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Sport 38: Winter 2010

The Holiday

page 188

The Holiday

The bach is older than in the photos.
Our fingers unfold the rag-wool blankets
from a pile on the dresser, worn soft with blue-jay
speckled through the grey wool. Your eyes pull
at the corners as the cloth
swallows space: a well
of fabric between us. You mouth: It's okay.

Driving in we nearly came off the road.
The coastal storm raged in the headlights.
Leaning over the wheel your breath
splutters as each bend collapses.

While in the Four Square you send a text:
I want to drink your exhales.

Country rain is just like city rain. Coasting
down the final hill clouds skit over the sea's flat back
as hashes of squall unload on the giant Pacific.
Your face folds like those waves sometimes. The first turn-off
is up a rocky track snaking into the bush,
the wet leaves like shining eyes of slate.

The blankets are full
of children and trampers. We crawl between them
and crank up the rusty oil column heater.
The night simply pelts down.


page 189

The first day we met you hovered behind me in a queue
bumping me on the shoulder—I turned,
turning like soft wood you bumped
the hills at the edge of the city and the sun rose
so leisurely that morning—

the garden was still
green and I was surprised
by nothing.


At dawn we walk down to the road's lean edge,
stand together in the last of the southerly. Rocks have cracked
off the hillside, a pine has come down.
Seaweed is a blanket at the cusp of the sea
green and brackish, a gentle drift of flat blades floating
on clusters of air bladders. The basal holdfast
anchors it to the rock.

What is the shape of seaweed?
Is it the shape of the sea's plunging
diaphragm as it swallows
with rips and daily tides?

Smaller fronds have created a tangled mosaic
of Coke bottles and silvery branches: almost
purposeful, mistakenly beautiful.

I extend my hand and your arm flops
to fit magnetically around my shoulder,
a tendril of hair has escaped from my clip.

Seaweed is the shape of—
Do we have enough time?


page 190

I tell you about the story I am struggling to write:

Pablo and Henri were sometimes friends, meeting
at Gertrude's salon in Paris when Pablo was just twenty-four—
a wild beast in red and orange, still a boy
clicking his heels against the wooden floor
until Henri's effete face creased up like calf
hide. The rectangle beneath Pablo's arm he handed
to Henri—a landscape reckless with colour.

Pablo painted a stout nude on a brisk towel. Henri replied
with a slight woman in a beige scarf.
Pablo painted a self-portrait with one thumb slung
inside his trousers. Henri sat himself in a blue striped shirt,
his mouth pursed.

When Henri painted shocking nudes, coy beside a turtle,
Pablo stormed to Barcelona. The sky! he said,
is so blue here, it could never belong to one person.

He visited the familiar brothel on Calle Avinyo to sit
with the prostitutes as they smoothed rose and jade chiffon
across their breasts and between their legs, leaning down
to pull grapes from the bowl.

Pablo sketched until his hand's cleft
stained their charcoal arms
and high brows—the open faces
he woke with each morning,
collarbones gently traced in his coffee crème
with the lip of a spoon. He waited,
flicking his index finger at the laboured sky,
praising the clear Spanish afternoons when they came
curved over with blue.


page 191

Outside the Four Square I ask: Can you drink another person?

I remember such a song
when I lived alone in that orange bungalow
with fibreboard walls and an aluminium ranch slider
that a gaped like the entrance to a fright-night ride.
Long guitar notes resonated in the ribs of the house.

There was a bull paddock over the back fence
but even though I wished
for one, I never saw a bull.


Pablo painted during the night
shirt wrapped at his waist. His torso a lean ripple

at the iron window, unlatching it for a moment, like madness.


In bed we talk:

You've gone quiet, I say. What did he paint after seeing them, the women? you ask. Les Demoiselles d'Avignon. Five nudes standing, three staring at the viewer. It created quite a scandal and pissed off Matisse. Sounds like they were both obsessed. Maybe it takes obsession. Don't laugh! I met a man in Paris, you know. At an internet café. But he was American. I don't like Americans, they're gauche. On the last night he screamed at me because I wouldn't have sex with him. You know, I'm thinking about going to Europe next year, to focus on my guitar. I remember he always carried his father's leather satchel.


page 192

With you next to me, I dream of Pablo. He meets with his dealer, Gertrude Stein, having finished her portrait the evening before. A doll with wax eyes, her shoulders a solid rouge mass. All perspective is gone. Padded with calico, it leans against the table.

Sipping coffee he asks, again, about Henri. With a flutter she lays an impatient hand on his arm. She loves them both—their work, of course! Don't get her wrong, they both sell very well.

Pablo glances out the café window into the avenue
               and sees a woman he once painted,       taking
from behind, her buttocks like
   overripe squash he recognises the twist of her calf
      as it brushes
         against her puce overcoat beige
and blocky black heels       He imagines their dullish clatter
         on the cobblestones
                        each square
   worn by footfalls into
                  a triangle or diamond,
or a shape without a name,
         her face masked
                  by a long splay of hair,
         shops behind
                  a revolutionary
   use of colour,    he remembers
                              how she formed
         and deformed into blocks of
He could say buttercup.    He could say amarillo.
   It is not in his nature
            to create eight hundred and nine preliminary
studies       and find, on paper, the arm
does not make sense with the shoulder—what freedom!
page 193 her body,             like the music that plays in a man's chest
         when he watches a woman

Anyway, Gertrude says, we're all good friends.


On the second day I wake before you
and lean back on my elbows; my flat breasts
sag in two familiar mounds. You are eleven years
younger than me, dark lashes closed, mouth
open and full. The room hums with the sweet
smell of bodies. The rain has smoothed
to a drizzle. The windows are misted with sleep.

I loosen and open the floral curtains
so the printed primroses and hydrangeas
compact into a smash of colour:
they are the very idea of a garden.

In the city neither of us live with a garden.
I in the tiny apartment you affectionately
call the box, you in a vegan student slum.

When we tramp for six hours into the bush
you insist I slow and notice the little things
I would have missed:

the afternoon sun
            off the shell of a satellite disc;
a grey moss       shaped like Antarctica       on the corrugated roof
                                    of the ranger's hut
                     the snail slime over a granite boulder;
                  a sign that says, otters.
               We walk up steps cut into the hillside and
page 194 I lag behind
                     to stare at the bloodied skull of a stoat
                  the trap exposing its soft secrets.
               When I won't come away, your face gets red
and steam rises from your shoulders;    they vibrate like wind
thrumming an electric fence.

The silence lets the music of the river
gently grow through the crush of trees.


Gertrude sends a note: I have decided to let go of Matisse.
He's burned out. He's moved to Nice to escape the war.

Pablo pauses, brush in hand. Yellow—
it can only be the bed's curtain sash
or a flash of shadow under her breast.

He kicks aside some sacking to find
a better angle for the canvas. It is early
evening and light is sparring across the walls.

It is like rain for a fruiting tree, Pablo thinks
of his antagonism for Henri. A passing thought
but at the next salon he finds himself
arguing for Henri's attachment to the subject—

Georges, déchets! You are so full of little cubes. Pull out your brain
and use only your eyes!

his face blooming like a turquoise bruise, voice swelling
from the base of his chest so Georges steps back and his wife
slips behind him in a flash of pearl and silver.

Don't you see? Ideas, like saffron
            spread in hot oil.

page 195

                     In Nice Henri is glazing a tile so the edges are saturated with cornflower blue. He brushes the powder glaze off hands that are starting to age. He especially notices it in the growing brittleness of his fingernails and the pigskin sag of his buttocks. To flex and to break, he thinks. The firing will take some time and he is not yet ready to practice the violin. He walks beside the crooked path to his garden's edge that does not end but blends into the road. The fields further out are as they should be in the hazy sun down. He watches the grass absorb light and does not think about Paris or his old studio. Instead he thinks about the water's edge, out of sight from the house, where the girls must be packing fish, the fleshy rounds of their wrists flicking their knives.

On hearing of the argument at the salon, Henri sends Pablo a letter: No artist can work in a vacuum.

Pablo scrawls back a simple sketch of a bird:
Henri—a serene joy can be found in simple pictures.


After we fight, I leave you a note:
I'm pissed off. I've gone to look at the old schoolhouse.

In the sky the birds press windward.

Brown then grey, the distant horizon
is like the sea's vertebrae.

Letters are slashed into a fence post, down
to the wood. Deep teeth like dominoes,
loose and clattery. A dog strains against
his chain so his paws fuss at the earth.

I kick at rocks and walk down to the empty
school. The mural of native bush and birds
is an anguish of peach, lime and hyacinth
page 196 along the length of the playground.
The leather swing pinches my legs.          Oh, fuck it.


When I come back you are playing guitar on the deck
so the sad tumbling strum reaches me first.

You say, I don't know how you see us.

Your back bowed over the guitar, the notes flow
in an urgent rumble—the low notes sighing into high plucks
over the soggy earth and we are suddenly

naked in the lounge, your hand positioning
my leg over your shoulder, stomach
and thigh pressed together. When chopping
wood I had to learn to slide one hand up

to meet the axe head, letting it rush down to join the other
when delivering a blow. Such gruntal satisfaction
in the swing and thud, the knowledge
that from planted feet up to a circling arm

the axe will faithfully drive towards the block.
It is hard to split a log on first stroke, forcing through
the old attachment of limbs and knots. Chopping
has the rhythm and bass of a drum,

each blow whittling away the essence of a log
until it takes the form of splinters or fire starters.

Sweat collects in a salty slick at the base of my skull
as each hair holds and gathers the moisture
into a drop large enough to slide with the lightest touch.


page 197

Henri writes of the war:

My friend, I am isolated in this house. It reminds me of being a child when the roof leaked above my bed and the floor was beaten earth and people still travelled on horseback. It is the essential character of things. I have abolished shadows and will concentrate on colour.

Pablo sends him a cubist oil that Henri is surprised to like: Paris is still occupied as are my thoughts with Françcoise and her shoulders. This is my first attempt. She is irritable that she must sit for so long and I can't get the paints I desire. Deny the shadows as well as the subject! Find the essence, all else is distraction.

Henri writes after dinner:

Today was like every other day: vegetable soup, two hard-boiled eggs, salad and a glass of wine. I believe eggs are nature's way of joking with me in my battle to resolve line and colour. The yolks glow so distinctly against the white. I remember that last portrait of my Amélie. Each night I recited the Lord's Prayer in despair! Each day was a drumming in my ears, but she never looked so pretty.

From the bath I text:

I've been working all day and have a headache. The end of the story is surprising but I worry it's new to me but has been done many times before. I am looking forward to your touch.

Pablo replies:

No one has ever looked at your paintings more carefully than I; and no one has looked at mine more carefully than you. Now the war is over I will come and visit again. I have not seen the south of France for some time and I want to see your red studio and laughing eggs.

Your text comes moments later:

I've just been writing a song about you, I will play it to you this evening. Don't give up, don't fight the chaos, it is the beginning of order. You are brilliant. I will be there soon.

page 198

Henri replies:

My nurse shot herself with a pistol! The drama, the outrage in the village. If I could walk I would barely show my face. She has recovered and is to return next week. I miss her hands washing my back, my friend. Today I am working on cutouts from the wheelchair, as if taking apart a sheet of colour can somehow show me the world.

In the mist on the bathroom mirror I write our names.


Is life nothing but a series of cutouts, one laid over another and



They say I have taken possession of her but it is Lydia who has taken possession of me. She has spurred me to finish the Large Red Interior. Finally line and colour become faithful bedfellows.

Pablo loops a message in ink on the back of a line drawing:

For you my friend, a dove of peace to celebrate your fancy pigeons.

Be well.

After the funeral Henri's estranged wife writes to Pablo and encloses a small cutout of a blue nude with the wind in her hair: I know he would have wanted you to have this.

I text:

It's getting late.

You text:

I'm here. Do we have enough time?