Dispatches from the De Chirico Exhibit

by Stephen Guppy

Still pretty quiet here.

The shadows move so slowly that I wonder sometimes if the sun has stood still. This is probably an optical illusion. A couple of men in hats loitered for a while in the intersection, apparently engaged in conversation. The sky was green all morning.

***

Last night the silence seemed overt and operatic. Men with boot-leather faces were slicing it up with enormous saws like fiddle-bows and wrapping it for shipping. When I woke, I was in a packing crate. A glove swam past the window. By the time I found my way across the hotel room, it had turned into a bird.

***

There's a smokestack as red as a kiss on the horizon. Is that where they make these terra cotta stones that pave every alley and courtyard?

***

I dreamed I was making love to a tailor's dummy.

***

A girl with a barrel hoop keeps running past the door. I've decided she's the daughter of that woman who was sunbathing in the square this morning, her legs wrapped in a cotton sheet, her breasts bare as a porn star's. These Europeans think nothing of displaying their bodies. Not wanting to be thought prudish, I undid some shirt-buttons and leaned out the window looking down the colonnade toward infinity. Apparently no one noticed. The sky remains green.

***

An egg, a book, a monstrous glove, a stallion's head emerging from a building. These were the possessions of the man who has just left. They are episodes in his legend, the spore of his myth. We recline in the night of his absence. We inhale the last wisps of cigar smoke and cologne.

***

In the sidewalk café beside my hotel, a man with no hands plays flamenco. A woman whose face is a featureless egg hangs on his shoulder as if watching him perform. They were lovers, I imagine, in the days before they turned to stone. The music is drops of blood flowing uphill, a scurry of animate gems inside my thorax. I sip Chianti from a fur-lined cup and prepare to eat the carcass of a petrel. Its one sardonic eye observes me, a whirl of bitter metal, as I lift the knife and fork.

***

There is no girl with a barrel hoop. There is only, it transpires, her shadow. I sit beside her mother in a sidewalk café. The shape of the child appears beside us, projected on the white plaster wall. We are drinking cinzano and soda. The shadow streams across the naked wall.

In another life, a child is running, running.

***

No one was lonely before there were trains.

***

The steam train is more apparition than machine: the horizon line has come alive; there it goes, exhaling the night, methodically traversing the perimeter of our vision. Before railways were invented, distance was the sound of hooves, the clatter of our footsteps as we made our way from one page of the story to another. Now we languish in these vacant rooms and colonnades, and the horizon cries out to us with the voice of a mad contralto.

***

These canals were filled some decades ago, but they still attract a loyal crowd of swimmers. The young men remove their garments and stand up to their waists in concrete. From time to time, they wave their arms as if signaling to aircraft. They are wonderfully, inexplicably happy. They are re-defining the concept of summer. Their project is magnificent and futile, which are apparently synonymous terms in this world.

***

The conscience builds a fence around an armchair.

***

The heart is a curious organ. Yesterday I fell in love with a woman who was gazing at a single marble plinth. I stepped over the dreaming faces of the obsolete gods of this region and approached her from behind. I was staggered by the beauty of her slender, feminine back, the ash-blonde hair she had gathered with a bone-white clip at the nape of a neck more elegant than any perfect Doric column. I touched her hesitantly on her shoulder, trembling at the prospect of seeing her face to face. When she turned around, I was confronted by the back of her head once again. No matter how she turned herself, I would always be standing behind her. Such, it seems, is the reality of angels.

***

Perfect beauty is a palindrome, a mirror held up to a mirror, a tunnel drilled into a hole.

***

The decline of this city could be measured with a compass and protractor.

This morning, as I walked through the town, a gigantic hand protruded from a window and offered me a walnut. I tipped my hat and thanked my invisible benefactor, though the walnut was empty except for a darning needle and some frail bones that might have been the remains of a hummingbird.

***

Instead of night, there is a landscape of forgetting. The colonnades dissolve into ambivalence, and the silent woman and I recline and stare out into a vacant expanse. Her name is Melancholia. My heart has turned to dust.


Stephen Guppy has published two novels, two collections of short stories, and three books of poems. His most recent publication is Like I Care, a satirical novel set in Vancouver and Taiwan. He teaches at Vancouver Island University and hangs out at http://wordpress.viu.ca/guppy/. His short story, "Fibonacci Sequence," appeared in Issue 36 of The Cafe Irreal.