Bio Note: As a longtime resident of Phoenix, I remain uncomplaining about the heat and appreciative of the landscape here. I used to paint in watercolors, largely European themes, until about twenty years ago and recently bought paper and some Winsor and Newton colors to return to the medium in part to fill a gap created by not writing. Having come to the conclusion that I was spending too much of my time in my subconscious I decided to change my activities! This was before the changes occasioned by the virus, but at least I'm grateful right now for being where we have a good view of the changing skies. These "Letters" appeared in my chapbook from Slipstream, From the Age of Miracles, published in 2009.
Letter to Samuel Johnson
Dear Dr. Johnson, I own a copy of The Rambler, Volume III, printed in 1798 on the kind of paper that makes us value the print upon it. My grandfather first told me about you; now amid slogans I turn the pages to find your sentences are often long enough to tie up with a knot the superficial arguments of our age masquerading as discourse. Power and superiority are so flattering and delightful, that, fraught with temptation, and exposed to danger, as they are, scarcely any virtue is so cautious, or any prudence so timorous, as to decline them. You couldn’t sell that on the street today, not on a Tuesday and not on a Saturday the way you did. I’m not looking to cloud the issues with language, but to find some pleasure in the way ideas ripen into words. Politicians like the ones whose meanings have no binding power, like change or choice. There’s no difference between their speeches and the nightly ads between segments of the TV news for allergy pills or stool softener. They just want to sell us the idea of comfort. I doubt that you’d make it as a commentator on the shows we have in which it isn’t enough to serve sound bites, but we get the content chewed up and ready to swallow. You’d take a question and respond: There is nothing more common among this torpid generation than murmurs and complaints; murmurs at uneasiness, which only vacancy and suspicion expose them to feel, and complaints of distresses, which it is in their own power to remove. Some elegance might help us disagree when we must. My grandfather appreciated the way you wrote. He was just what we call working class, which is to say he liked his beer and didn’t own a lot. He didn’t learn about you in college because he never went to one. It was simply the language that proved that thinking isn’t a matter of class, it is everyone’s right to conclude It is necessary to distinguish our own interest from that of others; and that distinction will perhaps assist us in fixing the just limits of caution and adventurousness.
Letter to Wordsworth
Dear William, The first miles north from Manchester Victoria ran through a hell of brick and factory smoke. Trains carried hope to the countryside. By Kendal I was buoyed by the sight of a clear sky. The local line to Windermere ran smoothly through an England that belonged to the world not to industry, or so I thought until I bought the book of your poems at Grasmere and discovered your horror set in verse at the prospect of a railway on your most beloved land. Rash assault you called it, and called on us to share the passion of a just disdain. I’m writing now to share some, to tell you how the ice is warming and the handshakes of men securing deals for oil are colder than ever; how hunters call it sport when they’re the only side that can win; how advertising tells us how much more we need and the space to grow it diminishes as we watch; how forests are chewed up by machines; how rivers are stolen from their beds; how yellow monsters without hearts plough the desert open until nothing remains of it but the howl and the coo when foxes and doves nest in our memories. And I know what would sicken you most is that so little was done, that so few human beings would demand that we change, that our laws would be written in smoke. But just watch, William, how quickly those in power meet to proclaim there is a crisis. No, not for the planet, William, only when their money begins to melt away do they take action. I suppose, to quote you again, they are weighing the mischief with the promised gain.
Letter to Magritte
Dear Rene, The matter-of-factness with which you presented audacious juxtapositions is what shocks me today after looking at your paintings for all these years. When a comb is bigger than a bed, an apple fills a room or a rock floats above the incoming tide what is left to imagine? Not monsters. Not enemies or terrorists smuggling their hatred through our borders when we have more than enough of our own to go around without them. You showed the way down into the cellar where the mind stores its hopes, fears, and trivia, packaged and marked with all the wrong labels. I can’t tell any more why leaving the house makes me anxious and as soon as it’s too late to back I’m convinced I left water running or the door unlocked. My subconscious sends the message that it’s urgent, that I need to get back, that I still haven’t finished washing the dishes from breakfast and even the Barbarians at the gates don’t matter as much as the faucet that drips, drips, drips to remind me it’s a dangerous world and Oh God my mail is being intercepted at a port of entry I’m on a list I’m being watched my housekeeping is being examined very closely I must slow down stop take a deep breath consider the labels on the boxes. Nothing is really the way it seems. You knew that. When you painted a pipe you underlined the fact with Ceci n’est pas une pipe.
©2020 David Chorlton
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