Cleopatra

After Pushkin via Louis Martinez

The palace was fire. A choir sang
ringing with flute-sound and lyre.
The Queen’s glance, and her voice
were the soul of a great feast.
All hearts inclined to the throne.
So, golden bowl in hand, the Queen
looked taken by dreams, and drooped
her beautiful head toward the ground –
the royal feast seemed to calm
and the hosts shut up. And the choir.
That’s when, again, she looked up
and said, her face bathed in milky light:
< My love is your sovereign joy. >
< A sovereign joy you can buy… >
< Listen. It’s mine alone to do: >
< give you all one equal opportunity. >
< Who here’s a buyer? My love’s in play >
< I’m putting it up for bids – let’s see >
< who among you is ready to pay >
< with your life for one night spent with me? >
She spoke. Fear took them all,
as a passion stuttered their hearts.
Enduring a muddled rumour which rose
of a face that was icy with pride –
she let run a disgusted look
round her circle of adorers…
Now, someone came from the ranks
soon followed by two others,
their step was daring, their eyes glowing
and the Queen rose, walking to meet them.
The game was set, three nights were bought
and death’s bed was opened to them…

…………

Immediately, blessed by the priests
the three lots, one after another,
were drawn from the fatal urn
in front of the silent guests.
Flavius came first. A robust soldier,
veteran of the Roman legions.
He twitched to see in a woman
so much arrogance and disdain.
He went to her bed’s challenge
like in old days, in his campaigns,
he’d gone to the call of battle.
Then came Crito, a young intellectual
raised in Epicurean groves
Crito, the adept, the poet
of the Graces, of Cypress, of love
whose eyes, and heart, were kind –
flower of a springtime barely begun.
History has forgotten the name
of the third. A short and soft fur
tenderly shadowed his cheeks.
Desire illuminated his eyes –
a hot and clumsy force
boiling in his young heart…
It was on him that rested
the saddened gaze of the Queen.

…………

< I swear, as Queen of pleasures
I will worship them beyond anything tried
and make myself play courtesan
in this game-of-love challenge.
Listen, oh powerful Cyprus
and you, infernal sovereigns
oh gods of fearsome Hades –
I swear to you that before the dawn
I will exhaust their desires,
their burning pleasures, my masters;
I will quench them, opening to them
the mystery of my strokes –
The divine secrets of pleasure –
but as soon as the eternal dawn
shines its morning purple –
this is an oath – their pleased little heads
will bounce under an axe. >

…………

Now the day is blown out,
the moon rises all horny and gold
and a delicious shadow fills
the whole Alexandrian palace –
where spurts of water and lamps glitter –
where a hot smoke of incense rises –
where they ready the gods of the earth
for the smoothest of pleasures.
There, in a dark and luxurious cavern
full of half-miracles of art,
under the shade of purple curtains
waits the gold and royal bed…

1828

C to M

Unbelievable. Words are meant for pages,
not to echo over the fields behind houses
disturbing the moths in their evening light.
Words are meant only for games
and this is not a game. I said stop.
You need to speak now, we’re here.
I’m here, you’re here, we’re here.
What are we playing at? What just happened?
We had an ice-cream together
and it was like the last ice-cream piece
of the ice cream puzzle. But it’s gone.
We were like two intercity kiloton trains
that missed the crash we could have been.
Ignorant that all of us crash, it’s life.
But our verdict is not stayed by vague gestures.
You are like the frame of everything;
I’m like your cracked painting.
And you’re mine. You’re my painting,
my nude by Georges Braque, a person,
but unlike any person they know.
I could never have said this ’til now,
it’s like someone is speaking through me,
my voice is no longer my own,
so I’m going to take this chance to say
I love you, M, I’ve said it before.
But I don’t think we ever got through
to a precise entailment of that statement.
You are the thorn in my side that I need.
You are the constant pain that lets me know I’m alive.
Or am I that to you? I’ve lost track. But that’s it;
If they tried to unweave me from this world,
they’d have to take you too, otherwise
what’s left would not make sense.
You’re like the light by which I am seen.
Without you I am not me.
We evolve together like the beetle and magnolia,
But who is which, changes.
Stop, let me make you a statue to yourself.
Let me be your pedestal. Let us hold us.
Stop, let me punch your enemies in the nose,
and redeem all your relations.
Let me become something that we become together
Let us realise that we become together.
Stop, let’s lie down here in our hole, our glass sphere
And work through everything in glorious variations
of sex, like we were carved by the ancients.
Things are going wrong all the time
And we aren’t owning it. Let us own it.
When we are hurt, we are the uneasy angel,
making uncertain vows to save us.
Now Editor, Stop. Allow us this
Of course things happen in unlikely ways,
Let’s not be melodramatic about it.
Leave the future to those who live there.
We are our fate.

Hello Sadness 2020 – Part 2-5

The moment with the cigarettes wasn’t without consequences. Like some people who think a lot before acting, who are very sure of themselves, Anne wouldn’t tolerate being disobeyed or dishonoured. By being gentle, by releasing her tough hands from my face, she was going against that side of herself. She’d guessed that something was happening, and she would have made me confess to whatever it was, but at the last moment she gave in to pity or indifference. Because she had just as much trouble taking care of me, training me even, as she did accepting my weaknesses. The only thing that pushed her into this role as my tutor, my teacher, was a feeling of duty – that by marrying my dad, she was taking responsibility for me as well. I would have liked it if the constant disapproval, if I can call it that, could have improved to just annoyance. I would have liked it if I could have felt that she was just over-sensitive, because then it would have faded as she got used to me. But it’s much easier to get used to someone’s behaviour if you don’t feel like it’s up to you to sort them out. In six months she would have been tired of me, but in an affectionate way, and that was exactly what I wanted. But it wasn’t going to happen, because she felt responsible for me, and in a way she was, because I was still easily mouldable. That and stubborn.

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Hello Sadness 2020 – Part 2-4

Other than his surprise, my father gave nothing else away. The cleaner explained to him that Elsa had picked up her suitcases and left straight away. I don’t know why she didn’t mention Elsa and me meeting. She was a woman from the countryside, and very sweet. She must have known more or less exactly what was going on, especially since she’d changed all the rooms around. I felt suddenly very thankful for her.

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Hello Sadness 2020 – Part 2-3

The next day, as I was walking down to Sal’s house, I felt a lot less sure of my thoughts. To celebrate that feeling of all the tension being over, I’d drunk a lot at dinner – I ended up pretty drunk. I explained to my dad how I was going to study literature, visit professors and that I would end up famous and boring. He would need to use all his advertising techniques and probably some kind of scandal to set off my career. We were in hysterics, talking over our crazy ideas. Anne laughed too, less loudly – she was indulging us. From time to time she stopped laughing, when my ideas became overblown and nothing to do with literature. But my dad was so obviously enjoying himself having a laugh with me that she said nothing. Eventually they put me to bed, tucking me in. I thanked them too many times, and asked what I would do without them. My dad really didn’t know, and Anne seemed to have some pretty brutal ideas on the subject, but as I was begging her to tell me, as she leaned over, I fell asleep. In the middle of the night, I threw up a lot. Waking up that morning taught me just how crappy waking up can be. It was worse than I’d ever had before. My thoughts fuzzy, my heart beating too fast, I headed towards the pine woods without noticing the sea at all, or even the probably overexcited seagulls.

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Hello Sadness 2020 – Part 2-2

Two days passed. I was treading water, tiring myself out. I couldn’t free myself, I was obsessed – Anne was going to trash our existence. I didn’t go looking for Salil, because he reassured me and gave me happiness and I didn’t want that. I just collapsed into questioning myself with impossible questions, remembering the before time, fearing the days that were to come. It was so hot – my room was shadowed, my shutters closed, but that wasn’t enough to drain away the heaviness, the stickiness in the air. It was unbearable. I stayed on my bed, head thrown back, eyes on the ceiling, barely moving and if I did, only to find a bit of cold sheet. I didn’t really sleep, I put the old digital radio on at the foot of the bed, found a synthwave channel, where they were playing their slow records, almost melody free, just a kind of beautiful rhythm. I smoked a lot. It was decadent, and I liked it. But all this playing around couldn’t distract me. I was still sad and disoriented.

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Hello Sadness 2020 – Part 2-1

Intermission Montage SoundtrackSal sailing around the coast trying to catch a glimpse of her, partying with his friends, thinking about being with another girl who he knows, then turning away at the memory of Ceçile. Her lying on her bed losing her mind. The sun, the sun.


If really surprises me how clear my memories are from that point onward. I was much more conscious of myself, and everyone else. I paid attention. Before that I was always pretty spontaneous, in a selfish way – it was easy and came naturally to me, but those few days were problematic enough that I had to start thinking more, had to observe myself live. I went through the incredible pain of thinking my life through, and still didn’t end up any more relaxed about what was happening. My feelings, I thought, my feelings about Anne are stupid and simple, but then the need to separate her from my dad is intense. And why judge myself, anyway? I didn’t have to do anything. I was just me. I was free to just experience whatever happened. For the first time in my life, this ‘me’, my ‘self’, seemed split in two, and the existence of this two-faced side was a big surprise. I found excuses, whispered them to myself, feeling sincere, only to have this other ‘me’ exploding my own arguments, crying that I was fooling myself, even if they looked right at first glance. But wasn’t it really that other ‘me’ that was lying? Wasn’t the obvious response really the worst mistake? Sat in my room I debated for hours whether the fear and anger that Anne made me feel was justified, or whether I was basically a selfish little girl, spoiled, and just lucky to have had some fake independence.

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Hello Sadness 2020 – Part 1-6

The following morning was painful. I woke up sprawled across my bed in the darkness, my mouth dry, my limbs lost in sweaty sheets. A ray of sun slipped inbetween the slats of the blind, and dust particles floated up through it in tiny constellations. I couldn’t decide which was worse – staying in bed or trying to move. I wondered whether Elsa had come by yet, how Anne and my father would deal with the morning. I tried to use them as motivation to get up, but it didn’t work. Eventually I managed, finding myself stood on the cool tiles of the room, feeling dizzy and emotional. The mirror showed a sad reflection, and I leant my head on it. My pupils were massive, my mouth swollen. My own face looked like a complete stranger. I was suddenly struck with the thought that, since I was so weak and cowardly, that must have been down to my body, the horrible, random definition of my lips. The thought surprised me with its clearness among the wreck of my headache and myself in general. I morbidly entertained myself by hating my face. The bruise, and the shadowed eyes in the darkness reminded me of a Venetian carnevale mask, wrinkled and creased from nights of wickedness. I began to slowly repeat the word ‘wicked’, looking myself in the eyes, and I straightaway began to smile. All it was was a few evil drinks, a smack in the face and some tears. I cleaned my teeth and went downstairs.

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