Imagine a room. The room contains a number of regular elements.
is a window on the left. There is the light it admits. A pearl necklace
and a yellow satin coat with an ermine collar.
Invariably there is a table
to display the elements: look, a loaf of bread; look, a basket.
These are the
Adorning the back of the room is a painting or a map. At least, a nail.
Then the canvas is gone for
a moment, standing behind the observer.
Painting, window, mirror and map form the boundaries
a second skin to
live in. A miraculous membrane breathing
between inside and out.
Only the visitors change. They move the organs
now and then
stand motionless in their closed systems of paint and sable hairs
open the window, play lute or guitar,
read letters, pour milk
or stand in the Dutch room, all warm gravidity.
Like this lady.
belly before her like a glowing sickle
she seems to weigh air. She is expectant. But of what?
is not weighing, she is waiting. Like some kind of Mary
wrapped in the night’s pouch of blue and white. Unapproachable
with two dishes.
People see her for much that she is not. They used to say,
“Vanitas. The woman is pondering
eternal life.” They called her
Woman Weighing Gold. Or Pearls. Her belly a crowded room full.
It was the gleam
that misled us like aureoles, for centuries.
Because the dishes are empty.
And those who seek references, want deep-sea
insights or cherish
higher values should do just that, but this is enough.
For me this is sufficient, like a pagan
faith in the tangible.
The sublime resides in this room. A crust is a window is a table.
Vermeer was the
When the painter died, he left the organs intact:
the glass, the paintings, the map and also
the yellow coat
that had been worn by one woman and then another
they were still there in the room, which
seemed no emptier than usual.
Only the master was gone.
Not a sketch or drawing of him remained, today we
virtually nothing, no diary excerpts or chance letters
except the letters on his paintings, that have since
over The Hague, Amsterdam, Berlin, Paris, New York and Washington.
The room has multiplied.
is another room as well. This room is scarcely lit.
Nothing on the table. It is quiet and deserted. The window
round and tiny. A peephole through which the world
looked in, casting a sky-blue colour on the wall.
From here loans were handed out for years like so many pearls.
Passing the readies to anyone
able to mist a mirror or sign
on the line unaided while meanwhile they tried to keep the pearl
or at least withhold
the gleam so they could flog it again later
on a separate occasion,
by transferring it to a new room, where
they could chisel
the weight away from the gleam to deliberately lay it on
someone else’s table as their holy
credit rating, over and over
on someone else’s hopeful table – risk has to move, move away, fast
this room, further still
from room to room, until in the last pitch-black corner
the shadow of the weight
of the gleam of the former pearl was also
removed, and the caboodle repacked so many times the walls began
slide and tunnels formed of their own accord like bundles of nerves
in a system with no exit.
And the system
it was good
neither head nor tail
it was lighter than ether
better than perfect.
Its only reference self-referential
it became more and more multipliable. It spread across
the waters in
expanding ecstasy as a sky-blue light, from New York
to Paris, Berlin and The Hague, Amsterdam – until finally
one was able to distinguish a mirror from a window.
Technically speaking things were going
aside moralism even cancer
can be seen as a chivalrous form of reproduction
unadulterated profit in fact. We were overrun
It was just a downer when someone asked about the pearl necklace.
The pearls . . . yeah.
Where had they got to?
They were crushed and spread, love, like glittering confetti
somewhere on the edges of our economy.
But where exactly,
that is the question. And the woman asked once more about her pearls.
Two dishes in her hand. Outside,
like a lump of twilight, the sun began to set.
In Washington, basking in her lead yellow glow
the lady had waited
and waited. Now she watched
as the dishes gradually came to a standstill, as before her eyes
in a sudden equilibrium
of thin air and deliberate hot air the whole
system collapsed like a punctured lung – room after room after room.
have a suggestion.
It’s time to count our blessings. Milk. Earrings.
Delft bricks. We are the owners of
light. Like good
trustees we should feed ourselves again with paint.
That’s not difficult.
a shockproof container to America and ask,
“The orange curtain, that light from the left and that pair of old
can we borrow them? In a couple of months we’ll bring it all back.”
But we won’t.
canvas is staying here. We’re going to dismantle
and bring back every room. We’ll reassemble the lot and
down in that one room. Calmly counting what’s left.
This is what’s left:
one mirror. Two hands.
Black-and-white floor, golden edges
glowing sickle and ultramarine. The cinders of a catastrophe
are as tangible
as bread or glass. As edible as a table.
This at least – this is real.
Let the pregnant woman stay here, in
this building. Not out of greed
but to save our lives. We gave them the gleam of a pearl as a pledge.
That will have
to do. To each his own.
We were screwed right down the line
wrung out to the bone we lived in boxes of optical illusion
that paint is ours. Today we will learn to look. Let us
cut back in this room, and grow accustomed to the lean years.
us use the very last
bonuses we have left, scraped up out of the shameless
chinks of our souls, to get our
canvases back and say
That is bread. This is stained glass. And that’s the feel of the glitter of water.
not too late.
Look through the window from outside to in. Go on, look: it says
what it says. And yes, that’s
not much. But we too will be rich.
We will learn to take pride in owning empty dishes.