©Sushanna Ellington, 2013

©Sushanna Ellington, 2013

Click HERE to hear the author read! 

The poet and the painter were in love (or so their patron thought). Marriage was, after all, a covenant of convenience. Their need for one another resided mostly outside of corporeal time. Yet, they bathed and slept together; inhaled the same rank air; and dragged their feet across cold planks indifferent to the layers of paint flecks, slivers of binder paper sullied with cuttlefish ink, and degrading food scraps that resided there with impunity.

Make no mistake, the poet and the painter were always aware of one another’s genius. Still, they suspected that together they were going mad. Yet, they readily serviced one another as muse and destroyer of worlds. They played a dangerous slight-of-hand game that was more exciting than the beauty of words and images–and chance encounters with longing. They stayed together, knowing full well that it was not for the sake of something sacred.

Their psyches often drifted like glaciers in tides.

Now and then, he would admit (and only to himself) that his averted vision was little match for her anguished automatism. Yet, he made a study of her dark eyelids and the sloppy pouts that gave her charcoal eyes sinkhole depth. He resented the hours she poured over her faded address book in an effort to remember what was half-forgotten.

When his brushes went idle, he crafted savage soliloquies on the injustices endured by important painters who were denied their due until resurrected posthumously. Secretly, he worried that there could be only one Rothko for his generation, and that the rapture of ghosts had already risen in glory most certainly without him. So he languished in the miserable company of a woman who walked only on tiptoes and for whom a random kiss had the same effect on his dopamine receptors as reading turgid prose.

For the poet, a word in her own hand like the mirror above the vanity failed to confirm that she had indeed not gone missing. On cloudless days she imagined herself a puff of gray smoke disappearing with the wind. In the orange glow of sunset, she sorted her library, surprising the specks of dust that lived unremarkably on the spines of old book jackets. The particles spiraled up through beams of fading light that soon turned to black, implacably black nights.

Fits of dreams crushed her further. They summoned her to salons overseen by the cult of melancholia: Anne Sexton, Karin Boye, and Sylvia Plath. Unwelcome as they were, Gertrude Stein and Anais Nin took the best seats as self- appointed arid dissectors of everyone else’s work (as though they still mattered). The poet’s heart beat wildly, but she hid in a slant of light not sure if she was prepared to make a confession. But no hour of reckoning ever arrived, because the specters considered the poet dull-witted and a nuisance with her incessant humming in iambic pentameter. Besides, they were too busy engaging in intellectual rants on the merits of automatic writing, Kandinsky’s color theories, the semiotics of sexuality, and the providence of the “Jesus Prayer” for Franny and Zooey.

At the first dawn of light, she staggered forth from the dream. And the day-to-day traffic across cold plank floors went on impervious to Mayday measures. The couple was in the eyes of any shrink a rather cold case.

It was inevitable, really, that vertigo would arrive born of her relief to have finally disappeared and of his inability to defend himself against mechanical time.  Eventually, the poet developed catalepsy; the painter took to inhalants—and all memory of them became impossible to recall.

©Sushanna Ellington, 2013

Sushanna Ellington has moved from her residence at the nexus of art, education, and human rights to an architectural glass studio where she putties and details windows.  Her street cred as an artist in her own right, BAWP fellow (1981) and Fulbright scholar are not diminished by her happy return to her blue collar roots. Sushanna can be reached at ruhevahshi108@gmail.com.

One Response to “Still Lives Still by Sushanna Ellington”

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