You painted with a scalpel,
each canvas a wound
excavated by pain,
the body always something

flayed and suffering,
the human mouth opened
again and again
in a howl of agony or despair,

canines bared. The only dog
is circling, savage with fear,
its blackened flesh
looking as if it’s been incinerated.

The first time I saw your pictures
I remember stumbling clear
of the gallery
the screaming popes, eviscerated lovers,

faces with half their skin scraped off
still ringing in my mind.
I stepped into the din
of a London afternoon,

the lights just coming on
streets glittering,
the faces passing me taut with anguish,

eyes blind with exhaustion,
nerves, sinews, tendons
all rippling beneath
pale November skin.


Stop, wait. Rewind.
Was that really the way it happened?
Didn’t I in fact enjoy
something of your revulsion,

the way you kicked traditional painting
in the teeth, immersed yourself
in horror?
I was nineteen, nibbling

at the fringes of Sartre and Camus,
unsure of what I needed
but needing it, whatever it was,
to be clean and true.

‘To know the scheme of things,
to clear my cluttered mind
of all the junk built up over time,’
I wrote, thinking I could throw over the past,

make it all new. The gallery was intimate,
sexual, scented with paint
and the bodies of the
people moving through it.

I was alone in London.
I could be anyone I chose.
‘Man is a blank slate’
you wrote.

I wanted to believe you,
wanted to feel something
of your great pain,
wanted to feel something.

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