Andrew Nightingale


The Transparency of Veils

This morning on the verge of waking, I dreamed a title
for this poem. André Breton says, waking life is trapped
in a morass of clichéd ideas. What if the reverse is true?
The erotomaniac gets this kind of sudden intimation.
I saw a valley draped in mist. I was standing on a bridge
and, in the cracks between its wooden planks, I saw
white water plunging. It washes between these lines, past
the black bones I extricate, and steals away their meaning.

Early sun clears the valley mists. Over the bridge is a village.
We enter, you and I, like unseen spirits. We pause and watch
a child that plays on the path, building empty chapels,
miniature crypts of pebble and shingle. Beside the path
a replica black madonna hides her face in a roadside shrine.
Why are the chapels empty? What does it mean?
It must be like asking, where is an erotomaniac's heart?
If not peering through windows for accidental signals
or faking invitations from the shape of a cloud,
then why not building traps that are never sprung?

Loading penetrable meanings, André Breton says. Analysis
and words like erotomaniac: moths pinned in framed taxonomies
are human documents. Because isn't love always perverse?
A child leaves a village forever and meets an old man on the road
who carries a bloody human liver. André Breton says,
'everything is written' is an expression that should (he feels)
be taken quite literally. And why not? The erotomaniac's story
has been told before and entropy is leading us all to a warm death.
Only a statue I've never seen keeps water flowing under the bridge.

Suppose you wake up knowing it exists hidden in a way
that it could never exist unhidden. I wrote this down
in case it meant something later. André Breton would
hate these modifications. You wake up knowing nothing
is going to change or can be changed. It must be a compulsion
of the perverse, letting the way in which the hidden hides
give out little hints. As though clothes blowing on a washing-line
shape themselves almost to the contours of a missing body.
Then just as you would touch they let the body fall away.

An old doctor tells a child about the cult of the black madonna.
Nothing but a doll – a wooden sentry in her cave. Gothic psychiatry.
What does it mean? No-one knows, André Breton says,
how to despise us. Overloaded with meaning like an erotomaniac,
meaninglessness comes like the rush of white mountain water
when the snow melts. North becomes south. Prayers fail. Love
hates for no reason. Moths pointlessly devolve
from their framed taxonomies. The dream I had –
how can it be anything more than accidental beauty?
How do you escape a classic double-bind?

A wanderer without water in a murderous desert will find
that voices are bodiless and verbal automatism becomes
a trope. In the desert there is nothing more real
than the wailing wind that sings to listless dunes of love
(always unrequited), making its scales from a thin notation
of palms. The trope is overloaded. There is a loss
and reality testing. Lack of intimacy. We stumble on
the brittle kaolin of bones revealed too soon, pulled out
from their sheath of blood, sand-blasted and dried.
There can be no resistance with a subtlety of veils.

A prince and his bride in a gold carriage appear from nowhere.
Six black horses draw them, wheels scrawling, hooves fighting
the sand's powdery suck. The carriage stops. We enter
our familiar's mouth, two interlocking spirits stealing tongue:
                           What is the black madonna?
The prince descends, indolent, jewelled and gorged with lust.
Behind him in the carriage someone moves. She is Babylon,
the song that you hear in the garden of figs, the water
that fills the fountain in a dusty walled courtyard, she is,
André Breton says, the automatic "of nothing"
                           that is our proudest denial.

The lines run on and between the lines, as though revealed
by sunlight combing through a shutter's slats,
is the darkened outline of her form. Charcoal burned but shining wet,
the sufferer in her mausoleum trapped by the subject of desire.
The filtered panels of light cut through glittering floating dust.
Shut off and gliding under adjectives, I could still lose her.
The opaque demands of meeting with you on this plane
make no sense. An erotomaniac's heart is too distracted
and sees you as an obstacle, at best an intermediary. What is achieved
through this triangulation? The altars are binary.

Walking and walking, on and on, clifftops and gullies,
the deserts, the flood plains, the forests, hills, lakes and mountains,
I don't know where. North becomes south. Love devolves.
And all the time the wind sings untouchable scales that drift
like sand or snow or fallen leaves. Us two, we're like
two moths caught in a child's mind. The mind of a fugitive,
hiding the thoughts that are inescapably black. The questions
we spill on the child's tongue stain like ink. My love,
stop pretending this will come to nothing. Your face is ready
like an open window when the shutters are broken.

There are some jealousies more touching than others,
as André Breton would say. Some traps may be
easier to avoid. I mean, what can be learned from crude allegory?
What does an inconsequential transaction mean if I place it
here, in a golden coach, and simulate the accidents
where love invents shadows that flicker in the shrine
then glide away. There are meanings that explain and meanings
that die unfed in rooms where the shutters
are kept almost but not quite closed and the statues are veiled.

In this gross disturbance of attachment you'll find your thoughts
have been invented by mine. Writing to you is an intrusion
that prepares the dark forms your brow will keep from me.
They show a tendency to erupt, as André Breton says.
If I could come inside and we could, between us, play out
this reciprocal transference in reflex motor messages,
we'd make a red mattress of the child's tongue.
Would I still not know you? Would I still be no-one? No,
idle reader, no. You'd be a spirit of my own. You'd be mine.
I'd move across the borderline. This is gothic psychiatry.

But the traveller has grown old and tired without allowing
the psychic faculties to flourish. Pale and wasting,
stripped by a pathology of secret signs on faces and in print.
Eventually the traveller sees a silver strip glint on the horizon
and gradually it congeals into a gleaming waking city.
At its gates the traveller pauses. There's a child playing
in the road. Playing with rocks. Is this the city
of the black madonna? Is it? Towering steel and glass
and light, lifting up to a canopy of sullen cloud?
Open spaces, the broad white galleries of elegance and critique?

André Breton says, these pieces have… a staggering level
of naivety. Idealised readers march in to marching music,
nursing a muse with butterfly wings. Her face is, even now,
veiled from me. But she shares my perversion: an erotics of failure.
No, that is not your city. No. There are no superfluous dreams
in that city. There's no room for a withered traveller, tired, old
and carrying a bloody human liver. The city is home.
André Breton says, vile crossings out afflict the written page
– like the city with its shrines, empty and crossed out.