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Friday, June 22, 2012

The House Of Dust: Part 03: 07: Porcelain by Conrad Aiken

You see that porcelain ranged there in the window—
Platters and soup-plates done with pale pink rosebuds,
And tiny violets, and wreaths of ivy?
See how the pattern clings to the gleaming edges!
They're works of art—minutely seen and felt,
Each petal done devoutly. Is it failure
To spend your blood like this?

Study them . . . you will see there, in the porcelain,
If you stare hard enough, a sort of swimming
Of lights and shadows, ghosts within a crystal—
My brain unfolding! There you'll see me sitting
Day after day, close to a certain window,
Looking down, sometimes, to see the people . . .

Sometimes my wife comes there to speak to me . . .
Sometimes the grey cat waves his tail around me . . .
Goldfish swim in a bowl, glisten in sunlight,
Dilate to a gorgeous size, blow delicate bubbles,
Drowse among dark green weeds. On rainy days,
You'll see a gas-light shedding light behind me—
An eye-shade round my forehead. There I sit,
Twirling the tiny brushes in my paint-cups,
Painting the pale pink rosebuds, minute violets,
Exquisite wreaths of dark green ivy leaves.
On this leaf, goes a dream I dreamed last night
Of two soft-patterned toads—I thought them stones,
Until they hopped! And then a great black spider,—
Tarantula, perhaps, a hideous thing,—
It crossed the room in one tremendous leap.
Here,—as I coil the stems between two leaves,—
It is as if, dwindling to atomy size,
I cried the secret between two universes . . .
A friend of mine took hasheesh once, and said
Just as he fell asleep he had a dream,—
Though with his eyes wide open,—
And felt, or saw, or knew himself a part
Of marvelous slowly-wreathing intricate patterns,
Plane upon plane, depth upon coiling depth,
Amazing leaves, folding one on another,
Voluted grasses, twists and curves and spirals—
All of it darkly moving . . . as for me,
I need no hasheesh for it—it's too easy!
Soon as I shut my eyes I set out walking
In a monstrous jungle of monstrous pale pink roseleaves,
Violets purple as death, dripping with water,
And ivy-leaves as big as clouds above me.

Here, in a simple pattern of separate violets—
With scalloped edges gilded—here you have me
Thinking of something else. My wife, you know,—
There's something lacking—force, or will, or passion,
I don't know what it is—and so, sometimes,
When I am tired, or haven't slept three nights,
Or it is cloudy, with low threat of rain,
I get uneasy—just like poplar trees
Ruffling their leaves—and I begin to think
Of poor Pauline, so many years ago,
And that delicious night. Where is she now?
I meant to write—but she has moved, by this time,
And then, besides, she might find out I'm married.
Well, there is more—I'm getting old and timid—
The years have gnawed my will. I've lost my nerve!
I never strike out boldly as I used to—
But sit here, painting violets, and remember
That thrilling night. Photographers, she said,
Asked her to pose for them; her eyes and forehead,—
Dark brown eyes, and a smooth and pallid forehead,—
Were thought so beautiful.—And so they were.
Pauline . . . These violets are like words remembered . . .
Darling! she whispered . . . Darling! . . . Darling! . . . Darling!
Well, I suppose such days can come but once.
Lord, how happy we were! . . .

Here, if you only knew it, is a story—
Here, in these leaves. I stopped my work to tell it,
And then, when I had finished, went on thinking:
A man I saw on a train . . . I was still a boy . . .
Who killed himself by diving against a wall.
Here is a recollection of my wife,
When she was still my sweetheart, years ago.
It's funny how things change,—just change, by growing,
Without an effort . . . And here are trivial things,—
A chill, an errand forgotten, a cut while shaving;
A friend of mine who tells me he is married . . .
Or is that last so trivial? Well, no matter!

This is the sort of thing you'll see of me,
If you look hard enough. This, in its way,
Is a kind of fame. My life arranged before you
In scrolls of leaves, rosebuds, violets, ivy,
Clustered or wreathed on plate and cup and platter . . .
Sometimes, I say, I'm just like John the Baptist—
You have my head before you . . . on a platter.

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