Marino, South Australia
And it was at that age … Poetry arrived
in search of me. I don’t know, I don’t know where
it came from, from winter or a river …
Tyra sat down to write all she could remember of a night last winter, a night so elusive it haunted her.
Tyra was a meticulous woman who enjoyed details. She had a gift for remembering trivia—the name of friends’ dogs from thirty years ago, obscure film-titles and minor events long since past. Tyra revelled in the abundance of minutiae that was archived chronologically in her brain. Her last long-term partner, a computer whiz, often referred to her as his main memory, and marvelled at the swiftness of her retrieval system.
Tyra had numerous lists committed to memory, like the list of former lovers she recalled sequentially on sleepless nights; why count sheep? she would muse. Admittedly, faces materialised more often than names. There was also a darker list of friends and relatives who had now joined ‘the choir invisible’, the only list that seemed to be increasing annually.
But what actually happened on the icy July night two months ago mystified Tyra. She searched her memory for traces of the events. She sat at her computer to record anything she could recall. Tyra rarely transposed thoughts into written words. Art was her medium and portraiture her specialty. Ideas often chattered away in her mind and she had commenced many a virtual memoir during restless nights, usually after her obsessive lists of life’s loves and losses had failed to induce sleep.
Early July, Tyra accepted a portrait commission from a crime fiction writer she met one evening at a city gallery opening. Always arriving late and disorganised, Tyra’s new client sat for her on several nights during midwinter in her riverside studio. She liked his unpredictability and nervous energy, despite her own need for order and calm. As an artist Tyra was a paradox to the usual stereotype of the free flowing, messy, creative sort. Most things in her studio, as in her life, were colour-coded and highly organised. Tyra’s style was best described as ‘controlled expressionism’—a visual oxymoron—and for her it had proved to be a successful formula.
Tyra preferred to paint at night and would often stay late in the studio. Some mornings, after painting her new subject, Tyra noticed scrawled alongside her sketches, poems of sorts; probably scribbled after having a few drinks to wind down after he had left, scribbles that she could barely decipher. This strange night-code, drawn in black felt-tip pen, appeared to be the residue of those rare times when she allowed her scrupulously neat life a bit of slack.
But what actually happened on the last night he visited? Tyra needed to get these fragile memories down before they could no longer be accessed. She opened a new Word document and felt a shiver as the rectangle of white light beckoned her to commit her recollections to a readable form. She believed she always dealt with most life events efficiently and appropriately; she had mourned, rejoiced or celebrated according to the occasion. Any loose ends were metaphorically tied-up with a bloody-big blue bow and stored away with the sealed space-bags for some future season. But what precisely did happen that night? Tyra knew that she couldn’t wrap this one up with a neat bow let alone a dozen octopus-straps. Tentative words appeared on the screen:
… One evening, mid-July, I was in my studio. Several large canvases faced towards the centre of the room. ‘Faced’ is right! They were all portraits of him, not on either list of ‘lost loves’ or ‘loved losses’, yet to be categorised. He, who rocked my boat, upset my applecart … eek! Clichés, clichés and more bloody––
Tyra hit the delete key and poured one of the occasional beverages that helped her relax. She was much more comfortable using a piece of charcoal or wielding a brush charged with paint than organising words.
Right! Feeling a little more experimental, Tyra told herself, Just get it down and sort it out, stream of consciousness stuff, Molly Bloom and all that:
… vague memory of him arriving very late to view the finished portraits and I guess as usual he had a bottle of red under his black felt jacket and was all wild and dishevelled with a tangle of jet-black hair almost obscuring his eyes pensive and intense like a Heathcliff character on a bad day untamed yes romantic and lyrical elusive and obscure a mystery maybe a composite lover or my animus perhaps even my nemesis and with no apologies just a lot of words and yes and yes and––
No! Tyra couldn’t wrap this one up or put him on any list. He had tangled her up in his emotions—intoxicating rhythms—her night muse. His sense of disorder had begun to unravel her carefully constructed life. Tyra was now fired up and continued to type:
… We drank the wine, laughed at the portraits, swam in a river of bloody clichés! We talked about everything under the moon, but I sensed that was the last night we would ever share. The softly lit studio was our refuge for only a few more hours. As he casually explained ‘it’s not to be, you can’t preserve magic, freeze emotion, capture a fleeting likeness, see the “ghost in the machine”, we are all destined to change and move on …’
Why did I listen to such drivel? Emotional, drunken drivel that I knew would evaporate at the first ray of morning light. Tyra continued to reconstruct the blurry events. She recalled having more than a few drinks with him on that occasion before falling into a deep sleep. No need to recite any annoying lists or compose misty memoirs in my mind with him around, she giggled affectionately. Tyra now vaguely remembered waking late the following morning, reaching for a Berocca, and suddenly realising that she had slept in the old armchair in the studio. The door was ajar and the frosty morning air had eventually awoken her. Previously transient memories were becoming clearer as she typed. Tyra was beginning to capture more than just the visual likeness of this enigmatic man, the possible catalyst for her irrational jottings:
… I awoke to find a sketchbook open on my lap. Scrawled over one of the many pen portraits of him was that same black, barely-legible text …
Tyra glanced at the sketchbook open on her computer desk, now an aide-mémoire. Many of her impatiently scripted words were difficult to read, but the charcoal sketch of a single figure against an early morning sky on the opposite page helped to deconstruct her last precious memory of him:
… He left as unpredictably as he had first arrived at my studio, only a two months earlier. We shared Neruda’s ‘fire and flowers, the winding night, the universe. And I, infinitesimal being, drunk with the great starry void, likeness, image of mystery, felt myself a pure part of the abyss …’ I watched him drape his dark, velvety coat over his shoulders. He glanced at me ambiguously, and then at the pristine white canvases—all awaiting a subject. Nothing left to say. The black night was softening to a lighter hue. The river breathed transparent mist and murmured low in an unknown language. I watched him slowly disappear. River hours with him were momentary fire. Now in early spring, I am still struggling to understand my sense of enormous loss and yet quiet, profound joy.
Tyra had finally pinned down some of the elusive magic of the midwinter night, the night her muse left her with a studio of blank canvases, and a profound love of poetry. Although nothing had seemed quite as intense in her life since, she felt a sense of relief that she was not losing her mind, altogether.
Tyra calmly sipped her green tea and transcribed into readable text, what she thought was one of her own chaotically scripted poems:
… a diminishing figure, silhouetted
against the scarlet tendrils of the rising sun,
fore-runners creeping across the sky
from a determined and hopeful dawn.
Bio: Judith Bruton photographs and paints poetic Austalian seascapes, and has quirky stories/poems published in anthologies and online: narratorInternational Vol 2, 2015, narratorAustralia Vol 4, 2014, Vol 2, 3, 2013; Salt Breezes, Dangerously Poetic Press 2014, Alfiedog.com including Came as ‘I’, Left as ‘We’ 2013, Short and Twisted 2011, 2012, 2013; ABC Open 2013; Relay, Marion Writers Inc 2011; Avant New Writing 2009. Shortlisted for the Alan Marshall Short Story Award 2010.
Please visit: judithbruton.com