The death of Tomas Transtromer last week felt sad for me. My Swedish friends had gifted me all of his books, and although I could never summon the passion he seemed to elicit from his countrymen, I also recognize that poetry suffers from translation. He seemed an underdog for the Nobel prize, though a Scandinavian frontrunner for years, and beloved by a certain cult of New York musicians like Tom Verlaine. His interviews were charming, and while I was living in Sweden I learned a stroke had left him without speech, but still writing poetry. Perhaps this informed his work; he was also unable to use his right hand, but continued to play piano, which he'd loved, with his left. My image of him, from what I've read, is that he became weightless and papery at his end, and dissolved into the mystical landscape he evoked. We mourn not the man, but the fact that there will be no more poems. Yet the ones we have will grow; the Nobel prize assures this. I dreamed of him-- of my Swedish ex-boyfriend singing a song I think I wrote for him, in my dream… but of course all of this disappeared in the morning.
I've always been obsessed with bed art. Paintings of beds, sleeping women… people at their most vulnerable and most 'open'. The way you must trust, in order to sleep--- trust your partner, trust your surroundings, yourself. You must not fear being apprehended in the act of dreaming, when you are most naked, when you are maybe most beautiful. The intimacy of sleeping with someone the first time is much more difficult than the sex. Passion crosses over into love while you sleep and dream. It is like fresh, wet paint that becomes a painting.
Of course people like Tracey Emin choose to throw this in our face, to blow it up, as artists do-- because the act of betrayal, of abandonment, is maybe most flagrant in the context of beds… of coverings and uncoverings, of couplings and uncouplings. I swear to f---ng God I never slept with that woman, one of my drummers used to assure his wife, because he'd only had sex with some woman in a bed. But it calmed his wife.
Lately I find myself more passionate about art than about men. I seem to have outgrown my expectations of people, and find myself drawn to art like a kind of religion. The pursuit of paintings obsesses me in my non--working moments. At night I scroll through auction after auction, looking for my mate, the way maybe some people are searching match.com and OKcupid for human completion. At an art fair this weekend, I was browsing the wares in some booth and one of the senior gallery staff kept trying to start up a conversation. Finally, as I left, he asked to see my necklace. I'm trying to flirt with you, he explained. But I very seriously told him the brief story of my simple jewelry. I didn't answer that I was trying to meet the art.
Something I learned from running an art gallery years ago-- is how to make a decision. Because nothing in my life was ever really clear cut--- except these paintings. There was a budget, there was a price; there were things that were possible or not quite possible, and I had to deal with the boundary of impossible. I learned how to trust myself to make a selection. I learned how to separate things that were superficially beautiful from things that would grow on me, that would reveal themselves to me, with time. It is a lesson that informs my life, and one I cherish.
So Friday night I did bring home a painting, after agonizing between mine and another with which it seemed to be having a dialogue on the wall. I felt like I was interrupting a conversation, a relationship…. but to take both seemed greedy. And the one I brought home spoke to me. It somehow had something to do with the Transtromer landscape which I had never quite grasped, but there in its mystical moonlight, I could sense this transition.. between evening and night-- between life and death. All night I was sleepless-- maybe longing for its companion, even though the artist himself had been present at the sale and seemed emotionless about whichever one I selected. I awoke many times, went into the next room and turned on the light to see my lovely painting, but felt its solitude, its strangeness. Saturday I emailed the painter; could I pay him next week, etc. for the other… and late in the day he apologized; it had been sold. So I felt this terrible sense of betrayal, of disappointment-- that felt disturbingly close to that teenage devastation when some boy you are longing for, who you know, you KNOW loves your soul and your essence, even though you have never spoken-- is dating the girl who sits next to you.
Of course, time is on your side when you are a teenager, and that boy eventually comes around… but the art--it is perhaps lost forever. I briefly had a fantasy that one of my friends who craves my art had gone to the fair and stealthfully carried it off under their arm… but that was my teenage sense of betrayal, and I am adult and a professional. I know when to stop bidding at an auction; I know about letting things go; I know that sometimes the dream is better than the possession, and my tiny landscape with the strange evening light and the one stroke of sky in the greenery will remind me of this, will suggest the longing, the unfinished question of solitude and the hidden mystery of Swedish night poetry and the left-hand-only piano melody soundtrack that will make it even more 'mine'.