Agnes Marton is a Hungarian-born poet, writer, librettist, Reviews Editor of The Ofi Press (Mexico), founding member of Phoneme Media (USA), Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts (UK). Recent publications include her collection Captain Fly’s Bucket List and four chapbooks with Moria Books (USA). She won the National Poetry Day Competition in the UK, and an anthology she edited (Estuary: A Confluence of Art and Poetry) won the Saboteur Award. Her work is widely anthologized, some examples: Alice – Ekphrasis at the British Library, Anthem: A Tribute to Leonard Cohen. In the award-winning poetry exhibition project Guardian of the Edge 33 accomplished visual artists responded to her poetry. She has been a resident poet on a research boat in the Arctic Circle, at the Scott Polar Research Institute at the Cambridge University, and also in Iceland, Italy, Portugal and Canada. Her poem Fish Speech, Remember? was performed by the BBC Singers.
Marina di San Cresci
(to Marina Abramović)
8 pm. By this time normally I had already pulled out of the backyard, rushed to the loo for a gush after keeping it back all day long, cherished a spherule bath, stroked the cotton of my tired T-shirt before slipping it on for the night with Boho Galaxy leggings. Now I stay.
Rushed? Had I? It was more like barging along. A single-minded trail to comfort, well-deserved. To water, to a bit of orange juice. To a clucking barrel of sleep.
It’s the sixth day of my residency. Home from home?
I’m recumbent next to the gargantuan dog, combing his fur like a resus macaque picking lice from another monkey. Occasionally he lifts his trembling paw as if he were dreaming of a scuttle. I wish he would nudge my wrist, gash through bone and sinew, boastful of his strength. But he’s addressed as a gentle giant, each and every leonberger is. Well, any physical contact would suffice as long as he initiated. He could lick my skin clean as darling tabbies do with their rasp tongues, turning their whiskered noses up at their clumsy human who is not even able to hunt for shrew.
Ugo’s hair tends to be everywhere, with leaves I assume can be chestnut stuck to it. Sometimes I just brush him absently, once I used though a Mars Coat King with a large undercoat rake to strip, demat and detangle my friend in one easy step. Delicately. The ratty look would disgust me.
I collect the fur in bags for a spinning project and to provide collared doves with cosy nesting material.
As my fingers wander, I imagine I’m Green Tara, the fierce Tibetan goddess that pokes away obstacles. I repeat my mantra ‘REBALANCE. NO GIN ON MONDAY.’ umpteenth times. It doesn’t mean anything, it doesn’t have to. It just helps, they say. It doesn’t matter who ‘they’ are.
I am Marina. I am Green Tara. REBALANCE. Terra Earth.
To remain centered. One, two, three... 843 692... Counting sheep.
I’m cackling the mantra. NO GIN. Inaudible, unconvinced pray, mumbo jumbo. My parched lips don’t flutter. How empty I am, how full.
Full of what? I’m not supposed to ponder.
All I see is his pupils and corneas. He’s my audience, my prosecutor, my pastor. (Father Ugo, lol.) My therapist. My teacher.
My professor of non-verbality, yes. Of simple joy – or what arrogance calls simple.
Of oblivion. I must absorb how to forget in order to devour the momentum. If I say carpe diem, you would associate it first with poor Robin Williams, and not with Horace’s Odes, right?
REBALANCE. Prepare route. Advance lane guidance. Browse map. Replanning.
I’m a test subject but more determined than a lab rabbit.
A couple of years ago I had to revise translations of legal documents about experiments on guinea pigs to get essential information to support biomedical research into respiratory disease. I had nightmares, I couldn’t sleep for what felt like decades.
Ugo casts a bubble around us. It’s my project. I’m sprawling next to the dog 24/7, every day for two weeks. OK, it’s from 8 am to 6 pm. I’m in Tuscany, at L’Assenza di San Cresci, overlooking the valley of Greve in Chianti, halfway between two major cities of the Renaissance: Florence and Siena.
Ugo is similar to a bear or a radiant Zoo lion. He never barks, he gets enough attention. He keeps panting in the heat, it’s 37 degrees. First he flirted with me, showed his belly, wished I could play with him. He must have thought I was mean.
Now he’s aware of my passive mission, my commitment to the exhausting belfarniente.
He seems to appreciate my difficulties. I don’t have a polifoam mat under my body. My limbs are throbbing in an arch but the second the pain feels unbearable, it stops torturing me, it starts chasing my inner singing voice. Not as in Kipling: “What manner of fakir art thou, to shiver at a little watching?” I don’t shudder, I gulp, I’m motionless bar the rare search for ticks and foxtails.
Mosquitoes bother me, however Ugo oftentimes shoos them off with his tail. My reddish skin is peeling, hot to touch, I chill in mild, dizzy fatigue.
A syncope alarms me with a brief episode of muscle twitching. Blurred vision, an ocean of sweat, light head. After my spontaneous recovery I decide against raising it to Ninna.
Ninna is short for Nariella. To me, Ariel comes to mind, hence Plath. Right, Ariel is not a nickname.
Ninna/Ariel would ask me about my medical insurance. She might send for a doctor. Just in case. She would offer ibuprofen, and aspirin to decrease redness. Cool, wet cloths. Soothing lotions that contain aloe vera.
I must remain silent. I must hide my blisters. Quite a task when naked.
What if I drop dead? What if I need ambulance? I’m not allowed to convert the actionless plot, I cannot straighten and fetch sun cream to splash on my shoulders. It would tango down my rules if I scratched the bites. I’m the boss, the strictest. Madame Turnkey.
Do mosquitoes tear into dogs as well? Ugo is tranquil.
Zanzara, that’s the Italian for mosquito. Sounds like it.
NO GIN ON MONDAY.
My application would have made Coelho or any bullshit generators embarrassed. Not only did I emphasize how the metaphorical resonance of the canine lifestyle spatially undermines the eloquence of others’ former quest findings but also how the sublime beauty of vineyards authoritatively cloudify the customized metrics of classical performance strategies. With influences as diverse as Gregory David Roberts, Béla Tarr and Thom Yorke, new combinations are alleged to be created both from opaque and see-through graphs as regards the rudest place names in Britain, in particular Lousybum and Cockplay, not leaving out Lickfold, Shitterton and Lower Swell.
At the end of my taxi ride from Florence – the cabby was a beginner chick in pirate gear, apparently not familiar with the podcast How to wear blue lipstick for every skin tone; her boyfriend, or what do I know, maybe her serial killer lover, talked her through the journey as she was terrified by anything outskirtish, and it was the end of the world I was heading to; she swooningly squealed ‘amore, amore’ – Ninna, the director of the programme, embraced me. She blabbered about lifts to town for foodshopping (I said I wouldn’t eat at all but I asked her to bring me five litres of orange juice from the COOP, with pulp, it would be enough for me for the two weeks; otherwise tap water is fine, I wouldn’t drink daytime, only in the evenings, and I don’t mean alcohol; if it gets too hot, I might slop-slop in the dog’s bowl; she said forget bowls, Ugo has a well-curb all for himself; no bowl for food either, there’s a row of buckets full of pasta with different souces, with loads of parmesan that Ugo adores, nice and soupy, and also with carrots and raw meaty bones – for cleaning the teeth – and chicken carcasses; maybe porridge made from barley meal with added eggs).
So much about introduction. At this point Ninna asked me to confirm I was who she believed I was, ‘the’ – she pronounced it as ‘zö’ Marina Abramović. She demanded my passport for registration.
She showed me the laundry room. I shrugged: I will be constantly naked.
This is how our dialogue continued. Her eyes expressed something beyond disappointment. While herding artists, she must have met any sort of jacked-up alligator – but I crossed an invisible line. It made me proud.
I hissed away both sentences with the word ‘norming’ in them and day trips to places like what was called in 1172 in a bulla from the Abbey of San Lorenzo a Coltibuono the “Curte et Castello di Vulpaia”.
I’m going to be tremendously busy.
Busy with what?
A couple of months ago I skimmed through an article in the Morning Sunshine. A shipping company nearby Vufflens-la-Ville started focusing on mindfulness. You might decide to visit an ex-hangar of theirs where you are encouraged to destroy fridges and microwave ovens with a baseball bat. According to sophrologist Juniper Dowen it’s the path to the peaceful soul.
I would never descend to this (never say never; a performance maybe? without helmet?) but it became my recurring dream. I fought duels against creaking cellarets and floral hand-hooked rag ottomans. They kept their end up. They grew poison-fangs, they punched me, they caused cerebral concussion to me, their repertoire was illimitable.
Wide awake, I’m putting myself into much more unassailable danger.
Am I invincible?
From the fifth day on I have been able to read Ugo’s eyes and now I understand the mosquitoes’ dialect of Italian. I listen to the symphonies of the pipes, to the shindig and hoo-ha of the blood in my veins, the cough of my decades-gone nonna.
In the first three evenings I felt I should grab my Black Papermate Flair Porous-Point Pen, I ought to report what’s just come to pass, then let it go. I wouldn’t plead nothing happened; The Nothing happened.
A giant dog was gazing at a transitory babe.
Ninna forwards the neighbours’ worries. I’m missing the internet while lying outside, aren’t I? At least a dumbphone? What is going to be the end product of this wallow? Would it be possible for them to take photos?
I spit. Google sucks. I’m fed up with gadgets. Through force-feeding, that is. I’ve never owned a television. Photos? Thanks but no thanks.
Ugo is easily the boldest being I’ve bumped into recently. Bumped into? Nope, fate sent the unexpected. My project is to map this surprise, to bonker through.
He’s tactful. Instead of his former brunches, these days he has breakfast before half eight, he doesn’t leave me a single crumble of temptation.
He shakes his coat more frequently than he used to, close to me, so that I could enjoy some drops without having to shift.
Some visitors climb the fence but when I protest, Ninna’s husband, Alberto ducktapes a banner above the compost heap: NO TRESPASSING.
Do you believe in rumours and gossips? My nonna would compare them to a cow covered in shit that flaps you with her tail, sharing her unbecoming cloak.
So rumour has it the local priest is lurking around with a periscope. When caught, he fishes out his excuse: he tries to make sure the evil couldn’t dig his toes (or hooves) in the valley.
In the COOP matronas chat about a BBC 4 satellite show featuring me, but nothing chocks this up. I don’t stop the ladies’ dander about my scandalous attire.
Meanwhile a fellow-artist, a Dane (Holger? Gunner?) composes a fresco-secco of me in the chapel. Believe it or not, he never peeps in the garden, he envisages – based on hearsay – my suffering and my co-existence with Ugo.
I spot his work showcased in a Paris art magazine, otherwise no one ever hints at it.
Ugo is not there in the painting, how lame.
No words can describe how I look. Distant might do? Nope.
I’m standing in the shade with a half-smile. A mistake.
The pigments mixed with an organic binder are applied onto a dry plaster with medium brushes fabricated of camel hair and grass fibre. They do not become part of the wall so the image is not durable. The colours (pure ones: white, yellow, red, black and terre-verte) may flake off as time goes by, who can be sure if they are willing to be retouched.
The title is Marina di San Cresci.
My fifteenth day. Fidgeting my skirt, I promise I’ll return but Ugo knows this dolled-up Marina won’t. He’s yapping for my sake, the non-babbler. I pat-pat the elbow of the pirate girl, let’s go.