He may be making the sounds of cars or reciting catechism, or muttering the sounds of a scolding. He’ll be alone at age five or six and no one will ever know, soundly striking his floppy galoshes heels to the ice and the salted pavement and the sidewalk, taking those long exaggerated strides he learned from keeping up with me. He’ll mountain climb snowbanks. He is self amusing, able to play alone, to amuse himself. There are pop cans to kick and hard nuggets of ice, down the other side of the hill again into town and the tawdry, hopeful Christmas lights.

His memory impresses me. Nothing slips his mind it seems. Nothing.

“What will happen while I am away?” That is the question. “When what little control I imagine I have is gone? When I can no longer from immediacy try to make sense, to care, to scorn wisely?” The place will never love me enough in return, never accept me as I am, or know me, for it prefers no details, my privacy really. But it will be home, betraying me with change, outlasting me, moot and undocumented. Who will shovel snow from the old lady’s driveway at the top of the hill while I am away?

media-20150321-4

The little lad is passing it now, watching his own unbuckled boots. He doesn’t know that in the little aluminium shed behind the little house there is a giant turtle shell and on the shelf above it there is an eagle’s wing. I was waiting till he was old enough not to tell the world and then I’d show them to him. His cheeks and his nose and his fingertips are rosy with the cold. Mittens and hats will only keep you warm if you put them on properly.

Past the place we found the snake skin one hot summer afternoon. The gossamer look of a garter snake skin and the strength of it. The explanation for it being there on the scratch concrete sidewalk, dry in the heat. The allure of ditches. We kept that skin in a box in his dresser drawer. That year he became a talkative going concern. How it would scratch in the roughness to release the sheath of an old skin.

media-20150324-4

“I could have just disappeared.” That’s what one of my aunts would have said after describing in rapturous detail an embarrassing moment. I could have just fallen through the floor. Pride comes before a fall. Don’t be bold.

They left me with a love for country music and the Robert Lowell poem “Skunk Hour.” That old lonesome me. Countered by fantasies about just disappearing. Countered by or in tandem. I disappeared off to New Orleans last year. Part of me never came back to this snow and northern yard axe.

In the winter I like to putter around in the yard light and moon light on the snow. Split a little wood and stare into middle space. I’ll get an idea. I’ll disappear.

The fear inherent in the fresh apprehension, I feel that in my gut when I’m drawing fairly well.

Lately a few portraits of a studio kid from years ago, from photographs.

I wanted to paint him looking at the painter like he used to look at me – loving, amused, flattered and irritated by my affection.  interested more in my technique than my talk.

I painted lovingly, his face, the back streets of New Orleans, the gathering snow piling up around the red wheelbarrow left out in the yard. I painted our winter coats hanging on nails. I painted the lad reading the paper at a diner table in Memphis. I’d look up from my fixation at the canvas and wonders  for a split second what town or situation I was in.

media-20150324-2

I kept trying to write things down here . I worked at a long piece called “I Could Have Just Disappeared” but I never posted it. That’s comedy.

Those cafes, those embraces, those dismissals, those living or dead, those were my life, my friends. I always looked for deeper, greater friends, I always wanted a more sympathetic place. I craved isolation, detachment too. But those were my friends, my scenery, and this is my solitude, in public transit and I so loved them. I just couldn’t accept that this was my life yet, and undervalued everything until it was almost too late.

Often I saw crows like messengers or cryptograms flung up from passing forests and parking lots, from  carrion, from garbage cans in the accursed snow

In Toronto fat little sparrows scuffled over a Mcfry outside the Pretty Tipsy Nail Salon in a blizzard in a cedar bonsai up at Winston’s on Saint Claire when I stepped out in the freezing sleet to smoke. I always make my way to see him when I’m in town but today he isn’t there and that hipster waiter’s no good for business.

People in Hogtown dress to be noticed but they go snooty if they catch you desiring or sizing them up. It’s a city of ice queens. They dress slutty like fashion models and walk like librarians. Especially the men.

But tonight ill see the full moon reflected in a Delta flight wing.

media-20150321

A day or two later and I’m in three-piece business suit drag by day, a little tweedy for  Louisiana even when its cool in march. I don’t thaw out quickly. A suit keeps the hippies and anarchist freaks at bay.

He had a routine established, knew cafes with simple coffee and clean facilities, wireless feeds, and staff who were not too fashionable to forget his face, to exchange a few words of recognition, which he found he treasured. He’d had the word ‘expat’ flicker lately unbidden across his mind. Though he could not now describe his Canadian self as an expatriate in America, he was aware of the word flickering, as if on wings overhead occasionally, among others above the square. He felt he could stay, that he could internalize the descriptor. He felt that an understanding could be accepted, reached if not grasped by the remains of his family, his few immediately affectionate, presently snowbound attachments and himself.

They would confess to one another in time that they had always been surprised he’d stayed at home so long anyway.

10378159_10153183549192328_7507325508501039793_n

I’m a freak magnet but in a suit I disappear to them.  The alternative is a bore. Knee jerk lifestyles . self constructed  ghettos for street cred, enclaves for retirement.

Lad likes em, he’s young, but I get stifled.

He and I kept a wood fire going five months in the snow up north, kept warm, but my arms still ache from swinging the axe. Now its warm night in black leather. I like wandering alone, no connection to make. He finds friends. Nobody knowing where I am. Looking. Palm fronds above my table, the sound of a night train. Walking home last night we got held up by a mile of still, wheezing iron and clambered up and through between the cars under this gibbous moon. I stepped on a possum last night, coming out of a late dive bar, almost went up my leg, kicked it aside. No lie. Ah the south.

10394518_10153183548012328_1247535655836756823_n

Thought I’d write. Things are good. I’m thawed out, winter seems a long way off, a long flight away from New Orleans. It’s easy to slide into this amiable life here, easy to forget the snow, but the aches of winter persist, sore elbows from the axe and the woodpile, a sore knee from stepping too high to the porch, lugging lumber before they built steps for the new studio, just the stiffness of bearing that the ice and the icy people give me there persist into age and warm climes and the warm manners here.

Sometimes I’ll miss the wolf coloured grey silence of the woods, I sense the big city rumble under everything I do and I miss the visual simplicity of the leafless hills, the drift of snow, even the loneliness of the hilltop we call, half heartedly here almost, home. But Americans are generally incurious about the interior landscape I carry in memory and do not indulge my nostalgia. For that I am grateful, it is therapeutic and bracing.

IMG_20150320_114205~2~2~2~2

Long trains hoot and grind and rumble through the Bywater neighbourhood here and take me back to childhood where and when trains still ran.  I used to run out and wave and the men in the caboose would indulge me.

The spring morning is the day’s sweet spot. Flowers I can’t name, vines roiled up over the fence lines, the smell of seawater and buckled pavement, they do me good. That sense of being returned by New Orleans, on some essential if forgotten level, to childhood persists, especially keenly these mornings.

I’ve mentioned that here before. Always listen to repeated things people say. Watch for patterns, study the wallpaper .

IMG_20150320_170447~3

You’re always looking for a triggering moment so a piece of writing or painting will come. You hope or know there’s a whole lot going on underground in the subconscious, something incessant taking notes like childhoods god, observant and usually saddened in the sky. This underground activity is stuff you have never fully realised. This is what you don’t know you do. According to the scriptures even the good lord forgave his crucifiers because they didn’t know what they were doing. So knowing what you are doing you may render you accountable. Ah the examined life.

2013-11-29 17.32.34~2

Anyway I waited inspiration. I wanted to write one of those day in the life things like Virginia Woolf in “Mrs Dalloway,” about my street in my little home town where for the old families it feels like the vernacular is threatened by the outlandish. I wanted to write something understanding, with a social and environmental overview.

I looked for patterns in days and behaviour as if for clues, for a Matisse pattern background that would unite everything disparate in the figure in the foreground.

You don’t necessarily know why or what the thing triggers when it does. Maybe it is best not to know why you begin to paint or portray something. Not knowing why keeps the curiosity and the eye sharp. You understand what the impulse was to start with later on. You write a little narrative in your head and tell it maybe to an interested party, a shrink is best.

 

Since last spring I’ve wanted to portray for  posterity a little day on my mother’s old small town street before days like them are grown up and old and gone from my life. Little particulars and peculiarities of place and people required affectionate note. My little grand nephew decided he was too old to take my hand crossing the street on our round of junk stores and indulgences. I never got around to writing the piece but I felt time ticking all year as I assiduously applied myself to other things

2015 - 1-3

I wanted to write about my mother, who is a bit of a hoarder. A life spent sorting through accumulated items, trying to part, trying to understand attachment. Overwhelmed by things. Charmed. Time ruining slow, fast, out. Guilty about the abundance. Feeling the paucity. Longing to pare things down, for simplicity.

I’m not a shy person but my mother was shy and shyness coloured my world so I notice it. Instead of telling us to shut up my grandparents and aunts always told us when we spoke out-of-place or turn  “Don’t be bold.” But maybe they were wise to chide our daring mouths, our lip. My mother, the shyest of the lot, laughed sweetest of us all when she dared point out an inconsistency in thought in the emotional maniacs in our clan.

The sweetness of the laughter in her and her sisters encouraged their kids to be entertaining. Their comic aims weren’t high, just getting through a meal without an argument was enough, or just getting things said without tragic drama, dispelling a little tension, pointing out a minor hypocrisy, an undue boldness on another’s’ part.

I’m running on airport mode to save power. Story of my life

10309174_10153183546147328_5508833388855252260_n

“And what will happen while I am away?” When I’m gone. She wonders. Will my stuff just go into the garbage? Will they even bother having a yard sale?

While I’m in the city my aunt Betty will be up in the manor, still deftly covering her blunders as Alzheimer’s creeps in on her. On a warm day mom will go and get her and they’ll sun in the back yard like they always did, aimlessly analysing us all with their shoulder straps down. They will squint up into the old apple tree. They will bemoan their own thighs, the crepeyness of their skins. They will discuss the yard with its demands, nagging when you sit in the sun.

They will watch the glinting river and its spring height, noted as to flux.

They’ll talk about the small daily scandals, broadcast or concealed for the sakes of intimacy and strangerhood.

I find I miss my little nephew when I travel, our five years of walks, tugged along on a leash by one horrid dog or another, the worst of them the most loved.

He was early on a knowing little diplomat and he learned early to laugh knowingly about the ” Don’t ask, don’t tell” aspect of each of our lives in family and company.

Never the less each morning as I wake I swim up through waves of nostalgia, a sense of our helplessness against the ruthless give and take of time. I don’t seem to dream about that street. I wake in loving arms, often. I think of family awakening to the rooms I know, of the morning habits and the gazes into the coming day, days, and into the past. I think  of how they do when I am away, and I am so often away. Selfish to a fault. I never got the ceiling tiles fixed in the basement apartment at my mother’s house. I could have walked up to the manor to visit my old aunt. I never…

How my grandmother grew such flowers people stopped their cars to see, and how her great grand daughter moves about a garden with the same gestures, the rough dead heading, the gentle slap more than a caress, the hips shaped the same, the walk, the right arm swinging gently as she/they walk, held a little out from the body.

And the same bluntness about the way you live your life, make your bed and lay in it or run from it in my case. To get away and try not to wonder how it is when you are away.

The little lad threw his arms around me and cried when I came home from new Orleans.

2013-12-17 12.48.05~2

He’s learning how to spot a decadent lightweight early. It won’t make him a happier man, it might render him useless, make an outsider of him. He’s had a sharp critical faculty since day one. At seven he mixes my paint for me. He knows how to cool or warm a color. He hasn’t any use for realism yet, finds my method tedious. He picks up technical jargon in the studio and displays it for clients like he thought it all up on his own but as yet the notion of meaning in a painting is just beginning to dawn on him, emotional content. I wonder if he will ever read Proust or become equipped for life.

I remember how he told my mother he was going to church for his first concussion and she and I laughed. She didn’t correct him and next day when I asked him how his concussion went he gave me a quick dirty look, quickly changed subjects.

We were sitting watching the trees wave and he said oddly that he’d dreamed I’d gone up into the sky. I felt a chill and changed the subject.

He and his brother are a Cain and Abel of a pair, it worries us all.

I wonder if old aunt Betty ever learned to use her new cell phone, her forgetful mind and sharp, perfect manicure feigning a southern blonde’s languid surety and sense of entitlement on the large keys. The little lad flounced in his snow boots into mom’s kitchen one day, the gospel radio playing as ever and he asked her “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, why is it always Jesus around here?” I wouldn’t have had his nerve.

She said “Cause he’s the boss.

“Well he’s not the boss of me.”

I put  on my oldest living male left in the family voice and told them “I would rather not listen to you two discussing theology this early in the morning, may I say?”

“He started it.” Said she.

I wonder what will happen while I’m gone, the curse and blessing in my abandoning. Whether my departure will overlay intimacy, joy, with resentment.

I know the kid will forget his own self, the self  I remember clearly with sharp pangs of love, hope and foreboding.

2013-12-11 21.59.33~2

I remember when I smell freshly mowed grass as the street car rumbles up Saint Charles, past mansions, how he and I walked up our humble street and I told him to keep his head down, I didn’t want Mrs. Maxwell to see me cause then I’d have to cut her fricken lawn. He exaggerated his stealth like some cartoon with skinny legs as we passed her little house and I thought “Jesus, she’ll see that”, and half laugh to herself, her Indian laugh, dry and knowing. I said “Cool it. I told her I’d do it yesterday but I had more profitable ways to spend an hour.”

“You could show me that surprise in the tool shed if you’d just do what you said you’d do. You should have told the truth right from the start.” He said, looking up at me.

“Thank you for that grandma”, said I.

I always keep a person I know in mind to address while I take these notes, it isn’t a general address, same with a painting. My cousin says my paintings are too personal, she likes a nice landscape. Others say I’m “too much about beauty” and I don’t enough address social concerns. I say otherwise a man’s just making posters, providing illustration for some curatorial thesis, painting the word and there’s enough dry fucks to fill those quotas.

Down the bar the girls are decorating potatoes to toss to the crowds on Saint Patrick’s day, orange and green, and outside the coloured beads dangle from fences and trees. It’s about ten in the sweet morning. I had coffee last couple mornings with a race car driver from Mississippi. The lad seems happy here too. I got a city in mind while I write and a lot of beauty to paint.

 

2015 - 1-2

images and text by Rocky Green.

New Orleans

 

Image

Louisianan, Mississippi, Georgia, Florida, Tennessee. Place names in songs. The lad likes his tickets and he likes to go. It took some talking to get me to go but he’s showing me all those place names now, those cities mentioned in the songs.

I’m having coffee now in East Nashville with a soft toffee candy wrapped in clean crisp plastic and a medicine glass of Perrier set to the side on the little teak tray in a coffee bar on a dismal Sunday at dusk waiting for him now. I drink resenting the price from a child’s tea-set sized espresso cup. Nothing special for all the presentation. Less than standard fare dressed up. Each beverage is made individually by a slow young hippy, there are several of them, stylish and unaccustomed to labour, let alone the deep science of making a cup of fucking coffee. My technician looks like Jesus in skinny jeans. He’s very pleasant but has no glimmer of intellect.

The lad and I were mildly flattered that the staff thought we were musicians in town to perform, not mere hobos. We do look road-rough. We look like roadies. I keep my beard trimmed and shaped to his tastes pretty much. He always looks good, young. He got asked for proof of age in the cowboy bars in Nashville and in New Orleans when we went out to swing dance among the heteros for the joy in getting away with it. This drug dealer in the back streets of the French Quarter wondered was I the lad’s father. We struck up friends with him one night on the strength of a Skinny Puppy reference overheard in passing on a dark little side street. This tall skinny black man with a french accent in a sort of black frock coat and long legs in skinny jeans, he’d done his time in Iraq and he had no patriotic illusions. He remembered glory days on this street when he was young before Katrina and he wondered was I the lad’s father and we chuckled about that standing, leaning we three into one another under the black overhanging leaves. He had been to Montreal in the winter and shook his head in shock at the memory of snow.

I said to the lad I’m gonna die of a heart attack chasing you around the deep heart of Dixie and he wondered could I think of a better way to go. These gentle useless waiters don’t look like they just got back from a tour of afghanistan, but who knows.

10151368_821512347862466_1366230666_n

 

There are more white people here in Nashville. There’s the glaze of privilege over this coffee bar, of the gentrification that seems to so many people I talk to subtle but relentless. The little wartime houses in east Nashville flip between market purges. Just now people are “hearting” this neighbourhood with little red valentines cartooned on t shirts and fridge magnets. Coffee houses like this have sprung up. bed-headed boys tap at their recent machinery while sipping dark roast, savour fragrant, girlish, revolting teas. They have the academic bohemian silhouette that comes with a liberal arts degree and their bodies are honed from running the endemic race for the authentic.

They are shy and uncertain under smug poise contrived from media and other nurture. They are shy and polite when they take my order, if slow as molasses in January to do so.

just now one asks if he can take a chair from my table to this own for a friend. He is polite. I am older and somebody taught him some manners but he’d like my table too and he is not getting it. Perhaps I have poise though I do not feel it. That friend is is unwrapping his black dirty mohair winter scarf with a quiet, confident stripper’s  flourish near by. Y

ou are uninterested really but to test your vanity you leant into the small group of posed young men while you rearranged chairs feeling the air with your whole body for a pleasurable shudder in one of them and found it and later in the parking lot grabbing a smoke you exchanged names and  traveller’s precis.

What passes for winter here is my Canadian autumn. Here you have cafe society in a rainy weather funk of rumpled layers of natural silhouette, alternative roots music style clothing . Here is the balancing act to the crass commercialism and corporation country music downtown. Here the houses seem plain and aloof from one another like plain, snooty white post war baptists on my own street at home, or like alternative music stylites on solitary purist perches. I cant see much beauty here in white Nashville after the narrow, pastel shotgun rows in new Orleans, after the languid fireworks in figure and gesture in day to day people there.

We went to see the Grand Old Opry at the Ryman last night and then we drank along the boozy commercial gully below it, found a brightly lit bar with a lot of determinedly attired people . There was a canny bouncer at the door keeping most of the newly bought cowboy hats and the hysterical finger-pointing drunk white girls outside in the street, Everybody in the bar was just this side of tawdry but were managing sleaze and reverse snobbism fairly well as the night wore on and the slumming boot heels took the occasional lunge or slur.

We’re thinking of flying back to New Orleans. We felt more alive and closer to ourselves there, more inclined and allowed to be ourselves for good or ill. the iron balconies like ink drawings overhead in the french quarter, and the rumpled sidewalks under our boot heels on back farther streets, the last roses frazzled, dirty lingerie pink, ragged palm fronds slapped silly by wind and rain, The afternoon swing dance at the SpottedCat. The people who know enough to say hello when you meet them on the street, know enough not to veer into pretending you don’t exist, into northern bad manners. Up north it seems that everyone’s pretending to go home to a personal space where a state of equal parts style and grace reigns over a private life so calibrated it seems effortless as it unwinds its scarf at a table nearby.

I’d forgotten Degas spent awhile in New Orleans, but we drove by his house and it was pointed out to us. I amused myself imagining him walking there and the street was old romantic enough I could almost fool my self I could see back in time and traces of the place in his paintings, the droop of branches over verandahs, their shadows, traces of his time, certainly. You never hear the myth of the painting that changed painting anymore, it hasn’t that mythology, painting now, though it retains the romance of it.

 

 

My beard is neatly trimmed. Our laptops are open before us as we plan the next few days, whether to drive or fly to new Orleans. The logistics of our indulgence, our self denial. The forfeit and the gratuities. I have a new jacket so I’ll roll more amiably through the southern winter. My boots have held up well. I know a good boot when I see it. They are sure not the campy cowboy boots carbuncled with embroidery like we saw in that Nashville guy drag shop down town. My boots are simple and neat, recently re-heeled, they click lightly on sidewalks, second hand, louche, Cuban heels worn down on the outside by bow legs in new Orleans.

midway profilejpg

I am just passing judgement passing through the trendier part of Nashville on the basis of a dreary light impression. We just fit better into new Orleans. There was more to talk about between the lad and me there. We talked without the irony I find we have to summon here to justify our curiosity about how it is in music city america. Where all the cheap sentiment comes from. So it would be kitsch of course.

We saw Emmy Lou Harris last night, and Vince Gill, Peter Frampton guested, and Rodney Crowell, it wasn’t like a show of all bottom-feeders but hell it felt like perfunctory schtick, there was a lack of current inspiration in the latest rendition of big old hits, the sentiment yammer about the grand old Opry family of musicians. Minnie pearl was cast in bronze in the lobby, there were performers I knew in my childhood from radio at first and then from T.V. The whole place seemed preserved in time, not long ago, but stuck. The call and response between performers and audience was as by rote, not deeply inspired. Nobody really believed up close any more. it was better on TV, somehow not so human and humiliating, the applause for the old troupers and their old hits.

While travelling with a close partner you notice where the one is cautious sometimes and the other is not. The intricacies of attraction and dismissal play out in the planning of the next day or so of vehicles and timing.

The lad started taking photographs in New Orleans. He was taking them serious. He said he found it easy to take them as pictures for me to paint from later. It gave him a framework was I think the word he used, a context in which to proceed. Though his photographs are not taken in any style that might be perceived as mine. A different wit, a choice of subject matter chosen out of not so large a nostalgia, a taller man’s point of view. He’s imposing taking pictures on the street. Politely single minded, large, dressed like a hick, urbane in his ways. He’ll lay on his belly for a shot or clamber up structures, never taking his eyes off his subject. I rather stand around or proceed twenty yards behind him, tracking him with the habitual moves of a dog with my nose though he be withing eyeshot. He started taking photographs one afternoon just off Bourbon Street, and every day now we’ll go out for at least one long stroll with his intention of taking pictures.

I’ve seen cars stop so they don’t interrupt his taking scope on these quiet streets. He wears a hunting cap, his long hair tucked up under it, his head shaved on the sides. He wears an overlarge plaid bush shirt and heavy canvas work pants. His sneakers are complicated in their stitching, low, long, narrow and light. A heavy key chain slings from his wallet pocket to his belt. I carry the pack sack, the thermos and sandwiches, condiments, fuel, enhancements. There’s a lot of six foot thirty something to feed. There’s a lot of being his age that I don’t even remember. I walk in his wake sometimes and he stops traffic. Every little while I catch up and he digs in the pack sack for the thermos, looking distracted by my conversational gambit. Every little while for the last number of years actually. I tease him and tell him he looks like he’s posing for a blow job when he takes a picture.

I had lover who would touch my ear in a slightly eccentric fashion while we were in public. He would twist it tenderly, sometimes a little cruelly. I grew to take delight in that particular. One day we met an old friend of his and I saw him reach over and twist the friend’s ear as they talked. And from then on the gesture repeated in a new context, I had more data, and felt less subjectively. It reinforced a new reality now. thus it felt for me, watching those old performers sing their big hits one more time.  I had no reason to believe any gesture or note struck was particular to me. Of course.  Poetry touched each receptive ear. Just stuff. put away childish things, identify caesar’s things. You got a lot to do.

There was a lot of shuck and jive about jazz and black music for tourists along bourbon street too, the gentrifiers were laying down their smothering vines and we too were speculating about how to live our lives in a place so diametrically opposed to the way things are at home. It happens. I find myself saying that life is no more a matter of the right and only thing to do at home . Not to judge while passing through, but time is short. I got twenty years on the lad, or he’s got them on me and handsome is as handsome lasts. The wasteland, wasted and wasteful, the things to do.

There’s another reason for not going home. It is -33 degrees there. They got another foot of snow last night. They’ll be leaning on their shovels arguing in their heads and posting pictures of their driveways and sidewalks on facebook. I have a new vintage jacket to keep me warm here walking around Nashville. I left a nice cowboy coat that was a little small on the bus I took from Memphis to Atlanta. Travelling anywhere you find yourself walking or driving around vast expanses of malls and parking lots identical to each city, cold or baked,wasteful places with no sense of anything but corporate supply and recommended demand. You need to hurry inside. I needed a warm jacket. The lad bought it in a vintage shop near this bistro where I write. Our waiter admired it and was upset that we knew of the shop before he’d discovered it.

Image

New Orleans

How nice it is to no longer know the names of the vegetation around me. Then Sometimes you’ve seen enough of vistas, of unfamiliar vegetation and architecture and you long for an internal adventure, something new inside. Writing is a form of that, so is painting , something new, a love affair is as good as or better. A cafe will accommodate these things almost, the thinking about such things it will approve certainly. And you think of home where more is known and you are more known and what you write, or paint comes out of that knowing and not knowing. And you sit in the doubt that edits everything for veracity and leaves residue on on the canvas or the word processing software pages. It keeps notes and sends out texts on the phone and gets the low vibration of a text coming on a little machine in the chest pocket over the heart.

We drove back here from Nashville yesterday, Toot. Fricken. Sweet. We pissed in ditches at dusk down through Louisiana and groped for one another’s hands and thighs in the dark by the sides of highways. We consulted our global positioning in a Georgia diner while waiting for catfish and biscuits and gravy. We bore on in the dark feeling mythic with travel and horny for a more exotic morning.

We arrived late last night at a little shotgun house a friend has on the butt end of the quarter, on a back street tree-lined, carpeted with leaves. and some strange reddish fluff that falls from the pines here, sits in a cloud, kicks away like cotton batting. We were tired and a little surprised at our own temerity in longing for the place. I spoke several times about finding a place after so many years where I felt at home and heard myself as at a small critical remove saying so. We were tired but happy to be there.

There’ll be a full moon tonight so we’re going to have a fire outdoors in someone’s yard if we can find a fire-pit, sit around it talking like we do at home says the lad. I’ve wandered off on my own today to sit in a cafe, to stroll the back streets, to smell the early flowers. To stumble pissing self medicated into the encroaching elephant ear leaves in an empty lot.

We finally got paid for the church street mural project I’ve been involved with at home, the money’s in the bank and it all seems far away, blessedly, does the turmoil and disorganization the project entailed and overcame at last. An unfamiliar place like this scrubs the senses, or at least gives them a lick and a promise so I’m encouraged to paint again, by the money, by the colours here at dusk, by the unsalted trucks and by the plainest of the buildings. The petty sting goes out of things said, real or imagined things. The passive aggressive chipperness of inter-office emails stops replaying for obsessive parsing in the head. Here are the little sparrows picking at crumbs under the tables and leaves on a cafe patio. Here are the dissipated palm fronds overhead. Here there rises music, the danceable swing, rhythm and the goddam blues.

Image

I write a few letters home to people who still engage my imagination with their life stories. Always the same basic crew. I consider logistics interior and without. The family pinches at the heart. I take an ashtray for myself from a nearby table and I smoke without feeling criminal. to smoke with my coffee on a cafe patio is illegal at home. Here I am, alone today, just this side of the levees.

There are still numbers from rescue efforts after the storm scrawled or sprayed on the occasional house-front, cryptics I don’t understand, perhaps to indicate whether there were bodies inside. watermarks everywhere,boarded places. I got lost late one night and wandered into an area not reclaimed. I was foolish with curiosity, a white out of towner. Somehow bound by duty or just crude in tourism to see. Daylight might have been wiser. I proceeded through the smell of rot and mould and the scuttle of rats and hoodies. me in my sedate western gear.

The soil is poisoned here so nobody gardens food in their back yards, though you could maybe if you made your own topsoil. So much old lead paint from the flooded houses, gas from flooded stations, god knows what else. I couldn’t help but see the ruined buildings through painting I’d admired. Edward hopper after the apocalypse. I had to frame it in some illustrative tradition. Another few blocks and it was high ground, fancy, and things were already at threat of seeming gentrified, on famous stage lit streets.

It seems a comfortable town for the kind of public solitude I seek out, the interior taken out for coffee, seeing if it can pass for sane in normal parlay. People are curious about strangers to the neighbourhood but they don’t pry as I acquire a daily pattern of public movement. I come to a hipster place with internet for a little patio time at my usual small table. There are more people on the other side of the order counter than on mine usually, only one or two capable of more than the latest silhouette.

10151925_821512394529128_1807033279_n

I grow old, old, my trousers still unrolled, and was beginning to feel in Toronto like an anomaly wandering around a corporate environment drinking the happy rainforest house blend or eating the test group favourite antioxidant salad. Petty of me. There were plenty of little neighbourhood cafes, I had my little routines, but I was always struggling from place to place against a human chill of correctness that pretended to see no poverty, no disgrace as it clicked along on the latest shoe shape. It did its little part and signed petitions, it did more too… maybe the weather took something of them, put something in. I was trying to fit in. I was one of them. Jean Rhys talking about how the British looked to a tropical eye like so many colourless wood lice…

How lonely I’ve been for a less pragmatic city. Though below sea level things are built at least here in this part of town on a human scale. These heaved old streets are hard on a car’s suspension. They don’t put salt on the roads to pit the ice so the old half-tons are in good condition, parked cockeyed in front of shotgun houses under winter leaved trees. I’m at a little iron mesh table under an early flowering tree of some sort a few blocks from Dauphine and Desire. Bougainvillea begins. Little lozenges of light with languidly breathing edged shadows stir as in gentle sleep on the glass table top.

I’m tempted to say that people here on the street don’t seem constantly annoyed by the place they live in or by one another. They show pride and delight of place. Survivor’s gratitude and guilt. People smile how do from nearby tables and I feel normal. “People who at least know enough to say hello” as my dad used to say. They’ll indulge readily in a mild random parlay. They won’t dismiss you as eccentric so fast if you are too lost in thought to cut and paste ritual coffee chain pleasantries. You have a super day too.

Sure its all just a veneer of southern hospitality covering a rat’s nest of prejudice and hurricane leftovers, like the blonde lady in Memphis said it was in the cold bright morning, identifying a pin oak for me, but it really is good enough for me. She said this is cotton country like there was blood and brains spilt in the soil. She didn’t like liberals from Berkeley though. We rented a little flat in one of her two rows of two story flats with balconies facing one another, filigree iron balcony and winter dormant magnolia. She said I love my trees and she identified them for me. I said I thought that was a pin oak from reading. She stopped and talked about southern literature to me for a cigarette or two. She wasn’t flirtatious but she had antebellum graces ingrained. But she didn’t turn on the entitlement like Scarlet O’hara. I’d been thinking about Faulkner and Harper Lee and Scarlet O’hara, I’d reread part of a Carson McCullers novel while standing in a book store. She wondered why a canadian would like to read american southern literature.

Image

And sometimes you meet someone volatile, readily expressive of emotion and articulate in sensation, someone who doesn’t hold back as you do, and you envy the expression and disdain the dramatics. you’d like to throw a little scene in righteous indignation like that some day but you know it only fascinates a little while. it gets dull after a while, duller than your own restraint. The rant amuses on the funny political radio perhaps better than in the love affair.

I think of the snow and I think of the miles. And what will happen while I was away. What will occur.

Last night I entertained a bit. I sang a few religious songs of my childhood in a shotgun house down on the butt end of the french quarter. The hymns among the songs are familiar, are second line funeral favourites here. My momma learned them listening to the grand old Opry on the radio when she was a girl, and she taught them to me by singing over the sink full of dishes, or sitting down on a kitchen chair with a guitar strung in what she called a Hawaiian tuning across her knee, using the flat handle of a kitchen knife for a guitar slide.

Her voice was high and wild and clear, wound up with religion and man problems in the country manner. She spent some time here in New Orleans and she seems happy we’ll have something in common now to talk about. She said Id never come home if I saw New Orleans. I’ve seen a few of the sights she saw, walked around where she walked.

At the Martin Luther King memorial in Memphis they play Mahaliah Jackson singing take my hand precious Lord on loudspeakers over the parking lot from that cheap motel balcony. You can go in across the street and stand in a reconstruction of the living room with its stagey looking window from which the man was shot. Ten bucks. I bought a little postcard and wrote my mother a note on it but I left the saddlebag it was in at a taco house in Birmingham Alabama. Seems fitting somehow.

Image

She always liked Mahaliah Jackson. She’d make me listen, learn the words so I could sing along too. Always some stray in her house, she’d deplore its foolish ways, sometimes for years and years. My boyfriends, draft dodgers back when, lately the human flotsam and jetsam of delusional escapees from the new retirement home nearby. they sit in her kitchen a while, feeling they are in a real place and then they wander back to the compound. My mother watches them home across the driveways. She raises an anxious hand to her throat until they get buzzed in. past the heavy electronic doors home.

When I was a child the trains ran along the tracks across the river from our house and you could hear them. The trains still run here and they sound old fashioned to me at night. When I sit on the front stoop in the morning and have my sweet black coffee and my Virginia tobacco I do so with a delight at the prospect of the day before me as I felt in childhood. The lit air has soft majesty. the shadows of the leaves are large and unnamed by me for the most part.

 

 

Backward Reading

station

With a blog you read backward, through the archives, so there’s a backward narrative.
I try to be truthful but the farther back I read the more the writing seems fictive, self serving, the more my ignorance of time described embarrasses me; There isn’t much more wisdom in hindsight than in hope I think sometimes. I read back to see what reoccurs, reassuringly or accusingly. I read back as through fever charts for clues in the patterns. I’m holidaying, privileged and absurd, self diagnostic with my blackberry pad synchronized to my phone as a night train north snakes me out of my own province.

IMG_00000581 - Copy
There’s still snow in the now and then gullies below my window where lavish spring streams and rivers cut visual breaks in the grand monotony of spruce forest. Ice thins on the lakes, mere skin over the water of the small ones, or piled, shoved, cataclysmic on the shores of large lakes which show in moonlight no distant shore for the eye’s rest. I glance back through old posts to the beginning.
When I started writing here I was that bleary eyed widower, bored and boring, surprised that my social life was untenable without my spouse. Most of my friends were glad he was gone. He’d been critical of them. His criticism, intelligent and watchful like an old servant’s, had made them interesting to me. I had loved them, as he had done, but they could not see love in his satire, his rages, those anything but servile rages one has about the absurdities of one’s own generation. My friends heaved great sighs of relief and closed around me in my loss, helpful, nurturing. They saw more love in my rueful quiet than they had in his pointed observations. I had been a mediator, never a complete ally on either side. I had my own narrative and my own pair of eyes.
He was a novelist. He saved his compassion for his friends for his written portrayals of them, which, oddly met with their puzzlement and disdain. I could no longer abide the fare without his wink across the dinner table. I wrote or postured here in an obscure blog then about what seemed crucial to me alone and didn’t bear talking about in daily discourse and I wrote about only some of that.
Paintings are just so many skins of paint on cloth and maybe the words give them a little weight, though they shouldn’t need text. Light should suffice. I thought.

IMG_00000582 - Copy
Maybe I write here to circumvent stories others might care to write or tell.
I was just a painter who wrote on the side, to process my personal life. I found my most valid experience was in the intimate physical affair. This felt human, this admission. I didn’t lack identity, or the justification for existence a cultivated talent sometimes accrues. People admired my work. It was collected a bit. I could just about keep up with demand, move things out the door at an affordable price. a gallery would double the price and cost me more in the long run in paying for wine and advertising. I had a yuppy clientele. I was embarrassed by my own poverty. Still I am.
I moved to live in my rural hometown where I at least knew the various narratives made rich among the known, in time and gossip and confession, in deep talk and obfuscation. I took on the local dialect again in no time. I would be alone.
But I I saw a face in a crowd, that old refrain, across a room. love is harder work and greater pleasure than is painting for me. Painting grows out of it, instructed in contemplation by my lover’s elegant haunches, by this face or that. Painting gets its bullheadedness, its slavishness, by its eyesight renewed or for some painters, by the familiar domestic thigh.
Its hope (visionary, or mechanical, genetic imperative) is fuelled by a dare one think something. secured against passion’s fading. foolishness.

IMG_00000583
Patterns repeat. He had a keen eye for the absurdities and the beauty of the place. I found it easier to love the town shared. He was loving in his narratives, his stories, but snide sometimes, mocking. Then I again felt I was not an ally. I was an uncertain observer.
I was lucky though currently lonely, The studio had a sort of feral loneliness in it. it was a bore, grimy with strain like an old mattress. My love was on holiday. Internet radio dramas and news, anything might distract my mind from the analysis and calculation in my head while I was painting. I completed commissions. My loneliness was all time and distance, constant jailers. I did not doubt his affection. we knew commitment and sacrifice, footloose greed. pride, embarrassment. poverty and access. I had the wolf too, loping the underground in the city, lithe in black leather in low pin lit back rooms. We are not unfaithful. we contract no a physical fidelity. We recognize perhaps a better one.
We stayed in touch, in excess, tapping into hand-helds at crosswalks, tapping under familiar and foreign bedding, worrying and blessing one another at wireless cafes with chain menus. You would have the oatmeal cookie. I’d break an apple fritter apart and think briefly of a better one years ago in San Francisco. You would have the butter tart. You like a bit of scruff. Meanwhile the other one could do without the muttonchops.

IMG_00000584 - Copy
if I wasn’t on this train i’d be having one of those custard tarts at the Jamaican’s in the city though, far from my home town. I’d have a phone in my pocket like evolution gone wrong though I suppose it just does as it does with no explanation or apology.
I can’t spend all my time chained up in that dog patch of a hometown. I imagine even old Atticus Finch had him something. A high yaller girl a couple hours drive and a conference on race relations north. They’d hole up in a little bar with a stand up bass waiting. i have a little multicultural neighbourhood in a nearby city. i shunt in on the train at all hours with some cash in my wallet and my keys to a long underground hallway, silent and cool little windows low at the ceiling. ,Each room is simply appointed off that pale tile hall with its interval pot lights set just to the edge of total darkness. I find cool and private like in a  fish aquarium, machinery gently pumping. Sleigh bed. couple of armchairs. bachelor cookery. Lights frame the mirror in the bath for scrutiny of presentation before one hits the streets above which I anticipate with pleasure.
In the closet a little grey tweed suit and a set of leathers, basic black and white underwear and sox in a drawer. Gadgetry whirring music and images and text in the bedroom like where the light is like an under lit home movie gloom, redolent with nostalgia and yearning for a clearer outline. I have a minimal paint kit and a stack of primed stretched canvasses. It is a chilly cave in the big smoke, courtesy of a friend and patron.
We’re a happily badmouthed pair, cynical in a neighbourhood that’s self consciously wholesome with internet and pastry cafes. i hear her move around upstairs in the morning and evening and that gives the day a normal rhythm or i would disappear into the low artificial light of the underground, no sense of the moon or sun traversing overhead, no rural dawn chorus or dusk of finches or lawnmowers, no dusk of crackheads on my small town street at home yelling into backstreet weak signal phones, no night of lumber trucks keening in cartoons of themselves in my dreams at night because of the highway on the other side of the river.
One of the nicest days I ever had was there with the lad, in the underground apartment. You think you won’t love again but you do. You feel like you’ve profaned a past monogamy by reaching for the buckles to undo them but you do not. You sanctify something greater than the past. It hurts the worst of one sometimes. You wish it’d just die. The lad’s young and I don’t want him to be alone as I was alone. None of that.

IMG_00000585 - Copy
Iroll in at all hours from walking. I only drink with one friend anymore and i don’t pine for company so I walk long and a lot. I’ll dandy up a bit in the morning and not set key to lock again until midnight. Sometimes Í’ll visit a friend i call the wolf in my head and here in this blog. but usually I walk around alone . I’ll dress carefully for the day and the  Jamaican place up the street where I’ll have my first coffee and medicate a little.
Oh the vanity of men.
Place ran out of coffee in the fancy new machinethe last time I was in. The owner made me my first daily cup in a sauce pan by hand while he ground more in his big machine for the urns. It had been an unexpectedly busy morning in that little yellow room that always feels ripe for the Dutchman’s irises. There’s an upright piano, stand up bass and an accordion poised for play on stage in the back. The new high tables and stools are still spaced for privacy. There’s a back door out to a garden through quavery old panes of french door glass. It feels private wherever you sit but there’s a lot of sizing and presentation, polite and appreciative. mostly men. Musicians, but there’s one good specimen of everything in the neighbourhood on a good morning. The place is my little oasis of kewl with fraying rattan seats out on the patio under the Christmas lights against a blind of bamboo stalks between me and the street and the elegant, irritating coming and going of streetcars. At the foot of the bamboo hardy dwarf tulips bloomed just a few days ago like punk lipsticks in the spring and look there’s the little runt irises I wanted to see, just the complement for that yellow on the walls inside.

IMG_00000586
Up the street a bit and around a corner there’s a little art gallery I like.
Back home I’m told I don’t pursue notice and should seek marketing advice. But I have no backlog of pictures mouldering in stock. things seem to go out the door. my persistence is my artist’s political or spiritual statement, never enough for the curators. I need the sanction of a big time vendor. I need a brand more than these love bites on my throat and side. I need to paint more nudes. I need to paint fewer nudes and more nostalgic streetscapes. I need to get my Indian card and get on the grant chuck-wagon. I need to make posters for worthy causes and edges. I need to charge more and paint less or paint more and charge less.

I dunno. I get all hot under the collar and just go about it my same old way, making decorative wall pictures as love and the occasional commission move me and I write about the life those pictures come from, to dispel romancing or at least to supply my own and to complicate pigeonholing if it comes on its tireless clucking round.

IMG_00000587
The train rolls forward across north Ontario. When I got on the midnight train I settled against a scratch on my back. I tasted the wolf on my moustache. I longed for the lad. I pictured him, I pictured them, sitting across from me one after another, as I travelled backward. The conductor roared at all the smokers for us to raise our hands and she tagged our luggage racks with blue ribbon. She said she was gonna wake us up before dawn for a brief stop and we then we could step out for a smoke. We weren’t to punch at her when she shook us awake at night and we were not to go out of her eyesight by day while we were off the train. I await the next stop. a surreal little gaggle of the addicted standing by the tracks in some side track or ghost town platform.

IMG_00000589
Sometimes the wireless kicks in in those places, in my pocket on my tablet it vibrates a message alert. Sometimes the dogs are let out of the baggage car on taut leashes. There’s a tall french girl about twenty, never smokes but disembarks. just to run to the edge of the forest clearing we’re stopped in and she’ll peer into the dark under canopy all still herself like precipitately revelated. or shell find the last of the snow in a pile or a hard expanse and reach down to take a handful. This is a mythological landscape after a life in Paris. She dresses in pyjamas at night, white flowered flannels. She is tallest of us and the most childlike in her wonder. Like the lad. She doesn’t seem to feel the cold. The rest of us watch her against the landscape in her flowered print, a couple of rasta boys, men bound for oil sands work, a Lebanese man I’ve befriended. As a joke he told me I slept through the last smoke stop, joked that he’d tried to wake me and failed to do so, he said I was swearing loud and something awful. We are both travelling to lovers. He is svelte with technology strung like I like.

IMG_00000591
There’s an Indian woman and her baby. I keep her in smokes and she poses for a portrait shot. She is very beautiful and stone cold seroius, as am I, about the pictures with that old worry of soul stealing. We never smile in our contract or even exchange banter. No names. No narratives. There’ll be shy discrete smokers I won’t notice to describe, plain folk, scenery in the narrative. those who roll a little dope in the end of a smoke and become friendly and animated, become storytellers or bemusedly, intimate in pose, who cock their ears in the exchange of brief tales told to indicate strength and character. They become central in the train side scenario briefly. They may become friends inside the train itself. that snaking journeyer, silver metal in moonlight against a fir forest. It can feel like a second world war movie when you stand in the snow by the train and the tracks. You look for straining German shepherd dogs on interrogative leads. You imagine you sense something sinister. You’ve seen a lot of movies and you picture box cars.

IMG_00000590 - Copy
The French girl in her bedroom slippers stands on her toes moonlit, out a ways from us. She is central too. We are all aware of her out there, just in view of the smoking conductor, elated a little away from us. You’d think we’d mock her for her strangeness, that there’d be a eye roll or a joke at her expense, but there never is, we never do.
I am scruffy in the glass. The shaver blade is a danger in the rocking cold water cubicle of this class.
The train rolls forward and I read backward.

second station

Posted from WordPress for PlayBook

Sore Paw

Sore Paw

Sore Paw

The spring came early that year. In open places the snow  melted before the equinox. Spring came slow too. There were no flood warnings on the local radio. The frost heaved the sidewalks and tarmac and they subsided, were dusty and dry before the ditches ran off the meltwater and debris.

After a few warm days of painting with his workroom window open a crack, he found that the winter’s claustration, his sense of recent isolation, seemed moot, forgettable as winter’s banal Freudian dreams and he admitted that the narrative about his isolaton seemed contrived; he had romanticised. His loneliness of snow was not acute.

His past monthly datebook recorded more traffic through than he had recognized in the overriding echo chamber, the vault, of his partner’s day to day absence. There had been music on talkative nights, droppers by coming up the stairs from the chocolate air of the cafe. There had been secrets, intimacy, laughter and fretting in warm lamplight under ground diamond stars. It occurred to him that he had not been so much lonely as he’d been forgetful, even ungrateful.  He said so to a friend at a dinner party.

He’d been absurdly desiring he thought to himself later, sad, alone in bed. He’d stayed in touch, electronically mostly with farflung contacts. A young student friend from long ago was in touch, had cut his hand badly. There was a photo of that boy with a hand bandaged, pawlike, sleeping after taking stitches. There was that artist’s fear of hurting the drawing hand bringing them together after distancing years and professional unpleasantness, laziness in affection and clumsiness in frustrated affection. That boy had the best drawing hand he’d ever known, drew like a dream.

His partner who he jokingly called the young lad, as men called their sons in these parts, went to California. Painting, life, continued as if there had not been a companion. he lived and slept in his coveralls. He became less sociably amusing and more hirsute, he saw less of family and more of his painting quarters.  This occasioned the usual bloodline recriminations which disgusted him this year as they had never done before entirely. He was selfish. The boys who fixed computers downstairs in back of the cafe were bulldogs for his privacy, even with family when he requested protection. He had experienced limited success and his presence upstairs, his advertized hermitage up the back stairs lent something to the place. It was cold but cheap.

He wrote no personal, public account of himself for here. He could scarcely do so for the people he loved and saw daily in meat time.

This had been the story he’d told himself: He had lived and worked alone all winter. In fact there had been Facebook and the cafe. He would celebrate his spring with a friend in the city on the night before he caught a train . He would recall as a slight cabin fever, as a brief aberration, his antsy solitude,  and watch his muttonchops caressed in a tavern mirror… the stories he told himself got him into trouble. He was his own worst enemy. He always missed something he couldn’t imagine. His stories tended to feed the wrong part of himself but he was a compulsive narrator. His lovers had  been not cowboys always but fiction writers. His stories were wrong and self aggrandizing but some stories require not only telling, they ask to be made true. They inspire good and evil or merely action. They brand. He wanted to live without them though, to unidentify.

It is easier to represent a model from life, or a chair, or a flower, anything, if you don’ t identify it in your head.

He told himself while waiting for a night train “I had commissions to do. I had a small, boat roofed room above an Internet cafe in a rural town.  That’s a life that suits me. Working in rough little flats above cafes. A window looking a story or two down to the street night and day. A few rooflines left over out of Edward hopper paintings and childhood, from before everything looked like a suburban strip mall.

The methadone clinic next door to the cafe was the only new constructon on the street. The street people fascinate me, their intensely told stories distracted me from my own intensities without tempering mine.  They live one moment to the next, staying clean and on track. They are informed by difficult pasts and have defined their mistakes more clearly than I have my own. They are self absorbed in their recovery and their analysis, they know their triggers. They were my intense company. Some days I’d go down and the cafe was short staffed and I’d serve coffee. The regulars would tell me their addiction stories.

A painting for me has go be the only thing in the world in the works to acquire any gravity. So I aim for one intense mood all the time for the duraton of the image making. I drank a lot of coffee. Spring seemed sudden. You could crack the winow open for a smoke and forget about it,  later find the window open in the chill when dark fell and smile ruefully.  The town was without charm, offering no distraction. An abandoned supermarket, condemned, and too expensive to tear down in hard times, the parking lot potholed. I painted commissions, paintings of the town as it was before its desecration, its envious updating.”

Some of the stories we tell ourselves are hopes and plans, wise or no. He researched tickets out and argued about his passport with impatient public servants. He’d been declared dead years before when his father died and that checkmark against his validity persisted, locked into machinery, a ghost for which the partially spurious and partially crucial clerks wouldn’t apologize; rather they seemed to lay blame on him, and despite his decent suit and his best manner each office encounter left him feeling criminal and invalid.

This went on for more than a month until one minor clerk, willing to admit to some colleague’s error in the past rectified the error, unlocked his file and the ghost was exorcised. Papers needed to be filed again but he felt free, tentatively.

He’d pondered notions of validity, his own in particular and had seen in his own mind his father’s lanky stride, an indian on a trapline, often he’d seen his fathers disdain of papers during the course of this long wrangle over beurocratic validation. He also pondered the sense of self worth he gained from his lovers affections, the social and personal validation in the public or the private caress. He reserved a seat on a westbound train. The lad would meet him just this side of the border.

He closed up shop wistfully, sleeping there over the course of a weekend , rather sitting awake all night staring at the work he’d done during the lad’s holiday, conscious after one particular phonecall that the lad had truly, not only politely wanted his  company in adventure. Still he felt time alone on the road would harm no one, was a chance not to be missed, to be imposed even. He’d done it himself in his youth and he wasn’t sure he was up to it .He was no swimsuit advertisement. he was no oil painting. he was no playroom hunk attractive from any angle.

He stared critically at the last two months work and at his often packed luggage, promising everything a little more elbow grease and polish.  He glared at everything but the finished commissions which were gone and paid for midst the usual winces and eagerly taken impressions the pondering over suitable payment which the achievement of balanced sentimental and painterly vision in a commission implies, requires, or ignores entirely. He stared at a few portraits and at his luggage

One painting remained unfinished in perhaps overworked underdrawing.  a young man in bed nursing a bandaged hand, careful of it in sleep. in a tangle of jewel like patchwork blankets and cushions. You never know, you rectfiy your worst mistakes in the underdrawing, you improve your perceptions and explore the tawny body as with a tongue, like the tip of a brush.

He pondered the parallel universes somehow interdependent of past and concurrent romantic affairs.  Had he had a mirror hung in his painting quarters he’d have scowled at that with its vintage porn muttonchops, scruffy, grown for a friend who admired scruff, a gentleman to be visited before a midnight train’s all aboard.

Of course there are cafes everywhere, even on trains. An obsequious waitress is never far away… A lonely woman with a book, a baby taking a solitary amiable tour among tables. An ugly boor from first class wondering aloud to friends about first class concerns. a tall thin and deathly pale russian orthodox priest with a horsey mouth that smiled without self conciousness in quiet amazement, as if he’d never been out of a monastry, as if seeing for the first the things the scriptures urged and cautioned him to love,people. He sat with his ling straggle of unkempt beard, an icon face above his plate across from a short sqat elder with more luxury in his ankle length black garment, more food gone to his belly, more aquaintance with the barber in his clerical elegance. The old priest seemed to love, but oversee the taller asthete with the shy and snd bashful wonder across the table linen. The younger priest avoided my glances… he was the only greater oddity than myself in the breakfast car, I thought.

I wore the denim of an old porn magazine. I had on those slim french motorcycle boots, soft brown leather like pulling on a bedroom slipper. a saddlebag full of smoke and blackberry technology. I wore a piratical black bandanna with the standard pattern. I wore a ring in my ear. I bore the mark of the old belt I wore. My whiskers were shaggy. but I was not in a long black ankle length skirt. I noticed the tall priests boots, black military style but lighter, feminized, elegant, though he seemed unaware of their smart cobbling below his skirt. they were a little fey those boots, as were my own. slender feet.

I coveted the boots. I coveted the priests’clearly defined roles and authority, foreign, dismissable, shaky though it was for the likes of the girl across from me who did not see the prists seemingly. everyone was a cypher for her but those kooky guys and gals at work, their meems and things they said, full of shooters or no just hilarious . I watched the priests closely, longing for their lives and stories as I sat smiling manfully across from a young women who found the antics of her office mates hilarious in montreal. I thought their antics  sad. There is the shelter of the message vibrating on one’s blackberry. The comfort of the phones. I tapped my jacket pocket. I felt my partners ring, a quick double vibration repeated on my left nipple. I drew forth the phone.

I peered into it, apologizing to those dear companions back in montreal. It was just a text. He was watching sea lions fucking in big sur. They weren’t that hugely hung. The medical terminology for surfing was vomitting sea water. love. I raised my head unseeingly to smile lascivously into the distance, just this side of muskeg, and caught the young priest’s eye and saw a sharp intellect rapidly processing my own reasons for pallor and eagerness in a man my age. There was a long instant , attenuated by being unexpectedly percieved by a stranger. There was not commonality, necessarily, but understanding, casual, even urbane, but gentle. He had those crowsfeet, crepey. that the fine and fair get under it all, for a moment too was a gangly string bean boy with buck teeth and a good heart under that frail accordian he had of ribs.  I remember nodding and his nodding back like a mirror with our eyes for a second sternly locked in a mutual admonishment for me to behave myself. Then back to the poached eggs on toast. Truth is one falls in love with one’s self, as one is wth the beloved.

I put my phone away. things were still a laugh riot back in montreal.

A man with rough, ugly muttonchop whiskers peers into text on his illuminated tablet in the coffee bar on the smoke free night train. He sees his own ragged beard in the glass of his tablet and considers the men who caress his whiskers and he sees his own cavernous gaze against the prairies when he turns to the window. He sees himself in relation to outstretched fingers, to  jerking thighs, to this back, that hopeful gaze of inquiry, this or that rebuttal. The prairie slides by, the lack of inflection becalming him as it always does.  He writes a half chapter of fiction.  In his saddlebag rest his identity papers.

Picasso, Dead Can Dance

5933_103869812327_512102327_2003027_1038905_n

Picasso, Dead Can Dance
I forget how much pain there is in Picasso because the painting looks so fast and sure, so solid yet ephemeral that it looks like marks of joy, exuberance. How he ages before us. How quickly in a retrospective the young Spaniard  the Minotaur  the bull, the goat, the satyr become the old clown painting, so quickly, the young bemused model. The old painter, unfinished with things, prodigious, self caricatured.

i came sad away from the gallery with my friend the lycanthrope and our friend, the photographer Zoe into the sweltering and nudging glare of hot cubist city viewpoints. We shared thoughts about our preferences on the steps in view of a Henry Moore statue. A writer I knew had used the place where we stood in a story he wrote so I saw it through his prose as it was before the gallery’s last face lift for a bit, remembering a bag lady character in that prose arranging apples, windfalls she’d bagged in a park, perfectly good eating apples. She was chased off.

image948

I’d stood close as an arm’s length to the pictures, to one side, so as not to block views, neither wearing or wanting a headset guide nor glancing even once in relief at a little explanatory placard dressed to the left of each Picasso. I came away realizing with soft, judding shock how the objectified, or at least painted flesh i saw in some pictures was seen and painted by Picasso like I see your body up close in lovemaking, or in waking from sleep, restrained by your embrace and aroused by the restraint.
I suppose the paintings of his women never touched me on that feral, sexual level but that one male nude did get to me. It was painted, a study with an eye to a planned brothel painting. It’s jaw line and abdomen did get me. They were signs of you. I think I read somewhere that that mebbe four by five foot picture was a study for a sailor for the bottom corner in a version of the Mademoiselles of Avignon  painted over, excluded.. It’s providence and the narrative I assume here are makeshift. It did touch me into panic so I didn’t care whose view I blocked, I got up close, in the way of others. I saw a laconic guard become a vigilant blur in the corner of my left eye. I stood like a respectful lover though, within the context of gallery viewer and object.
Oh I’d read that the nuzzling and body being right under his nose under his own body or over, at least in memory, accounted for those depicted subjective privacies, those distortions too familiar from fucking with one’s eyes wide open to be distortions, those dead-on displacements, but i had not viscerally noticed the detailed sex, the pain and the pleasure and the abandonment, the courage and cowardice in the face of love until I stood before a painting of a young sailor with a jaw line and a belly like yours studied mebbe a century ago and I saw you as you are when close to me, a flesh scape enthralling. Abstracted.

20111204-DSC_0609-2

Like any painter I guess looking at a big Picasso show, sampling the curated periods, I had felt at first on entering the galleries a sense of my own shortcomings and errors in manner, indeed an awareness of flaws in my own temperament. That egotism dissolved very quickly and I thought more of Picasso and my love of painting than I pondered the crap shoot of birth and blessings. “Comes love nothing can be done” I said to my self. I’ve heard said he painted with a child’s freedom but that’s bullshit. I may see as a child sees now and then when I look at those things but he was no case of arrested development or for that matter of decline. That would be me. He said, I believe, that he could draw like a master as a child and then had to learn to draw as a child.

Our technology allows the wolf and I to trade self portraits back and forth quickly on-line. We are interested in what we are turning into and how it shows and we document our visual shifts and stylistic intentions every little while in staged self shoots. It is bizarre I know. We are vain, technologically privileged men who photograph well. We note that we have never had to explain ourselves to one another. We create a mutually plausible narrative about our world together and apart. Perhaps in such cases there is not so much need of words, and in our urgency for transformation, for the realization of fantasy, erotic or otherwise, the digital pic is the medium more efficient in our exchange than verbage. We present.

ZG1_8202

Later in the day I modeled for Zoe, the photographer, happily engaged under her steady gray eye in an underground garage while the wolf held the flash apparatus toward me like a torch. I mugged on command for the flash and all it entails. I was aware of The wolf beyond the glaring focus, grinning at my clowning. I thought of painting you up close when Zoe asked me to think of something that moved me deeply. I thought of our recurring discussions, like things out of Doris Lessing novels, about courage and cowardice in the face of love. How I no longer even think of asking you to sit still. How I painted you from photos taken in trucks and on trains.
There is little photographic evidence of the wolf and I together so I was nervous when he was directed into the frame, into view for a few shots of us together then. I seek to capture you both, if not for myself then even more pretentiously for painting but there are few sentimental candid shots of us together.

ZG1_7239-2

There we were comrades in the game of presentation to one another and to the camera. We stood side by side in jeans and tshirts sizing each other in a compartment in a labyrinth underground.
Our poker faced love. You said I had a right to be human, that it was hard what we were trying to do. I doubted we found it all that difficult. I wore both your bite marks.

Then it was me alone again for closeup up, my head gear a black fedora over a bandanna. Zoe and the wolf discussed something about me they wanted captured but they never told me what it was. They had discussed my character for depiction. There were few directives. Something Zoe saw last night in a gesture. I’d wiped my face at a concert watching the band “Dead Can Dance”, the singer Lisa Gerrard ten feet away sang passionately but was icy in demeanor, only a raw twist of the mouth showing feeling and the castanets held in her pale hands twitching spasmodically. The ice queen made my eyes water a bit. The wolf pointed at a series of raw picture files later on his laptop screen, pictures of me thinking about something important to me and said he knew i was thinking of you.

ZG1_7098

Later on a balcony the wolf bade me dress in the shreds of his oldest jeans and later, bound under leather straps,elegantly rubber gagged and luxuriously blindfolded, I heard the camera clicking, my control given up to the photographer’s eye entirely. The relief of relinquishment  of objectification, shuddering in my odd, long body.
I needed anonymity and cigarettes after the shoot in the evening so i walked out in the piss smelly urban heat and sat on a street corner in the gay village sharing my cigarettes, but my generosity extended not to the sip of my coffee a smokeless girl requested. I was still posing, that reflex, I’m always voguing, imagining a lens, accustomed to childhood and then to juvenile and then to professional surveillance, presenting myself as carnival rough trade, a saltambique of sorts under a corner bank pedestrian camera. I rewrote a sentence in my head for a poetic blog post about Picasso, a post accompanied by flattering pics. I thought maybe I’d dare to impose a considered narrative on reality.slp dressing

You and I discuss the propensity to compose mutually believable or desirable narratives, the tendency to collude in social reality or illusion.. We see how narratives provide cohesion for groups, how narratives create spectrums of groups, and no one has all the data or nerve or sense. The unshakeable. The cage of privacy. The freedom of it. Lately I’ve written only privately, mercilessly tentative so far as establishing a narrative. Anything more comprehensive than a dateline provided way too much information.was just speculation. I’ve no longer written long letters to the wolf or to you.

mask

I haven’t posted anything in a long time, immobilized when it came to writing while riding trains and ferries, unfamiliar beds a norm, all good beds too with you. Cafes. campsites. I traveled but I was immobilized when words piled up in my head and I considered a narrative. The jumbled pile of words behind my brow. The shoulder-high heave and wallow in a hoarder’s basement. Just more posing and blather to romanticize paintings or to explain their origins to a few elitist types, clients on-line.

I wondered if you wished I was beside you then eyed a hard pale shirtless torso loping up the street. He stood across the street from me and when our eyes met he discretely sucked his index finger. I looked up and saw the ad for the Picasso show on a billboard near me, the most identifiable and publicly palatable of the assembled paintings, one of Dora what’s her name reproduced to lure the punters to the big show.

wolf and parking garage photos courtesy of Zoe Gemelli

others by David ?

paintings by Rocky L. Green