Open 11am to 8pm
Royal Festival Hall (Level 5), Southbank Centre, LondonOpen Tuesday - Sunday from 11am to 8pm
She clicks. The projector beams
The Cotton Exchange in New Orleans, 1873
across her dining room wall.
She checks her notes, winces at the simile:
Degas pulls our gaze to the gent
keeping book in the back room,
the windows hang like guillotines.
She's revamping an Impressionism lecture
that's older than most of her students.
After thirty years, her projector's a house pet,
squatting at the end of its leash. She clicks,
it draws a blank. A slide is missing. She stares at
The Spot-lit Square of Uneven Wallpaper, 1973.
She remembers choosing the pattern
from a stack of remaindered stock:
her first attempt at DIY. The sheets overlap;
rose stems splint where they ought to meet.
An aesthete would cringe but, as her cow-licked
fringe stands to attest, she is not so afflicted.
Her thumb is attuned to the undergraduate
attention span. She clicks again. It's Manet's
maid at the overstocked bar,
for whom she still gathers sympathy.
Baring her wrists, saddened and bored
despite the spectacle. A gentlemen
addresses her bib of pale skin
for a flute of champagne and a clementine.
She plucks a satsuma from the still-life
on her table, turbans her thumb, removes
the peel slowly: a spiral, an abstract.
She feels nothing. It's dark outside.
The height of Parisian entertainment
is cut from the frame: the trapeze artist's
ankles are all that remain.
She's been to see this painting a dozen
times – more – and watched her students
hustle to get a good look as though fighting
for drinks at the Union Bar. The girl's glazed
expression, kept behind security glass.
The barmaid has no reflection; a ghost
amid the vanity, defined by her work and yet lost
to it. The chandeliers hang like rain clouds.
John Thomson, d 1618
You would have to know where he lived,
how his croft clung to a hillside
forty times its size, on sufferance.
To stand under meteor showers
and northern lights, under a sky so vast
it swallowed his voice,
to see daily the breathtaking sweep
of hills, green and purple breakers
of surging stone,
to hear the ravishing inhuman voices
of birds, water, wind. You would need
to look out from his land,
where the ocean glitters beyond what eyes
can bear, the view he shared with no one,
to understand John Thomson,
who, long ago, was strangled for seeking
the stable’s warmth and, with soft words
of comfort, making love to his mare.
…a retinal twitch. And the day still black ink bled grey
the excess running to clot in the gutter with socks render
from patchy shops a silt screed over pavement slabs
sifted from foot to foot passed between strangers.
The light though has turned from plucked to reed
glissando; an irreal shift from seen to wadding.
You in your jeans that leave your legs flagpoles
your face sous rature hacked cough have been romantic.
The sun is going down through bare trees and behind
tower-blocks windows turned phosphor smog-orange
with softened light skulked back through stair wells
remaindered through west facing windows gracing east
finding us shifting foot to foot on a street corner
the air a definite pizzicato. Here my breath
is the first glut since a child stuttering into the garden
ruddy faced lungs singing clear with oxygen.