The Vagrant Ghost of Winter

At the close of last night’s reading, the artist inside Gatsby’s Books came tearing outside, crying “Someone bought one of my prints! I can’t believe it, someone bought one of my prints!” I happened to be standing besides this young lady at the time, half-pretending to smoke a cigarette – something I often do when I don’t have anything to say to people, trading down one form of malaise for another. And so I stepped forward into the streetlight, valiant knave that I am, and I told her, “I am the one who purchased one of your precious prints.”

“You!?” the young woman said after a lengthy pause.

“There’s really no need to thank me. It was nothing,” I retorted, scarcely masking what little modesty I could pretend to muster at the moment.

“I-I-don’t know what to say,” she sputtered out at last.

“Please. Don’t say anything. Your works are statement enough. More than enough, in fact.”

“Oh! Do you really think so?”

“Let me tell you, I should know good work when I see it. You see, I studied pickiness at the Sorbonne, with a specialization in distinction.”

“That so?”

“I was ABD, no less – that’s All But Dissertation, in case you wondered – and the only reason I didn’t go all the way with it was because I was dissatisfied with the works on offer at the time – the Italian Renaissance can be such a bore. I found all those church-boys, frankly, to be so…well, a bit pedestrian. Anyway, I couldn’t find a third reader who was up to my standards. “Now then–” and here I paused as if deciding whether to continue, then did.

“Now then. Let me speak a word or two – if I am permitted to be so bold – about these works of yours. These works–”, and here perhaps I laid it on a bit thick for the benefit of the growing crowd, as I admittedly riled by the sudden attention of so many eager and indifferent twenty-somethings into such a compressed environment, all of them standing around in an imperfect circle, composing the very picture of effete cosmopolitanism that I had so come to cherish as a fledgling and emotionally arrested adult. I continued:

“These works, I feel, are enough to make the walls appear naked without them; they are enough to make our twilights raw and even the most exquisite diets suddenly sugarless (by contrast). These works are enough to be swallowed whole, coughed up later on, and still their mystery would remain in tact. I think I can speak for all of us when I say that looking at these works I feel that the faces of the masses will sag like tenements in their presence, overwhelmed by their immense grandeur and secret horrors.

“I’d like to be the first to declare that these works are enough to cure all the major ailments and minor irritations of our humdrum lives — the disease the greed the evil of our generation’s Great Unrealized Yawn (yours and mine, let’s not go mistaking pigeons for parrots now). And these works are the yawp above the rooftop that the birds have been waiting for with bated bird breath – their final permission perhaps to migrate onward to a new day. That’s no accidental metaphor, either; for these works are the swelter of ascent, the very embodiment of the future is contained in their canvases – and, let me tell you young lady, that future looks bright, untainted and pure from where I am now standing.

“And I don’t exaggerate when I say your art makes me want to move to Morocco and raise Bantam chickens; they make me want to write a best-selling novel in order to earn enough dough to buy the rest of your compendious ouevre; in fact, I want to take them home and spray them with the stuff they use in the military on their finest steel and ships, and then go and stash them away in the declivity of a mountain someplace for posterity, for preservation…for the kids!

“These works appear effortless, as if they had no ambition, other than the truth; and I’ll tell you another thing, my friend, they have a divine and pleasing quality, a dark and underlying enigma to them; in my humble – albeit totally expert and specialized – opinion is that these works are what might happen if Tim Burton were to beat up the mustachioed ghost of Salvador Dalí by throwing him down an escalator in a Suburban shopping center.

“Have you ever observed a cricket slide along the sewers beneath the glimmering streetlights? No? Well, these works have that quality to them, their slender poetry all the more dangerous for being unsuspected. I fear if I stare too long at these works, they will take up residence in my sweat glands, behind the eyelids, just to prove the honesty of my reaction to them.

“They look like you might have extracted rare specimens or bruises from such a spectral encounter, and placed them in their proper context at last; the kind of feat that could only be performed with the tenderness and precision of a surgeon who operates on fractured mosaics from the Byzantine period – placed them at last in their proper context; and then, then- I don’t know what I had meant to say here because I no longer recall how I began this sentence, but I shall set this straight right after I blow my nose…

Yes, right. Young lady, as I look closer now, I have to tell you I feel these works provide the unforeseen sensation of dancing on a mountaintop with a circle of Bavarian monks – as if in a dream, when the hour of sunrise endows the sky with a tangerine hue that may or may not be accomplished with the use of CGI, so that mystics with their holy butter and their chanting beads might discover new shades of the color orange in one another’s faces, and appreciate their friends just a little bit more from that point forward.

“I hope you understand me. I mean this as a compliment. I am very fond of mountains, and monks and even CGI. Anyone who evokes all three of these things for me at once deserves all of the blessings and accolades that I might be rich enough to shower down upon them.”

“Um, okay. Well—I don’t know about all that,” replied the artist, after another lengthy pause. “This stuff for me is just my anxiety burned on to the canvas. That’s all.”

“Well keep having anxiety, my friend,” I said. “Enjoy the donut money.”

The Vagrant Ghost of Winter


*Performed for Quiet Lightning, and published in Sparkle & Blink – September 2, 2013

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