VISION OF A CHILD ACCOMPANIED BY NERVES OF STEEL
When the Lumiere Brothers brought cinema to society in eighteen sixty five the dangerous effects of the medium were palpable. ‘Arrivee d'un train en gare a La Ciotat’ saw audiences screaming in their seats, believing that the train itself was about to plough into the theatre. What was realised more gradually was the peculiar sense of alienation invoked by the filmed image. ‘The Kiss’ was perhaps cinema’s first taste of the actress, fragmented and rearranged through the mechanical eye of the lens, now presented as an object like any other object. Walter Benjamin explored the inherently shocking nature of the moving image in his ‘Illuminations’. According to Benjamin, the diligent film watcher is so disturbed that he must become Baudelaire’s ideal vision of the modern artist - possessing the ‘vision of a child accompanied by nerves of steel’.
I peer into the gallery, keen
to step amid the murmurings of critics
disputing over the size of the screen.
I bend my head and enter. Rubbed clean,
the hardwood floor is studio–bright.
Figures cast by my travelling shoes
block out the mirrored light.
There isn’t any chairs. I scan the floor
for wooden shine, an opening in their bodies.
They make me think of a nut with a shrivelled core
being held softly, in the dark, by a muscular jaw,
quietly waiting to be cracked.
Respecting this as their desire,
I slip into the back.
It flashes. I find myself watching the moving sea
in waves of undulating grey, rushing
forward to savage white. Monochrome victory.
It leaves me bodiless. I think I’ve been
this way, at the opera before.
One night my blood was running low
in sugar and I saw
three hours of Verdi in a high enclave,
suspended in an audience box while falling
from my velvet seat onto the stage.
Now it seems impossible to gauge
why the floor won’t keep me here.
I’m falling up into the screen:
light and swiftly clear,
surging onwards into riotous white.
I’m sucked straight under, undulating grey.
I look away. I search the crowd. I might
discover in their faces calmer sight.
The critics seem to half–exist
in reiterated flares of light
that doubtfully persist.
It seems I’m in a fetishist’s dream.
I count their lit–up eyes, neutral objects
ranked in lines and shining in the screen.
I’m envious. Could I be so serene?
Looking down at my own hands
I find that in the screen–light they are
weirdly soft and wan.
I stare them out. Would hurting be unwise
to ascertain if they’re still on my side?
I’d make it so the pain didn’t rise
but lay dazzled in my flesh. They’d writhe
and I could watch them at my leisure.
I would feel an empathy
that is akin to pleasure.
I smile at this, but instantly a doubt
corrects my thoughts. What is this room?
Instinctively I bite my inner mouth,
sink in my teeth to get the blood–taste out
and feel it galvanise my eyes.
My curious trick prepares me.
I look back into the light.
It’s changed – a man treads a soft furrow,
pacing closer across a field of grain.
He appears Chinese. Voice–over blackly bellows,
seeming to speak of the past or ‘The Youth of Tomorrow’.
A subtitle flashes– disappears.
‘He hopes she will stay in Anhui. There are
so many lakes worth visiting’.
I watch entranced as if this were a beautiful girl.
I sway to her gestures, whispering Look.
Look, she’s inside out, she has unfurled.
She’s baring her insides to all the world
and still she doesn’t feel the cold,
opening her smile to a crowd of eyes
with not one secret told.
Inflamed by my desire, I study him.
Over the field he rustles on his jacket,
a riddle who’s exposing everything.
I feel the peculiar blessing that is dubbing.
Miles away, he moistens his lips
and fiddles with his jacket buttons.
I feel his fumbling grip
As if I’m underwater, there’s a peace
to this intrusive hearing, so increased
I slide into his jacket. Underneath
the picture flickers. I feel a sharp release
and see his skin. He’s in a pool,
facing the impassive echoes
on a diving stool.
His chest distends in slow, stretched ribs.
Content, he jumps. The board rebounds with a shadowy
splash. I’m cool in the water but can’t give up
my kicking legs. I rise with him and lift
my dripping arms up to the ledge.
Constrained to remember my own hands,
my skin, as if by pledge.
Is he restrained by my stare or by his own?
Is this the upshot of his city life?
Waking in the curtain–light alone,
immobile in the dusty sunbeams thrown
across his bed, how can he rise?
Heavy, brutal self–awareness
tattooed in his eyes.
I blink and try to come back to my senses.
My estrangement, I know, has worsened.
I think of lawns with well managed fences.
I think of lines with first person tenses.
‘I am sitting in a film.’
‘I am sitting in a room.’
‘I feel ill’.
Looking back the shot is of a hand
sliding, slowly, down her jacket seam.
Surrounded by the silk of her waist–band
in his fingers I am smoothing round
her middle, her circumference. Mewing
like a cat on heat she is
scarcely, slightly moving.
Elation. Everything I feel is pure.
No guilt is here to slow my transformation.
Gliding I am laid bare to the world,
around, around the waistband of the girl.
A thought slides in. Am I the upper hand?
Will I always, always move?
Painfully sensitive, I can
hear, with grateful ears, a weaker wave.
A buzzing but insistent frequency.
(The lowest current that the screen–light gave.)
Tuning in, instead of being saved,
I’m confronted with a vision
of a flick knife at my throat.
It’s my interrogation.
Tell me. Now. What do you make of these?
They’re a pair of panties, hanging from a wire.
And? They oppress the frame. Every crease
is sculpted in hues of grey. They hang there. Please.
And this? What is it? A hallway clock.
Go on. Tell me. How does it seem?
I see an average clock.
It’s possible that the second hand is slow.
Yes, it seems lethargic. A little drugged.
The arrow ticks – quivers – then it goes.
She strains to reach the light–bulb on her tiptoes.
Futureless, she’s at her ease.
Her toes sink into a feather mattress.
Wetting lips, he reads.
Inky snakes, glissading in a tank.
Stroking each other, two playful hands.
A moonlit yard. A thermometer, I think
and then a busy street where no–one blinks
but flashing lights go shivering past
with shops and indecipherable signs.
I click my heels, fast.
I spot her. The crowd in the bustling, shady street
hides school–girl socks up to her rapid knees
but through the gaps its possible to keep
my head filled with those socks, those moving feet
and then the camera stops.
Left in the crowd I keep her in my eyes.
She walks along the road, out of sight.
Out of shot, clicking her heels into the unintended