No 163 - 2001
You Can Go Home Again
‘Just one way, you do get back home. You have a boy or a girl of your own and now and then you remember, and you know how they feel, and it’s almost the same thing as if you were your own self again, as young as you could remember…’ (1)
Alone, so terribly alone at his silver Remington, Noel Coward considers the blank page before him. Once, many years ago in the bridal suite of the Portmerion Hotel, he tossed off Blithe Spirit in just under an afternoon. Today though, finding himself in another quite different hotel room, sweat beading down his face, he is unable to think up a single word of any value, nothing at all. Coward only wants to communicate, to elucidate, eviscerate. But this story is going nowhere. I wonder, he thinks to himself, is the subject matter too close to home?
Back to Plan B, then (unwanted melancholy, business class tickets to Rio, breaking the basic genetic blueprint of all mankind... etc.) She says, ‘Let us quit the Memory Motel, hit the Superannuated Highway, flit free from this sonorous landscape... leave the psychologically vulnerable, the psychotically wounded, the psychically-challenged far behind... feel weightless again... thoroughly gay... and deep-throated...’
Could the mutual love of fly-fishing ever prove to be the source of a belated sexual awakening between two moribund visitors to a strange European city making idle, uneasy, stuttering conversation among the celebrity animatronics of a cult film convention - prior to a screening of Kenneth Branagh’s War and Romance (PG) (2) : Fred MacMurray, Anny Ondra, Vincent Price, Ida Lupino, Tor Johnson... eyeless, smirking...? (3)
Don B waking. The doctor saying cheerfully, it’s bad news. The doctor saying cheerfully, this Cancer is going nowhere. Don B telling friends: ‘I live round it, talk over it, crawl under it, squeeze round it, don’t remotely mention it. But I can still feel it, eating through my back, gnawing happily, like a small rodent through soft cheese.’ Inwardly shaken by the news, all his friends: all reeling hourly through the prospective funeral.
Events catching up with you, reminding you of the time you were a wannabe junk street poet experiencing four emotions simultaneously at the foot of a glass mountain: feeling tangled, blinded, crushed, confined. The blood of a copywriter (a close personal friend) warming the paving stones, dampening your shoe leather... WE DO NOT ENCOURAGE PAINTING HERE, a notice across the street warns you...
Feeling lost and homesick, PJ Proby decomposes his private MP(3) collection, track by track, every night somehow emptier than the last, record company executives remaining optimistic, blowing hi-energy into his penis excitedly. In the discord of a gratuitous jacuzzi, reality slips away, limbs fade out of existence one by one. Friends no longer call. People walk past in the street. Buildings formerly visited no longer exist. Personal belongings vanish mysteriously. Both hands now pass through everyday objects without resistance. The next morning, in the shaving mirror: an empty space.
Grounded by self-doubt when the moment finally arrives, the young men wonder, how will our young men’s limbs propel us through the sliding doors of the train? Or will we dawdle frozen footed on the platform, like commemorative statues, torn between leaving and remaining? Our cold bones aching like crazy now: untouched, untamed, untainted, unblamed. All the prayers of childhood gone like candyfloss. (4)
‘Home,’ everybody suddenly wants to know, ‘When are you going to go home?’... the sea calling Alex Nadir back from the heart of the city with its thick, course memories of home, the rented shack on the beach’s edge, the clatter of falling seagulls. Watching them rise again, the sea like glass. ‘Can’t remember what I wanted back then. Can’t remember how I killed my time. Can’t recall anything about it really. Can’t remember. Can’t remember.’
Images of blasted Somme trenches like an unwanted infection of reality, kaleidoscopic, dizzying, the senseless slaughter, trapped in no man’s land with the rest of the South Staffordshire’s: ‘Now I feel so sick and sad and my face so soft and blackened, blinking-naked shivers drizzling down to my rotting soles...’
Just when will the appropriate emergency services discover the bleeding man out in the car park? Broken glass protruding from his head... life ebbing from him... mighty blue airplanes breaking through the pale sky. Slipping further into unconsciousness, medieval Templars fight bloody horseback battles on the bleeding man’s behalf, their faces shining with rage.
Killing her kindly with one sharp incision. Cutting her into handily sized segments using a power tool, wrapping said segments in crisp white linen, binding them together with more than enough rope. Afterwards eating American buffalo at La Mancha, agreeing never to mention the incident again. ‘Can we put all this behind us?’ ‘The past? Why ever not?’
Lowering the lucidity visor... surfing the higher spacial dimensions... accessing key childhood moments via CD ROM... the past searing across your eyes... blue blue cyberspace memories of you... rekolorizedTM for auxiliary realism... DO NOT ERASE THESE MEMORIES... no no no no no no no... the bittersweet smell of Alma Cogan’s macaroons... and the grandiloquent days of Dotty Parker in her prime (5)...
Meanwhile, Tom and Viv: will they never meet? Tom and Viv: living in separate States, travel writing, speaking occasionally on the phone, not meeting, having several shared interests in common, watching half an hour of Sean Penn’s hairpiece in Carlito’s Way, eating green olives, before tuning into Houdini’s long awaited Comeback Special. (6)
Norman Mailer winning the Pullitzer Prize, growing disillusioned with the confines of fact-fiction, branching out into unfamiliar new areas, relocating to Kansas, becoming moderately famous for his literary recipes. His new range of stuffed mushrooms providing a popular alternative for young vegetarians. ‘Who composed the 1812 overture?’ Izaak Walton wants to know at a hastily arranged book signing session. ‘And why? For what reason would anybody do such a thing?’ Mailer feeling edgy, at odds with his strange new environment... uncomfortable... regretting recent actions... longing for the old days... Gertrude Stein... her snake hips... her near perfect teeth...
Opulent exchange students quiz Albert Camus about the post-industrial coffee house validity of his multi-mirrored pants. ‘These pants?’ he snaps angrily. ‘What do you think? I stole them from Jean Paul Sartre?’
A café table retaining poignant memories for Joan Baez.
- We were so young...
- What might have been...
- In many ways I feel older...
- In many ways I feel exactly the same...
- I feel I’ve learnt to grow right through it...
- I feel I’ve learnt to grow all right without it...
- Our prayers will never be answered again, you know...
- And to think, I always preferred stories that had a happy ending...
Questions posed by the self-contained mystery girl (skin like luxury confectionery): ‘What is the Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament? What is the monstrance? What is Exposition? What is a procession? What is the meaning of the Eucharist for me? How do I recognise the influence of Jesus Christ in my life?’ Questions, questions. Never any answers.
Returning from the lone voyage round my father, the courtyard suddenly filled with hundreds of off-duty lords and ladies... all leaping... the Queen standing at the door of the palace with her five bountiful daughters... arms folded, viciously chewing gum... after dinner, feeling weak from too much wine... incoherently telling them tales of the wicked dwarf and his numerous crimes...
Shallow observations made by an insurance broker on the Circle Line (7) entwine meaningfully with the thoughts of the exotic dancer travelling next to him (wide feline eyes, tiny button nose, Clara Bow lips): ‘If only I could just evacuate my soul... emote it for easy consumption... but really... nobody’s terribly interested... nobody’s lustfully keen...’
Temporarily possessed by the spirit of your dead father: his cheerful ghost appearing bright as day in front of your nose, tangible on the street, back-lit and as credible and real as any living person standing half-upright in the world, the day circling around them. ‘You’ve been dead three years since last I saw you...’ But no reply is forthcoming, disappointingly. No burning words of comfort or consolation or condolence or encouragement. Waking up to your self one day and thinking, such an event would be highly implausible anyway. (8)
Uncovering a subterranean sex coven of cat-women, all beautiful young things, all amazons of the avant garde who have wisely chosen to retire from the chores of disco dancing, cut off their hair and now live alone in tall castles, overdosing on soft drugs, a habit that if untreated can lead to unspecified medical conditions in later life. All the time undercover for Reuters, exploring the romantic side of Jeffrey Dahmer. Of all the spandex ladies he variously dated, he mostly just asked: ‘Do you like Pina Colarda? Getting caught in the rain?’
Venturing back to the hotel on foot, Spencer Tracy suspects Katharine Hepburn has been scrambling his brain with high-frequency telepathic waves beamed from an undisclosed vantage point. In the lobby, the air clotted with the hesitancy of an unemployed vacuum salesman(9) using the pay phone, Tracy passes a preoccupied Jean Vigo. (Vigo thinking to himself: What is time? Is time travel possible? Does time flow in one direction only? Does it have a beginning or an end? What is eternity? How old is everything anyway?) (10)
What I’ve been trying to get across is the abstract sensation of how it feels to arrive somewhere for the first time, usually by train or bus, occasionally by other means. The electrification. The apprehension. The happy dislocation. The nervous ambience of the streets and their yawning bystanders. The fatal accident going off in your head... repeatedly... like an unwanted radio commercial on high rotation... illuminated briefly by a jocular stance...
X-rated faces of the assembled PTA looking blank and slightly irrational, however. (Do they even understand? Do they understand at all? With their grim collective of unrelenting facial expressions...)
You: stumbling across a neon sign which boldly declares, CIA ENTRANCE, NEXT RIGHT. Then, lingering, loitering. Not even stepping inside. Knowing that if you dare to enter the building, you will invariably meet Steven Pinker. And once there, he will engage in charming, if pointless conversation. And this will merely be a distraction. And if you are not careful, you will watch your happy morning smile evolve over the course of a long, slow afternoon into a tight resentful grimace. And do you really want that to happen? Paralysed instead due to an entirely unrelated alcohol problem. You see angels. You see pixies. You see wild horses. You see unconvincing Latino doormen. You see pirates who can barely walk. You see mermaids who can barely swim. You see Roger Moore. You see Thin Lizzy. Later, secretly imprisoned by the thought of why people speak and what people do with their hands while they speak, you see flying saucers endlessly circling the airspace above your head... (11)
Zealously guarding the contents (12) of a travel bag. Standing firm beneath the glittering airport mezzanine. Megaphone poised. The happy hostages, diffident defectors, reluctant refugees gathered hopefully. Speaking softly. Gently disinforming them. Telling them: 1) ‘You can go home again.’ 2) ‘You can and you must.’ Telling them: 3) Anything they want to hear. Telling them: 4) ‘Sometimes you just have to turn the page.’ (13) 5) ‘Sometimes you just have to close the book.’ (14)
(1) James Agee (1909 - 1955)
(2) A blinded soldier (David Thewlis) goes searching for the truth in the wake of the Bosnian War. Privately torn in tatters through an unkind marriage of cold inconvenience (Isabella Rossellini) he is arrested for sneezing at the Imperial War Museum (Lynn Redgrave). Later, pursuing Robbie Coltrane to West Beirut (Helen Mirren), he meets freedom fighting Kate Winslet during an evocative nail bombing.
(3) It seems unlikely, but hey, you never know...
(4) A later exchange in a darkened box room: ‘Are you cold?’ ‘Yes. Especially my feet.’
(5) ‘Man, she made one beautiful drunk...’ (Jack Kerouac, 1956)
(6) Houdini escaping from a plexiglass coffin ouside Canary Wharf, Houdini levitating the Taj Mahal, Houdini resurrecting a dead fly, Houdini making Alice Walker disappear (for good), Houdini reading the President’s mind, finding nothing, Houdini trying to prove how hard his abdominal muscles are by letting assorted members of the studio audience punch him repeatedly in the belly, Houdini collapsing in an anteroom of Television Centre, Houdini suffering from a massively inflamed gangrenous appendix, Houdini dying later the same evening. (Cue clip of an apologetic Houdini on VT: ‘That’s the trouble with magic. Everybody wants a glimpse of the unknown. Nobody wants to see you soaking your feet in surgical spirit for sixteen hours at a time. Nobody wants reality.’)
(7) ‘But am I really a creep? YES, I am the bug man who has loved you in your communion dress. Yes, I have obtained CCTV footage of your face through illegal channels. Yes, I have studied your naked profile in freeze frame whilst manually stimulating myself. But you touched me first... repeatedly, frankly, unabashedly... in quite unspoken ways... when I watched you play in the supermarket aisles... and now I am burning to see you again... so open your right wing overcoat and I’ll let you be my bodyguard in the half-way town where new romantics are not afraid to die...’
(8) Like much contemporary fiction.
(9) He is unsure of what combination of words to employ, dark thoughts dragging him down like hands pulling him into some stark mental abyss. He is calling home, desperately calling home, but nobody answers nobody answers nobody answers.
(10) Meanwhile, Hoagy Carmichael dines alone in the karaoke bar: surreptitiously composing requiem for his deceased wife, to be performed as a 12-hour electronic opera in Gaza by Jean-Michel Jarre when she eventually dies.
(11) No, not even NORAD can help you anymore.
(12) Relevant documentation, plus Hiroshima, Memoirs of a Geisha and other suitable holiday reading matter.
(13) This is not something you wholly believe.
(14) Neither is this.
H.P. Tinker currently exists in cyberspace. He can be reached here, whatever the weather, at firstname.lastname@example.org
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