Departure, yes, from the illusions of life to the essential realities that lie hidden beyond.
Max Beckmann, 1932
We leave everything behind. And take it all with us too. How could it be otherwise? My beloved holds a lamp in her right hand, while the German dwarf ties the last of his bonds tight around her calves and my arms, which are crossed behind my back. The doorman in his blue uniform stands next to us, holding a fish. Blind-folded, so as not to see where we are going. As if he didn’t already know. I am the upside down man, did you know that? In my green coat of wind. We are both bound, and bound one to another, by the ties of fate. Soul and body, body and soul. The accoutrements are classical, the falling down world. Friezes, columns, reliefs. Staircases, scaffolds. Gods. All fall down. The man with the drum, a cadaverous cataleptic wearing a peaked cap, beats on. Marching out of the picture, marching into the past. Or the future, whichever comes first. We felt the whole thing in our bones; or, if not in our bones, in our blood. In our heads. The strange history play in which we found ourselves acting. All five of us; and the fish makes six. You cannot ask if we were willing; it is the wrong question. You will notice that she has one breast free and in that gift, if it is a gift, is all the hope we can carry. We left everything behind and took it all with us as well. Could it have been otherwise? Her face, indomitable.
This was the cost. She was bound again and made to kneel half–naked before the globe: a crystal ball? Our blue planet? Or something else, a palantír perhaps. She will be violated if that has not already occurred. Who is doing this? I cannot tell. Where was I? Bound too, both my hands amputated, the marbled flesh like some atrocious echo of antiquity. Or the other fellow, pink-shirted, turned away, his hands intact but also bound and standing in a barrel—like Diogenes? All three of us bound and no-one left to paint the bulbous still life, the pear, the apple, the grapes, on the table top, itself upon some kind of plinth. It seems we are still in ancient times. The green curtains, the toppling columns. Or in some theatre of the absurd. I do not know why the man in the striped blue and black shirt holds high, like a mattock, a bag from which a fish’s head protrudes. A tail too. He looks as if he might be about to chop down the tree of life. Or is it an axe against the frozen sea within? Maybe he is just landing his catch. Again we are six: add the green-beaked bird, before the draperies, swallowing its own red eye. There remains the goddess, her marbled flesh, bound and looking down into the globe wherein may be found other departures, or all departures. And that strangely concave board she kneels upon, with its drawing of trees: are there other ways out of this hell?
Who is doing this? Who is speaking? Painters do not speak, we paint; and paint is silent. Our language is blue. The ocean and the sky are neither sky nor ocean, they are blue. The robe the crowned figure wears slung over his shoulder, turning away, his hand raised, is blue. If that is me I am pleased to see the rosy tint returning to my flesh. The pink behind my hand. Our flesh. My clothed Queen, holding the golden-headed child. A sturdy boy. He is staring behind her at the ancient of days: look again, do you see that antique profile? Odysseus? We are again six, and one of us is again a fish. Held, now, in the hands of that flaxen-haired Viking with his helmet, no less than his hair, obscuring his face. His one cyclopean eye. Or am I wrong, is he the father of the child? Are we both fathering the child? Who fathers the child? It is every child, antiquity’s child, Odysseus’ child, the child of Theseus. Why is she looking at that helmeted man, with the gold bands upon his arm, with his abnegation, his inscrutability, his fish. Is it a challenge; or in recognition? I know that we will never know. You will notice that I have a casual hand upon the net wherein the jewelled fish are caught. You see the oar that kisses the surface of a blue which is different from the blue of the sky. The blue, the green and the white of the landed fish. The golden scuppers of our ship. It is like heaven, all gold and blue, apart from the red of that Viking’s robe. His blue mouth. Always my eye returns to that profile, he who is hardly there at all, he whom without whom we would have no destination. The king that in the caves of history dreams. Yes that is exactly what I mean. Our ship has no prow and no stern. We drift upon the endless blue. Sky and sea, and sea again. If we are going nowhere, it is because we have already arrived. If we are going everywhere, then so be it. If anywhere, then anywhere will do.