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Les Très Riches Heures

Danny Malboeuf
In shuttered rooms, in whispers white She sleeps by emerald candlelight She dreams of fallen seraphim In velvet, stained with ancient sin A shadowland of shadow smiles Where blood, like candy, fills the aisles A copper tent we call the sky We'll burn the ladder, close the eye The girls will kiss, the stars will die... - The Book of Keb

Tell me your first memory. I'm fascinated by first memories. Mine is a checkerboard kitchen floor, in an apartment... in a town called Cherryville. Next came oceans, and storybook monsters that were as real as Jesus. Waking up, drowsy from eternity... everything new and pure. To a three year old's eyes, the sky is always a perfect turquoise, streaked with high crystal clouds. So beautiful that you want to eat it. How I wished (then) that hot-dogs could be that color. But the dirt under the skin of the world will eventually infect the dream.
Self-Portrait (detail) Still, we find our peace... albeit in pieces. The dream of love. An indescribable thing, and yet you can gauge its boundaries. A painting you can never see, framed by elusive pleasures. Isolated, they are almost meaningless... the cold November air at sunset, blotted orange by a dying sun. The alkaline sting of a 9-volt battery on your tongue. Holding hands under a denim jacket. The flash of blue-green light behind your eyes at the point of pleasure. A twelve-string guitar. The scent of warm asphalt on a summer evening. A whispered ‘Goodnight’ and ‘Good morning’. Chopin. An airplane, humming like a lover beneath you...

But best of all is waking up from a beautiful dream, and finding that it is real after all. That's when, even if you believe in no deity, you want to thank someone higher than

yourself who must be responsible for this. Beatific God, who has made me smile, in spite of the dirt beneath the world's skin. Finding yourself in someone's eyes is the ultimate discovery. Ah, Columbus... you needn't have travelled so far.

A pivotal moment in my childhood: seeing a blind guitar player outside of Woolworth's one day. I remember his eyes were pupil-less and blood red. He sang hymns in a ragged voice, and was oblivious to everything around him. I was terrified, and became nauseous. The beauty/frailty/repugnance of humanity has always been a source of fascination and repulsion to me. The fragility of beauty. The threshold we cross every day, waking from a transitory death and plodding towards a finality that we usually avoid contemplating.

Self-Portrait with Albatross

There's nothing more cathartic than putting together a model car. I'll wager that assembling a vintage Aurora Wolfman is one of the most peace-inducing pursuits on the planet. As a semi-serious collector of the aforementioned items (a serious collector being an individual who has never known womankind in the biblical sense, and passionately debates the superiority of the Ghost Rider over the Silver Surfer) I can speak with some degree of authority. The first time I stumbled upon this revelation ... well, I must have been about twelve. It was a cold and rainy Saturday, a grey November day with sleet-like icy needles scratching at the windows. The kind of comforting cold that loves cake doughnuts warmed in a toaster-oven, and a cup of hot chocolate misting up your eyes. This is what is known as ‘model-putting-together weather’, and I fail to understand why the TV meteorologists never announce its arrival as such. Anyway, I had recently purchased a Tom Daniels hot rod called the Groovy Grader, which was an insanely souped-up road grader with mag wheels. We have our headache-inducing glue, our enamel paint that never applies smoothly, and our unfortunate brushes that we forgot to clean last time around...

Then, as we are drawn into our work, a strange thing begins to happen. Everything around begins to fade away. All that seems to exist now are these pieces of plastic, and seeing that they fit perfectly. Everything else is forgotten. Nothing is, except this. It's a state I've since learned to replicate as I paint. A total absorption in the task at hand. Not that it's always possible... but when it is, there is no better feeling. To be completely lost in what you are doing, so that even ‘you’ cease to exist. Blissful, indeed. Existence can sometimes be an irritation. Anyway, a cold rainy Saturday is – and always will be – a Groovy Grader day in my lexicon of days. And here's a hot chocolate toast to the bliss of temporary nothingness.

My first near-death experience occurred on the Ross 10-speed racing bike. Having seen the surely divine Debbie Addison pass by in the family stationwagon with her mother, I was pedaling desperately to catch up with them. My intention was to whiz by, the epitome of coolness, as they sat idling at the traffic light. However, I managed instead to drop the tennis racquet I was carrying into the spokes of the front wheel. Apart from the amazing sound it made (something akin to dropping a harp and a Caribbean metal drum into a wood chipper), it flipped me over the handlebars and onto the unforgiving sidewalk of East Broad Street. For a second I could swear I saw a being of light... but it was just an old guy in white pants asking me if I were okay.

The first TV I remember was a big black cube, sitting on a table designed to hold its bulk. Televisions weighed several tons back then, and within minutes of being turned on got hot enough to warm a TV dinner. They emitted a strong ‘electric’ smell, and their backs glowed orange from a veritable city of tubes inside. More often than not I was squeezed back behind it, looking through the air slits into its warm light. It all seemed magic, contrasting with the blue-grey light from the front… the static, rabbit-ears with aluminum foil, and darkened room.

Transmission

The Christmas I grew up with is a strange creation of late twentieth century culture. The sacred and profane are joined together, opposing yet complementing one another. Like red and green. Christmas was and is (for me) a wonderful mixture of symbols. Manger

and sleigh, candles and multi-colored lights. The Night Before Christmas, and the second chapter of St. Luke. The Angels appearing to the shepherds always struck a note of awe and holy dread in my young soul, as did the time one Christmas Eve that my not very sober father climbed onto the roof to ring a bell down the chimney... a portent of Santa's arrival. It was for me a sensation of delicious fear and expectation. It's something that I retain to this day. And as much as I longed for the orgiastic frenzy of present-opening in the morning to come, I learned to relish the exquisite moments of poetry that so often are come and gone before anyone of us takes notice. May we all take notice.

Checking out a Josie & the Pussycats website (for the cartoon, not the film) I was glancing over the ‘collectibles’ page and came across what I initially thought was a nativity set. For a brief second I experienced the ephiphanic rush of exotic beauty that I get when the unexpected crash together inside the musty supercollider between my ears. Alas, I had mis-read vanity set. All is vanity.
Regina Coele Latere (detail)

I remember an ancient early autumn evening. Cool drizzle caresses the exhaust of a hundred cars. The parking lot gleams as if it were glass. Two girls kiss on a dare. Warm bubblegum breath on my cheek, on my neck. Hands find my pockets. Turning Japanese on a radio somewhere, and the Eckerd's Drugs sign seems to flash in time with the beat, and I wish that time would stop. There's a bright light behind the clouds. I know it's the moon, but I wonder if it's Jesus...

A Secret Song for Sara

An old love, with its ecstasies and agonies, does not die. But its essence will condense into a bittersweet candy, far back on one of the dusty shelves of your soul. New

affections, new obsessions will supersede it, but they will never obscure its distant flavour, or its longings. Once your heart is touched in that peculiar way, it never quite heals. The pain can often be pleasurable, but it is always pain. Unrequited. If it is requited, it isn't what you expected, and probably not what you wanted. But this disappointment is not the answer. Disappointment is the sister of complacency. Reality and the ideal can't seem to exist in the same time and space. The gears turn, but never mesh. That's the dilemma of attempting to live in both worlds. In fact, they are sworn enemies. Music whispers of a sweet reality that only exists in the mind of the hearer. To put it politely, it embroiders on what most consider to be the truth. In songs, I heard the longing that I felt yet didn't understand. And the most important thing I've learned is that I don't want to understand it. I can't be as cynical as Tolstoy, who in The Kreutzer Sonata insinuated that music was a beautiful lie, but then I doubt that he could be either. Even though I now know the ‘actuality’ and the ‘possibilities’ of certain life situations, I also know that I cannot live inside the rancid corpse of what many consider reality. With music, with painting, take what this world offers as reality and do your best to bend and twist it into a beautiful shape. If it breaks, it cannot be considered a life wasted. Go west, young man... in the sunset lies your heart. ‘I hear you singing through the wire, I can hear you in the wine...’ *Transmission ended*

I tend to submerge all unpleasantness beneath the miles of permafrost that I've allowed to accumulate over the years (selfpreservation, ya know). There shall be no clubbing of baby seals in my arctic preserve. I ask questions, but I pray that the answers never come. ‘Bless me with mystery, and shroud me with shadows...’ Originally I was going to weave a cautionary tale along the lines of ‘be careful in whom or what you invest your time, and yourself’...
The Pretty Baa Lambs

but that just sounds far too negative, and I hate being negative. This pitiful world is lacquered over with sadness, broken from nearly the beginning. The truth is that you cannot rely on anyone. Even those who have the best intentions. Even yourself. So, a misplaced trust is a stone I've stumbled over more than once in my lifetime. Those who you have come to trust as a friend, even a ‘best’ friend... why do they suddenly appear with a knife behind their smile? It's all the more distressing when you know that you've done nothing to deserve it. Who knows? Sometimes all you can do is stand in stark amazement. The world becomes a little less green, a little more grey. Bitterness is not an option. One can only hope to become wiser. The positive aspect? You become all the more thankful and attentive to the one who truly does love you. Now, everyone, smile your defiant smile into the grey, unfeeling void... and surely something will change.

Tonight is the first night of autumn. Not technically, perhaps, but I usually gauge it by whether I must close my window during the course of the evening. My computer being at the window, my mouse hand quickly becomes cold. But not unpleasantly so. All the better to see the spirits rising from my hot cup of tea. So, the crickets are muted tonight. The writing spider outside my window is suddenly gone. And A Kiss on Sled Hill Scorpius gently slides down behind the trees in the west... Antares and Shaula glitter above the housetops. Fomalhaut rises, and makes its silent arc across the southern sky. Autumn is here. Now for the days of ice-blue skies and winds twisting with red and yellow leaves. Cold strip malls and warm cars with the radio playing. The smell of wood-smoke, and the distant sound of children playing. A girl's fuzzy sweater, that smells inexplicably and wonderfully sweet... traces of her hair, her perfume, and her laughter. The crickets won't be singing much longer... but there is a family of owls that lives several trees down from me. There's something very old and comforting about their calling to one another through the night. Ungainly bird, but most lovely of all birds. Singing, as the song of the cricket dies away, and the stars of summer sleep behind the earth. The heavenly season, blue and blazing, has come again.

On Labor Day the county fair comes to town. Granted, it's a sad shadow of its former glory. Gone are the days of hyperdangerous rides, deformed farm animals, and girlie shows. No more heavily made-up ladies swaying tiredly to New Order or Human League... the very weight of their make-up making them weary. No twoheaded baby in a jar, chained to a post like some insane tether ball. No unfortunate calf with six legs... just pies, and a Ferris wheel. But I recall the more dangerously poetic times. Insane crowds, a thousand songs playing at once. The creak and rumble of the rides, and enough flashing lights to induce a city of seizures. Seeing an old girlfriend for the last time in front of the Arctic Flyer. Only her eyes, over someone's shoulder. Walking home in the rain with friends, and feeling both happy and sad. Earlier still, and a boy of eight was enchanted by a gypsy girl of twelve, who took his quarters. No matter which duck he chose, it was never the winning one. But that was fine. Her eyes were dark lights, and cut deeply into his heart. She was there every year. Then, when he was thirteen, it was all unexplainably and suddenly changed. The gypsy girl was gone. The sad animals were hidden away, the dancing girls danced elsewhere. But I like to think that somewhere, such a county fair still exists. A microcosm of a mad world, translated into neon lights and candy apples. Unhealthy food, unwholesome attractions... all brightly lit, and all nearly within your grasp. Such things can and do inspire the impressionable and wide-eyed proselyte. I have a few relics from those days. A clown's head, whose body has long since disappeared. A golden cross, now brown with age. And a few plastic ducks, whose numbers are painted on the bottom with red nail polish. I like to imagine that it was hers.

The same trees surround that field, the same gravel lines the midway, the same eyes look back on those days... forever gone.

The Silver Apples of the Moon

Do you remember what I never forget? Meeting at dusk on the fairground. The sky a deepening blue, the songs blaring from the Arctic Flyer. How natural it all seemed, right from the beginning. Do you remember the sudden cooling of the air as the sun disappeared? That evening breeze that carried with it a thousand scents, from a myriad of perfumes and foods. From green and yellow fluorescent lights... sawdust and redwood benches... Pepsi spilled on summer shirts. Dying colognes. My friend Robbie met Selene, and they ventured off into the night. I met you. Do you remember my grandparent's basement? The cool stone floor; stacks of newspapers, and the smell of gasoline. The radio that played Pink Floyd on Sunday afternoons. Listening for approaching footsteps, and yet not hearing them. Do you remember the week before Christmas? You climbed into my light-lined window, and burned your stomach slightly on a green bulb. Do you remember the CD you brought with you? A Gregorian Christmas. We half-listened as we wholly discovered what really and truly was. And later, we huddled together under a patchwork quilt, staring wistfully at the streetlights through the window, as that timeless music spoke to us of a timeless time. Do you remember talking on the phone, under the covers? It was never boring; there was always more to say than could have been said. Every day, every night.

Do you remember when your family moved away, and took you with them? You couldn't face me, to tell me. But I'll tell you a secret... I couldn't face you to hear it. So, one day a day unfolded, and you were not at its center. It seemed an impossible thing to have happened. An amazingly hurtful thing, like an object that is unbearably hot, but will not allow you to release it. You left a vapor trail across the sky... and then you were gone, and the vapor dissipated... and there was nothing. Nothing but a cathedral of memories. I am not a monk in this cathedral, but do visit it tenderly on the darkest nights to blow the cobwebs from the reliquary. I have a new bishopric now.

La Cathedrale de Strasbourg

Ten scents that should be mass-marketed 1. A redwood bench that has absorbed the noonday sun. 2. A mixture of various fast foods and sawdust (usually found at fairgrounds). 3. New vinyl albums and CDs. 4. Difficult to describe... but the taste/scent of a persimmon on a chilly evening with a slight hint of school-bus exhaust. 5. A girl who has just mown the grass and is wearing sunblock (not with coconut oil, however). 6. A Firestone store. I remember from childhood huge towers of new tires and shiny metal toy robots... 7. Warm fluorescent lights in the rain (especially those on a Ferris wheel). 8. A denim jacket worn by a girl who has excellent taste in cologne, shampoo, and bubblegum.

9. My grandmother's Eastern Star bible, with its multi-colored ribbon bookmarks. 10. Dead leaves.

The day has gone down magnificently. The sun has drifted behind the poplar trees, framing each leaf in orange and coloring the sky a brighter blue than midday, with soft tendrils of pink and mauve encroaching around the edges. Nature seems to have paused. The birds meditate in their nests, and even the passing cars have a hush of reverence upon them. It indeed seems almost a holy moment. Our star goes to warm the oceans of morning behind the world, as her children gently wink in an ever-darkening sea of twilight. The cicadas are not so shrill now. Perhaps the brightening summer stars have drawn them into a state of contemplation. That gentle light that reaches us now, like waves from a distant shore, is but a ghost of what it once was. Vega and Deneb, bluewhite diamonds hanging far above, cast their shadows too dim for our eyes, but the waking owl will follow them in her ever-widening circle of flight. The air is heavy, yet not oppressive, rich with the verdant jewels of summer lawns and sprinklers that whisper a sweet monotony. From the house, the music of Mendelssohn plays... the organ sonatas, tracing patterns in the evening of an almost Bachian grace. The music lends an overture of sacred peace to the moment, and all is overlaid with a feeling of the presence of God. One can glimpse His true nature now, a silent majesty that awakens an intimate voice in the depths of the heart of creation. One can recognize its echo in the distant sound of children playing, in the hum of the streetlight as it flickers to life, in the cricket as it sings from its home in the deep grass. This oratorio of nature and man is too beautiful to last more than a few divine moments. Be still and take it in, the poetry that is now at hand, for all too soon the sky trembles into darkness, and night will come to draw her dark shroud across our eyes.

It's still warm where you were sitting. A piece of tangerine skin curls around a cup of warm tea. Lights on the Christmas tree blink a rhythm that's vaguely familiar to you, and to me. Changing constellations on a sawdust sea. The milky blackness of your long hair silhouetted against the light of a sad red candle. Burning, dying away. The people who are dead ... or maybe you just haven't seen them in a long, long time. That's better. More palatable. A song you hear in the store that brings back a flood of melancholy memories. Suddenly, you really don't want to be there – or anywhere. You just don't want to be. Well, you may as well exist with me. The ever-present music was a father to you. It told you things that you had always known, but never really thought of before. It lent an elegance to every sweet smile. It turned cardboard to gold.... so when the cardboard finally crumbled, you saw only gold dust. Music, the beautiful lie. It taught you to hate silence above all, and so you do. Still, small voices wait in the folds of silence. Jealous gods give you dreams of empty cities, where you are fated to walk and find nothing...

So, sit for a while. The saddest secret is yet to come. Its herald is written on the wall. Not by the fingers of God, but by the soft shadows of sunlight and leaves flickering there. Why is it so sad, that dying light? It has always been so... to you. Don't look away. It's time to look now, and let those wordless shadows take you into their depths. A soft, slow spiral. The clock's hands wave us a sad farewell. We won't leave this year with glasses full, but with empty tears. Not with the sound of merriment, but with the gentle ‘spleck’ of a parting kiss in the grey waves of morning. There is pain in the blissful core of even the prettiest star. But still, we are... And it's still warm where you were sitting.
The words of Danny Malboeuf, edited from his journal entries by Lloyd D. Graham. Danny’s drawings are pencil on paper and his paintings are acrylic on canvas; his art can be seen at http://kolaboy.deviantart.com/gallery/ and http://beinart.org/artists/danny-malboeuf/?GID=746 .

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