At the Back of the Cave . . .

Seated Woman, Schiele

[Seated Woman, by Egon Schiele]

It was the impression of having before me a personality that was extraordinary in every respect, a personality of such pronounced singularity that its mere presence might not please everyone, often, indeed,not even himself

–Arthur Roessler, Art Critic, 1910

Down on the street, late at night, drifting past the cafe tables, bringing hungry eyes to slide over her, she was needed, wanted. For those moments, it was enough and something big and bland in her became full, deep and rich red. And when the night’s chosen one made himself known, she became present to herself–Wally, truly, Wally.

On finger might rest beneath a freshly clipped mustache. At any moment, Wally though he would drop it into his mouth to suck it. But he kept it suspended there in the bristled hair. Kept his eyes studying her drifting across the cobbled street. His body reclined in a grated chair–a practiced deception. Like a regal dog staying very still but sniffing as the bleeding bitch moved closer.

And she twisted in the fragile moment–whether to let him lope up to her, sniffing, lugging her off to a dank room, a sagging bed, sheets thick with human oil–or whether to twitch way from him, hint at resistance, as if she didn’t want what he had for her.

It was all part of the ritual. She knew she would yield eventually when the gestures had spun out their shapes on the scene. She knew she would sink on the side of choiceless action. Like on lone and open plain, flat and predetermined. She could see it. Could watch herself dragging her soles across hardened ground, the horizon a ring clamped on all sides of her.

She had passed the critic on the way up the narrow stairway. He breathed through a chiseled face, a clipped mustache moving up his lip like a porcupine bristling its quills. His head locked forward and down. Green eyes lapidated sideways to accuse her loose umber skirt, her rumbles of satin and taffeta. She had pressed its bouffant with her hand so he could slip his slim, suited body past without touching. An intake of breath had pressed her nipples to satin lining. The critic lowered his stony glance to her stockinged knees, to ankles, each descent with less momentum, like a pitched pebble skipping to a stop.

As she climbed the stairs, she heard the stumped stick-like sound of the critic’s black shoes syncopate with her cloth-footedness, then he faded to ineffectual taps as he reached the street below.

She paused at the stair’s peak, constructing a picture of Egon–a moment ahead of her body. He would turn to her, call her–Wally, liebschen, Wally–cords in his neck thrust out as he would turn from scraping the canvas, blade in hand. And she would walk to him. Her shoulders would soften and drop back, her chin would lift, leaving her neck open and asking. And he would wrap long, boned fingers in a cling to the back of her neck and she would be caught like an animal in a trap. He would sink his mouth to her throat and she would dangle there, a crucifix unfurling down her arms and legs.

Grasping the bronze bulb, she twisted the knob, opened the door, stepped across the edge, stopped at the sight of him propped on stiff legs, pelvis pushed forward, hands slung in his pockets. Profile to the mirror. Tie tight at his throat, head like chipped stone, as he locked eyes with himself.

Self portrait with Hands on Ches, Schiel, 1910

[self-portrait with hands, by Egon Schiele, 1910]

Roessler! Roessler! Come up! Wally, I need time. Get dressed. Yes, more then. Take these. Be back.

Roessler. Yes, I read it . . . Look. Here. This is going. I haven’t been here before. The mirror. Turn, look over my shoulder. Head. Volcanic rock. Roessler, I carve and rack that body. To chips of blade. I begin to get there and go faster. I gouge a jewel through my nostril. A stick through the cartilage of my ear. I watch them redden. I hear my bones incise my skin. My canvas. Roessler. Do you see the line, the track?

Sit here. Please. No, here. Your head. Look here, The mirror. Tie Tight at your throat Pin. Crenelations. Your jacket. Serrate your fingers. Spike your lips to granite, Roessler. Slacken sight to molten sea.

No. You wrestle back. You close your eyes and and flatten god against me. Roessler.

Walking she watches the roll of vision changing under her feet: litter on the street, dead water stinking in a catchpot, a discarded sausage dropped from a balcony, a dog rooting in a pile–and she tries to reconcile herself to the natural arrangement of things, tries to forget the distant pull of Paradise, stop the masturbating act of thought and fantasy. This was it: her used body dragging itself from male to food and sleep to male and back to Egon, his sudden lock, then sprung and out onto the street again.

Male oil sweetened her clothes. She scented him like an animal He had called her a dog. She dragged his dirty shirt inside her skirt when he sent her away. Alone, she would take it out and bury her face in its thick scent. Wally, alone. Scavenging, searching for slivers of hope, furred and padding back and back and back to him thour bleached cobbled streets.

The raw fact of his absence, ugly and hopeless slammed her like the end of life. Only depravity would be left if he was gone. The eating of human flesh. The tearing of the skin on the back. The ripping out of another’s tongue–these would prevail when he was gone. Animal hunger would remain. The primal tongue would flik its black feathers into crevices in the teeth of her mouth, twitching over remnants of food. It would have a brain, that tongue. A hunger-brain all rummaging and flit-like, tickling its prey, the residue of chewed food.

Speak! Shatter it all and let me out! Bleeding and blessed I want to be and I can’t do it yet but you’re coming, cunt of wet tearing shame! Look what you’ve done! Bled again!

Catholicism. That patriarchal stolidity feeding wafers to open mouths. She needed. She was a needer of that feeding, blessed by the papal touch to the top of her skull. She needed the deep reach plunge that plundered her cervix. These were the same needs. She needed it to hurt, to punish herself in powerlessness, to see the father lean over her, potent and in control, her every expression a hell to him

It seemed to her that all was stone and cold. Chiseled sky rocked through its cycle–onyx night. Sienna day. The street beneath her seemed to hack staccato cants. When she arrived, the work was done. The air, like bouldered sound, had plundered through the village square and rumbled to decrease along the river. The chunked cathedral. massed of imprecise six-sided blocks and geode dome, shook loose its bell in mica ripples. The blats of village trumpets mad and swung through stone-mazed alley.

Pelted, flung, she watched her body still and supine on the cobblestones, he slapped limbs flattened to mosaic shapes. A chunk of rock fit neat in the soft recess behind a knee. Another nestled to the crevice of her throat–at peace, body to cold body. One, run through with strata, gray, the white, had smashed the delicate fingers, rolled like an expended lover to the marbled fountain’s foot. An oily black one bruised the jaw by shoving up the chin.

A lapidary God had pounded gasps of hardened cloud to brittle sky. He’d hammered shrapnel bits of birds that flung their wings in accusation of the grounded scene. Christ was hanging everywhere, betrayed. From slated roof, dangling limbs slung out from pounded nails.

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