Oh, What a Fetish!
His lady friend, what’s more his lover, a Greek girl.
She returns to the room in the evening in her red shoes;
in her arms a paper cone of brilliant flowers, the blood
red of poppies, columbine, and agapanthi. Clearly, they
have an arrangement . . .
In which he is a scientist of the imagination
practising the art of memory
In which she would like their affair to be elegantly
exact, and if not that, well, precisely or almost
In which finally they do agree: everything in the world
changes what is real
And that’s just the beginning, they shout, waving their
arms in the air, hurrah!
That evening at lightfall, they begin to talk, a murmurous
conversation. They tell stories about the world in which there
is Sir, there is Madame, there are the Children – Up, Down,
Strange, Charm, and Bottom, and Beauty waiting in a far place.
They arrange beginnings and endings, hello and goodbye; will
you be sad if I refuse? Will you be happy if I refuse to refuse?
And of course there is a song in which everything has the right
to be where it is, and exactly . . .
And, Oh – what a fetish they make of the shoes!
An old story they have been rehearsing since he refused
to leave the room, since she refused, thank you, to go home
in the evening
He insists: my left shoe, the blue one, under the bed
in the dark, yes, on its side, there inside an envelope of
shadow; a small thing, he sighs . . ., and sleep drops slowly . . .
And dreaming is so desirable, she says, this Greek girl
in her fine French underwear bought for the occasion.
She slips off her red shoes, placing them under the bed.
Carefully, she turns her right shoe on its side – in a thin
envelope of a shadow; on its side, the shoe from his left foot.
They close the shutters of blue wood; thin slices of light
swim away. They lie down. They listen to the wings of birds
under the eaves; small syllables of sound that brush the air,
that deepen the evening. They place the flowers under the
pillow . . .
And the shoes?
The shoes are under the bed.
Small balls of dust breathe in, breathe out
beginning their travels . . .
He throws his left leg over her right; she turns, lifting
her right leg over his left. Carefully, they touch each other,
They are moving in and out, out and in, everything after all
is in the right place . . . And yes, they are making love, over
the flowers crushed by the weight of their bodies – in the morning
flat scented stars they will discover on waking . . .
Under the bed
inside their story
the shoes are overturned
Ah, yes: the shoes – small tides of blue dust spilling
from their open mouths . . .
From Giotto’s Elephant (John McIndoe, 1991)
© Michael Harlow