Tuesday, August 23

Poet For Hire

Down by the river and the water is flowing but seemingly directionless; I know that it flows east, towards the sea, but it does not appear so. It looks like a brown crowd fighting amongst itself. Reflecting off the violence is a strong sun and all the heat that comes with it. The straps of my backpack stick to me and are soaked through with perspiration. Passing by the curve of Shakespeare’s moss-covered theatre, open to the gloomiest of my island’s offering, I see a young man trying to earn money. Of course the promenade is thick with tourists, with foreign blood and curling accents, and therefore with other people trying to make money off them, but, hmm, this one stands out to me. There are men playing guitar, one man fingering a marionette over a miniature piano, another blowing big bubbles, another holding a pose like a statue. This young man, this one that I pass at the time of writing, was being photographed. The tourists, their eyes new to everything and wonderful in their excitement, have taken to aim their camera at him. I slow my pace, approaching. He is dressed in a tweed suit and is smoking a cigarette, leaning nonchalantly, yet precisely rehearsed, against a railing. Not a yard from his shoes is a table with a typewriter atop of it. On the typewriter is a piece of paper that reads POET FOR HIRE. Why only for hire? I ask. Why not for sale? Let me buy you, if that is something to be sold. His commissions have dried out. He is waiting for another exchange for a dip into the orifice of his stanzas. He tries to look poetic. His typewriter dries up in the sun, like a handful of grapes. He is out in the sun all day. His cigarettes roll up and roll on.
Some hours later I am stood on top of the Tate, having marveled at the O’Keeffe colours and made up my mind. I am not sure what I made my mind up about, but walking around the exhibition I felt a great deal of certainty, as though everything was sorted out and the rest was plain-sailing. Georgia’s paintings startled the breath out of me, often, and in the end I retreated to a balcony overlooking the river, where more tourists gathered. They took photographs on their phones of the skyline, but I was used to the skyline; within it I found nothing new. But from their spectacle I had my own: their backs and their movements against the blue sky – the mass of them concealed in August shade. I enjoyed a cigarette and thought about Georgia O’Keeffe and the behind of the girl in front of me. I could write a book on women in art museums. She turned around, her camera lowering, and held my gaze. I sighed and smiled to myself.
The poet-for-hire was still there. People took photographs of him. No one ever seemed to be in the process of a commission. I imagined each of the poems the same. His best output was in the evening. He couldn’t possibly create a work of art in the day’s bright business of cutthroat. He was meant for darker times. He smoked his cigarette, still, and I passed him by.

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