Thursday, October 15, 2009

Convent Avenue

Written in black ink on butcher’s paper he read the following, ‘I would like to say to those who think of my pictures as serene […] that I have imprisoned the most utter violence in every inch of their surface.’[1] As he unwrapped the picnic ham he mused ‘5 cents on the dollar, not bad for a rabbinical ham’. That Fall the dogmen hued a butcher’s block made from the biggest oak in the forest, rounding off the corners and oiling the top with Yellow Shafted-Flicker oil. (I must go. I cannot. I will go. I must) His head spun in circles, pushing him off-balance. When he felt like this he sat wherever he could find a bench, the park behind the aqueduct or in front of the Seder Grocers, and tried to collect his thoughts; those thoughts that hadn’t been spun into cotton candy or butter. One day his head caved in, flattened like a crushed soccer ball. His da said boys like him were prone to airlessness, their heads soft as milk pudding.

His da collected Jacobean antiquities, leather-bound books and silverware, serving dishes and bed linen, anything between the Elizabethan and Caroline eras. He kept the books on specially-made shelves lined with red satin; the silverware and dishes he kept in boxes stowed in the kitchen under the sink; the bed line, which came in Victorian white, he lay out flat on the harvest table in the summer kitchen, the breeze from the backyard airing out the dust and mold. His da said that you could tell a lot about a man from the shape of his head. A flat head was evidence of dimwittedness, a round or oblong head slow motor skills, a tiny miniscule head seriousness, and a rectangular head was proof that mathematical and algebraic functions were unreliable when it came to measuring a man’s intelligence and capacity for reason.

By the time he was eleven he’d lived on Fitzgibbon Street, North Richmond Street, Convent Avenue, Richmond Avenue, Royal Terrace and Windsor Avenue, his da drinking the rent six times. When the rent came due, the last of the month, the first when they lived on Royal Terrace, his da played sick and wouldn’t answer the banging on the door. Hushing his brother, ma and littler sister he’d raise his finger to his moustache, the banging cracking the stillness in the two-room flat. Kolding Vejle the elder evicted tenants who came up short on the rent, the street a litter of the poor and the besotted.

Wölfflin’s flophouse, owned and operated by Henry Purcell Barroco, took in the destitute and ruined, offering them a cot and a warm place to lay their head, all for 25 cents a night or a dollar a week. Henry Purcell, as he was referred to by close acquaintances, was himself acquainted with the Herstal Liege pantomime troop, Dr. Sickly and Tiscali the juggler having at one time or the other rented rooms at the Wölfflin.

[1] James Breslin, Mark Rothko: A Biography, p.355

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"Poetry is the short-circuiting of meaning between words, the impetuous regeneration of primordial myth". Bruno Schulz

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