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A Quarterly Journal
Jeffrey Woodward, Founder & General Editor
Volume 9, Number 3, September 2015

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Gary LeBel
Cumming, Georgia, USA


from A THIN RED BOOK

I. Two Figures

HE
It's definitely the afternoon there.

SHE
Why do you say that?

HE
Well, houses get lonely when it's quiet at that time of day; they start looking at each other. It's so still, they're worried about their people, like dogs wondering if their masters will ever come home.

SHE
Oh, come on. Looking at each other? That's a bit artsy-fartsy, isn't it? It does look awfully quiet, though, I have to admit, and you're right, no one seems about. You can almost hear the clucking of hens or the thumping roll of an old wagon 'off-screen' somewhere, can't you? But the bigger question, it seems to me, is what those two figures in the foreground are up to.

image

HE
Well, they've been making love, of course.

"Ah, Dulcis Amor,
with love you've laid him waste,
but now you must slip stealthily back
to your husband's bed
with fleetest haste."

SHE
I don't think so. Rather:

"Brueghel well knew
how life was lived
in hamlets just like this:
had he glimpsed this scene in passing
or was the boy in him romancing?"

HE
Yes, you're probably right, always so damned logical, but

"Virgil claimed
it makes men weak
as any passionate task will do,
whether it's done with stylus, brush
or Eros' touch."

SHE
Clever, but no cigar.

"The older man
so lazed with drink
can hardly stand:
once more it takes a 'comely maid'
to 'man the man'."

HE
O really? Put that pretty little ear of yours right down there: listen! You can hear her laughing as she feigns her struggle, arching her back to ham the scene.

SHE
Yeah? I don't buy it. I think she's really trying, and what's he doing except pretending to be a dead weight, as most men do, and are? Look, he won't even get up off his elbow to help the poor girl! Reminds me of someone I know.

HE
Now, now, wait, wait: we're both wrong. She's not pulling, he is! He's trying to get her down on the ground with him.

SHE
And she's resisting. At last you're making sense. How typical.

HE
Want to go upstairs, my 'Dulcis Amor,' and talk a bit more about it?

SHE
Not right now, I'm not in the mood. I'd like to look at few more of these pictures and then decide. I still say that she's struggling to get that dullard to his feet, drunk or a 'love-coma' notwithstanding. But why she's trying so hard is a mystery. I guess that's what novels are for, explaining, while art keeps us guessing.

Summer wind blows lightly
opening all its ages to a dreamer's eye;
the fine rain it's bringing
fills the expectant air:
what you must let go, let go . . .


II. Window Seat

image

HE
You've been sitting
there at your window seat for hours
hardly moving;
what images take their color
from the green of your lovely eyes?

SHE
When I've a horse beneath me
its power eclipses
even a broken heart
and time runs on without
the slightest hint of you

So he turns from her window
having stared too long:
he'd give anything
for a second chance but how often
those are tainted.

image


III. An Afternoon by the Sea

They had been making love; it was late in the afternoon. Soft breezes blowing up from the sea danced in the thin white curtains and cooled their perspiring brows.

Propping herself up on her elbows, the one looks smilingly up at the other, as if she had a priceless secret to tell. The other, taken aback, says, "Whaaat?" with mock innocence.

"I could drown in those you know."

"In what?" says the other.

"Those huge eyes of yours; there are oceans in them. You're a perfect beauty, and I know that you know it."

The other blushes faintly. "That would be sad . . . if you were to drown. Maybe I should chip a tooth to save you," she says with an insouciant laugh.

"Oh, no, no! That would be worse! " she says turning abruptly away from the other's eyes. Now the other looks at her quizzically, pondering her sudden change in mood.

After a few moments, she spins back round and faces the other with her eyes slightly lowered, her cheeks a blush of rose. When she looks up shyly, the other smiles and with a knowing twitch of her lip, looks long into her lavender-blue eyes, confident that she understands intuitively what may have embarrassed her, and what she may have wanted to put into words but didn't wish to or couldn't. A chipped tooth: she thinks how wondrous and necessary are all the small details and so-called imperfections that love never calls a flaw, part of our stories that tell themselves,

thus she would never know the sum of this woman's life before their love had blossomed, nor of the recollection that had prompted such a sudden turn in emotion. In this way, her mystery became a second lover, and so the other decided that she would love them both.

Up and down your backbone
I read the Braille
of your desire
with the same tips of fingers
that have written these lines.


Author's Notes:
(1) The sketches in the order of their appearance are by Pieter Brueghel the Elder (1525?-1569), Henri Matisse (1869-1954) and Pablo Picasso (1881-1973).
(2) The term "coma," from the Classical Greek koma, originally referred to the drowsiness and pleasant sleep that follows sexual satiety.
(3) The "THIN RED BOOK" is Master Drawings in Line, The Studio Publications Incorporated, London & New York, 1948, found recently in a thrift shop, a treasure, and better still, a door for the imagination.
(4) Dulcis Amor was purloined from the Carmina Burana, a 12th century book of verses in Latin and the textual source for composer Carl Orff's work of that name.

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