Sitting with The Drowning Man
over empty glasses
his concomitant friend
though, when they came,
he never recognized
the words he had been
waiting on those years.
He simply stared at her breasts,
a line from Beckett
and a scene by Warhol
and a photo he'd kept
of a woman he'd never met.
She offered him sanctuary
and he fumbled for money.
27 April 1986
This is the third of The Drowning Man Poems. It’s set in the Chestnut Tree Café from Nineteen Eighty-Four. I was thinking about the end of the book and imagining the scene where Winston meets Julia after they’ve both betrayed each other only now I check I find they actually met in “the Park, on a vile, biting day in March” and, after a few minutes with her, all Winston wants to do is get back to the café where he sits alone and drinks Victory Gin sweetened with cloves.
The line from Beckett is from his short story ‘Heard in the Dark 2’: “Your gaze moves down to the breasts. You do not remember them so big.” I don’t remember which film of Warhol’s I’m referencing. No doubt I’d seen a clip in a documentary, probably one of his Screen Tests. The mention of the photo is odd because years later I did find a photo of a woman and it’s still in my wallet alongside photos of my wife and daughter.
A lot of the material from this poem has crept into the new book:
Only you, my concomitant friend, know what I am trying to say and only you can assess its true worth.
As she stretched the covers fell from her breasts; they were quite magnificent actually. He couldn’t help but stare at them.
Once, in the middle of the pavement, he’d stumbled on a passport photograph of a young woman and had nearly been ploughed into the ground as he bent to pick it up by a harassed nanny with a pram before her and an irascible three-year-old anarchist in tow. He still kept the picture tucked away in his wallet…
There are nods too to Nineteen Eighty-Four:
Two and two can make five. Orwell knew that full well. So why did Winston find it so hard to grasp? Every day we reject the logical in favour of the illogical. Every day. Ten times a day. Fifty. Five is more than four. Why would we settle for four?
and Andy Warhol:
I got served up my fifteen minutes early and piping hot simply because no one was writing any catchy songs that week, or skiing down any precipitous mountain slopes or baring any parts of their anatomy that were bigger, better or weirder than the general public had seen before.
In 1991 I wrote a follow-up, ‘A Return to Orwell’s Café’ (#730) but we’ll get to it in time, probably about March 2017 at this rate which also means I’ve enough poems to keep going until August 2020 if I’ve done my sums right and assuming I write nothing else for the next five years which is unlikely.