In an interview on the eve of his film release,
Paul Giamatti described what people’s souls would look like
if everyone could see them. For example
Willie Nelson’s soul would be an ear of roasted corn.
Giamatti liked the idea, personally, of having a country singer’s soul,
but not Merle Haggard’s, which would be kind of rusty
with lots of buildup.
The guitarist Slash’s soul was ‘a blood orange
left out on a windowsill,
all dried out and leathery’.
Freud’s soul was a piece of Babylonian statuary,
with the fulsome beard, the half-a-lion, the wings.
Jessica Simpson’s soul was hard to pin down, but in the end
was maybe a tape measure.
Donald Trump’s was a nice set of whitewall tyres.
Kim Jong II’s, ‘a crazy box of crabs’,
and Henry Kissinger’s, ‘a doorknob’.
Giamatti thought his own soul, truthfully, might be
a hand-painted ceramic toad. Something decorative
yet inconspicuous, to go in the yard, something that visitors
would refer to (in hushed wonder) as a ‘thing’: ‘You know,
I kind of
like that thing.’
Giamatti was very good at bestowing souls.
I bet it was a game he liked to play
as he walked round Brooklyn, glowering at the homeless,
the autograph hunters, the blood-sucking poets
the misspellers of his name.
His approach was poetic: you could look at his souls
in a number of ways; they crossed a number of windows, to and fro.
The problem is, though: if the soul was (for example) a peahen
then what about the peahen’s soul? Where does it reside?
We will never know the inner life of the peahen
nor that of the ear of roasted corn
that the peahen has eaten.
My mother’s soul might resemble a moon
but that only seems so because I am far away.
In the Giamatti film the soul is burdensome.
His character is weighed down
by all the nameless anxieties inside.
But as it turns out, Paul Giamatti’s character’s soul
is nothing more
than a single, heat-treated chickpea.
As he peers into the plastic cylinder
where his extracted soul rolls about
he looks so lonely for himself
it breaks my heart.
Is that my soul, I used to wonder
when I woke up sad? It was as if in my sleep
my soul had mistakenly risen to the surface, forgetting
that its adaptations were meant for the deep.
Or was that not my soul at all – just the undertow
of a dream? And was my soul like nothing, or nothing more
than passing through light and shadow, with eyes closed; or nothing more
than a forgotten driftnet, growing things on its ropes?