Open 11am to 8pm
Royal Festival Hall (Level 5), Southbank Centre, LondonOpen Tuesday - Sunday from 11am to 8pm
Published by Dennis Gould
Rivers climb back to the ceiling where they belong
and a fox enters a woman's body, sliding
between her ribs, unable to keep a secret, He speaks
in a different voice from hers. Hunger, he says,
comes to the Portrait House capable of anything,
not just eating, That's no secret.
High above the Portrait House
the sky dozes between love and fornication.
Only the stars, those alumni,
care about me, he said. I am not a fox, he said.
I am a woman, just breathing and feeling sad.
In the Portrait House we had an endless year
that ended. He creaked efficiently out of the door
in his best uniform, saying, I am not a fox.
Yes, it was time to throw out the photographs
of the loveless prince and princess by the palace gates
crowned with make-believe snow. It was time
to eat a gargantuan meal and then sleep
for two or three days, at least.
Ah you are right. It is only a house, a box of shadows.
It is only me folding my arms
in the sparkle of twilight. It is only me
counting my children and beasts. It is only me
in the apple wood when all turns blue and windswept at dusk
with my favourite child singing to her ghost-ponies
high in the branches.
In the Portrait House every wall carries its fair share
of painted or photographed faces; burning lips and all sorts of eyes,
brows and chins. And when in autumn a wind that breaks things
dives through the corridors and the gazing rooms, the faces
frown with such eavesdropping tenderness. They watch us blindly,
growing more and more like foxes. They know
we are too stupid to be bribed. And so a little ghost-sadness
comes into the house, driving us away.
Like any other Adam and Eve, we run weeping
from the forbidden place, everything weeps with us,
tree, cloud, star, lion, river, sun. Every Angel
weeps, and God, he weeps also. But the portraits laugh,
and that little ghost-sadness cries out, smiling foxily,
don't you want these seven kisses? Come back! Oh please!
Outside the Portrait House is a black world and black stars,
black seas and black moons. That is where we must go.
You draw back in fear. Tears run down your face. Why?
You are not a visionary, are you?
I want to be you. Who are you?
In another life I was a man without joy
who lived a wild life.
Since then there have been streets and streets
of silence and rain and fox-voices.
But in this life I am just sifting a little bastard saffron
into a milk pudding
while you come to the table capable of eating anything,
complaining of your loneliness,
saying that women are no better than horses,
that this house has always felt sad.
Silver bells painted on my cheeks
so Mother could always find me,
my hair cut, woven into hers.
I polished the obsidian floor.
The sweetness at the centre
belonged to Tezcatlipoca –
Aztec Smoking-Mirror god.
Mother's memories rose
and sank into the burnished tiles.
Sometimes a vision serpent swayed
and a jaguar reared from its jaws.
Jimson weed takes away terror,
but at dawn before Mother woke,
I obediently dusted the dresser –
drawers full of stingray spines,
swordfish beaks, and a blade
called the Perforator
"for piercing tongues of daughters who talk".
The pros have gathered around a man
who claims he eats nothing but the finest
blown glass. He prefers marbles, well-made,
swallows them like grapes, a king’s ransom,
but he can also eat any type of glass. The men
become jealous because it is one thing to make
the glass orbs, breathe life into the glass,
but another is to consume it without risk.
When the man crunches, they fall silent,
hearing the black molars grind the glass.
Everyone at this year’s convention will remember
such a man. How he will return home
to his wife and children, turn off the lights,
pick at his teeth with a toothpick-thin splinter,
belch by the moon-lit pool, and a fine dust
glitter will float out of his mouth like rain.
Some men feed from the work of others, live
well by it, live better, some men can never
understand the appeal of simple things like glass.
For the man who eats glass, this is a life-long
hobby, a passion like any other. He simply
likes the attention, likes to show off his skill.
A lightbulb here, a chandelier’s leaf, a cup –
such hunger is next to godliness, grace, so it goes.
In such times, lacking a god, he is still happy.