‘For can it revert to myth, an Adonis
Not gored, but bored to death?’
—George du Plé, Tralatition Reviewed
Yes, all of it – lifted from my files,
The year 1998, when a petition for public funds
Wasn’t a legitimate means. In a role explained
As research, a snoop was hired, a man
Whose facial plasticity had the mobility
Of stage disguise, with or without make-up.
The project, I said, was this: a detailed
Record, in practically all media,
And the systematic invasion of a man’s privacy.
The worst of it’s this trodden vocabulary,
A tool of classification for what’s otherwise
Uncategorised – a friendship doomed to founder
Over twenty years before (or circa 1973). The subject
Was a man who de-Londonised himself
And returned to his hometown, as one
Of its props or buttresses.
Meet my snoop, a man called Ven. Note the complexion,
Unnatural under certain lights. His suit is sepulchral.
He decides, with the limits I set on our expense
Account, on a room of few amenities,
Under the eaves of the Goose Hotel. I visited
And poked around, and through its narrow sash
Picked out a stone arch and cobbled square.
I expect an older Marty, by whatever name
He goes by now, to pass this way eventually.
Seen too from Ven’s HQ is a pillared walk,
A parade of glass-and-timber shop fronts,
A fingerpost with arrowhead and gilded
Lettering. It points to a covered spring,
Definition, ‘chalybeate’, a centuries-old
Attraction in the town’s historic quarter.
First recall is of Marty and friends, morose
At the narrowness of industry and the tyrannies
Of academe, the source of shared resistance
At a future in white collars or lab coats.
Refuge was a rundown Sussex Arms, a location
Straddling two adjoining counties (a meridian
Ran beneath the floorboards), a venue of stone floors
And open fires, antique tack pinned to the walls,
Brasses and painted chamber pots, an interior
Blue with wood smoke. Ven, in his first written report,
Supported by external photographs (gone
Are the woodpiles), explodes the first of my delusions,
A bubble that gently bursts on the velvet
Of a barstool. All I remember is ruthlessly swept
Away, under the wing-beat of progress, as that ushers
In a revision in useless memorabilia, a neutrality
Of furnishings and décor, screenings brought by satellite,
The maroon baize of a pool table. ‘Let’s play,’
You say. There are cocktail and soft drink tariffs,
At which I shall have to say no, you can’t meet him here, Ven.
Have I marked his likeness? Just this image
Stencilled into the figment of that time. Frame,
Wiry – un-athletic. Shoulders, broad – which only now
Bear the world. Face thin, lightly pocked. Hair, jet.
His signature, a quilted jacket, three-quarter length.
I am able to recall two of his student friends,
Obsessed with Newton’s absolutes – motion
You can add to, Ven, with a test in entropy
As I hole the black prematurely.
Ven’s room, the Goose Hotel. Things strewn on the divan
Are: coins – counterfoils – a phone card – a Zippo, etched
With his first initial, V. A book of matches, compliments
Paella Penny Farthing. Bookings at this number:
Double three, then double eight, followed by another
Double three. Taped is a blur of voices
V recorded on his first foray into our research.
In its hubbub is the promise of Adonis.
V loads up and plays, and talks me through
The conversation, a mêlée of voices steeped
In cotton wool, with high notes bursting free
On the sound of girlish laughs. ‘Here I’m at a window
Seat, Penny Farthing’s.’ The décor is light pine,
Smoked glass, and a jungle of vines painted round
The walls, and a ceiling fan. A first voice
In the party Ven has gate-crashed (he has pocketed
His microphone) is a tenor, on the dry political
Intrigues pervading all media on that a-historic
Day. Ven reflects, but can’t recall its owner’s face.
There was Muzak, he says. This is borne
Out in the muffle of his inside pocket,
The sound mawkish, a crooner, and afloat
In a higher register an a cappella choir. The reprise
Is overlaid with the wooden clang of spoons,
Or as Ven explains, a skivvy serving table two
With minestrone soup.
Allow me, Ven, to interrupt (or just press
pause)…. Our college canteen was a basement
Void of windows, where the wire and pipe runs
Crossed and counter-crossed. Destination: the carrels,
Labs and lecture rooms, cramped together
Symmetrically, in the penumbral tower
Above. A sole vending machine spluttered out
Tea or coffee on a notch approaching boiling
Point. Aluminium pie trays centred the canteen
Tables, none more crowded than the one
Where Adonis always sat.
Now back to Penny Farthing’s. Themed attraction
Is its Mississippi Bar, the house special
A light bottled brew labelled with a steamboat.
Adonis, in a night-blue shirt, its buttons pearl,
Propped an elbow on the bar, with a loose heel
Forward, swinging free (as yes, that is a familiar pose).
Ven goes a step further, unwinding the gold band,
Then slipping off the cellophane sheathing
A cigar, and troubles Marty for a light,
Who says he doesn’t smoke. So consigned
To the flame of needless sentiment
Are the crush packs once implicit
In Adonis’s identity.
Anyway. Here’s where Ven acquires that book
Of matches, and tries another tack. ‘Knew I’d seen
The face. You’re Martin Adonis, pictured
In the local press, shaking on a business deal.’
I fret about that ‘No’ (he doesn’t smoke),
And a voice thick with weariness, and a Marty
I don’t know.
Ven, those polite rebuffs at the bar
He countered you with…. These are and aren’t
Characteristic. What I mean is this. His ease
Is something he’s rehearsed through the disciplines
Of commerce. Why he won’t talk sport or politics,
Is not an important question. It’s always been
You’ll need to find another perspective.
Old property I bought in a rain-blurred
Hamlet, on a dirt track with shippon,
In its threat of early decease, exploded
In tar- and coffee-coloured blooms – in ceilings
That sagged, walls (eighteen inches thick),
At its corners (not strictly right-angled right angles).
Doctorly diagnosis put its stethoscope
To the lead valleys, now sieve-like, then to the soil
And stone. Assessment: a widening sponge
In an acreage of damp. A century of sea-borne
Cataracts, in a lash against the windows, has eaten
At the frames.
My ‘tenant’, a gnome-like man, hunched
And malformed, the blush or patina of apple
In his cheeks, left me a fury of unanswered
Phone messages, in every building I’d just left.
Ven took his call at the Goose Hotel,
Where he’d almost tracked me down, and later passed
Me a note. His school was therapeutic drum,
With a clientèle on the brink of defection back
To the village hall, or leisure-centre Zen. His question:
Who would compensate his loss? Therefore, Ven,
Before I drive home west, here are your instructions.
Carry on – but this is stalking, and illegal. Bear in mind
You’re fired if we’re found out.
So on into that hamlet, on a clear afternoon.
My diary notes the sky, a stippled turquoise,
And the light, lucid, and the hills, mauve.
The drummer (‘Do call me Tarquin’), probing
Through the debris, and savvy as to squatter’s rights,
Was teaching autotelic chime bar.
Dress code was mandalas. Shared space,
As his paid-up students knew,
Was at its most democratic – a circle.
A background chant accented the beat of his tabor.
I waited outside in the wilds of his garden,
Impatiently checking my watch.
A crow flapped. A pencil line of wood smoke
Dissolved in a mountain shadow.
A remote hum was two conversational chainsaws.
At half-past three his hard-faced, leotarded
Mums trooped out to a line of parked cars,
Straddling the verge, and in a chorus of reverse
Gears zigzagged into the countryside.
I refused to be shown inside, and strolled
With ‘tenant’ Tarquin in a swish of wet grass.
He retracted the word ‘demand’ (as he paid
No rent), but asked for and I agreed on two
The first of Ven’s dispatches, in a large
Envelope, too big for my letter flap,
And sodden across counties, is a wad
Of film, one textual commentary,
A pink under copy of an agreement
Ven has signed with Adonis’s firm,
Called EmMay’s, and a plan. The film,
Lacking cinematic vision, is a chronicle
Of the ordinary everyday, using equipment
Ven has hired. The bill is attached.
First shot: a dawn whiteness over
The deserted car park, where Marty gets in first
For work, in a cream-coloured cabriolet.
Second: a cream-coloured cabriolet.
Third: a sign over a Regency stairway
Plunging to his office. Fourth and last:
Die Hard’s Fitness Suite, frontage only,
An arsenal of cycling, rowing and treadmill
Machines, the name etched in two adjoining
Windows. There Marty keeps his appointments
Mondays/Wednesdays at midday,
Thursdays after office hours.
Ven, in a general summary, has EmMay’s
As ‘a small firm’, employing ‘six or seven
Personnel’, ranging from ‘office girl’ to ‘specialist
Staff’, with a niche in ‘media marketing’.
A deal Ven has thrashed out personally
With Marty (twice in the sauna at Die Hard’s,
Each man exhaustively towelled;
Once over a peppered steak in Farthing’s;
Finally over a cafetière
In Adonis’s office), is only requiring
Signatures. Ven, in garish pinstripe,
Has honed himself to a life of dealership,
In a) human flesh, and b) the South Bank
Artefact, and has, as invented client,
A ‘visual performance’ artiste,
Whose two static blancmanges, each on
A classic pedestal (volutes etc.),
Are the pulse of current critique. Can EmMay’s
Find for EmJay – that’s to say Emma
Jardyne, a performer-poet –
A market share fitting for her talents?
Ms Jardyne cannot represent her suit,
Having stayed on in Carmel, California,
In the afterglow of her moving,
Dual exhibits, Trace and Erase, a pair best viewed
In the open air, and in certain latitudes
(To do with natural lighting effects). I imagine,
As I recall the young Adonis,
Two astonished arcs rising to his hairline.
He took it in his stride, suggesting
A promotional video, to which Ven cited
A catalogue of implausible objects.
There was a screened installation in warehouse space
In Shoreditch, not now open to the public,
But still possible to photograph. It embodied
A gazelle-like humanoid in overalls,
Projected onto an urban cyclorama,
Overcast by day, palely moonlit
After seven p.m. Another is brick-built
Dungarees, a shade of mudded blue,
For those everyday chores around the house.
This, Ven explains, is a visual pun.
Her Dipteros addressed an important
Neologism of our time, ‘nanotechnology’,
A sub-universe of mechanisms
Not visible to the naked eye.
Ven assures me, in a curious aside,
Tangential as it is, in a syntax
Swamped with prepositions – he assures
A dreamed up Emma J
Is easily simulated. He has connections
With starlets in the making – Thesps on the brink
Of fame – most of whom are resting.
Can’t help think this is getting out of hand,
And tell him so, in a fax to the Goose Hotel.
The reply: ‘This EmJay sounds so “chic”.
Your Marty “really wants to meet….”’
My next communiqué I initial
Under the weight of two words:
‘Emphatically not!’ His response
Is on lilac notepaper, in a mass of coloured
Inks. Thick crimson verticals mark
The columns grouping an assortment
Of exclamation points, an ampersand,
And two parallel bars (significance unknown).
A faintness of green horizontals underscores
His frustration. By the way – a fortnight’s bill
For the Goose Hotel is paper-clipped, as are
Several stills (some in the village noir of monochrome).
The subject is Adonis.…
So, now I have a reflection on his youth,
His gravelly voice, the man at work,
And a physique mired in middle-age.
Add to that the complexion (whey), a beard
(Diluted ebony, peppered with snowflakes),
And a description of his gait. Ponderous.
After a lull of three days, and the frankness
Of Tarquin’s surveyor, and the Gregorian beat
Of Tarquin’s drum, Ven completes his wardrobe
Inventory, asking for silk shirts in autumn colours,
A pair of russet corduroys, another pair
In burgundy, a cane, a quilted gilet,
A pair of walking boots. Knitted sweaters
He already has. His plan – and a risk,
I say – is to take a temporary let
On a ‘low-roofed’ bungalow. It has a mustard-coloured
Gable, ‘just about concealed’ by the beech
And willows bordering Adonis’s,
Whose garden is a steep hill turned into terraces,
With a picket fence and a stream running through.
A box room and window in its cramped, vacant
Roof space he claims are ideal for the lens.
I insist tabloidism isn’t what I had in mind.
He points out opportunities for afternoon
Rambles, and the possibility of crossing
Adonis’s path: in a copse, at a stile, on a track,
In an orchard, or strolling round a hop field.
That of course is acceptable, and foolishly
A succession of fruitless Sundays
Extended into autumn, and still no sign
Of Adonis, not known for his country hikes.
Business, onerous, was mostly Tarquin’s cottage,
That having metamorphosed, skeletal
Under its scaffold. Ven, as he plans
His negotiations, augments that mythology
Cocooning the life of Emma Jardyne.
She is now relocated, to a cabin
On Toronto’s Centre Island, a fiction he hopes
Will buy us further time.
He resorted to his zoom, sending me
A same-ish two dozen negatives. These were: a ribbon
Of yellow leaves in Adonis’s stream, foreground;
Background, a shower of copper-coloured leaves
Aslant across his lawn. Then came a breakthrough,
A first snap of Marty, trundling with a barrow,
Followed by another, leaning on a rake.
By what chance I don’t know (formal exchanges
Had brought Adonis no nearer the tantalising
Emma). Agent, provocateur, and now
Domesticated Ven found himself invited
To Sunday lunch, the appointed hour
A ghastly noon in the wastes of early winter.
His handful of photos reconstructs
The scene. A Kentish Sussex lane,
Off a triangular verge, the way to Marty’s end plot,
Entrance, a barred gate. There is a log pile, capped
With crystallising snow. There’s that cream-coloured
Cabriolet, parked up with a Jeep.
There is cotton-wool smoking from the chimney
Into a leaden sky.
Marty appeared at the porch in tartan
Carpet slippers, a wave of radio jargon
Somewhere to his rear (a popular music
Show), and the smell of roasting beef.
They had an aperitif (dry sherry). Later,
With the serrated flash of Marty’s Sabatier,
A third car crunched alongside the other two.
This was Marty’s ‘partner’, an equine, night-club
Girl, back from her morning mucking out the stables.
Ven produced a Chilean red for the corkscrew
(A ‘Cab Sav’ he’s billed me for). Emma
Did and didn’t come into the conversation.
Said Marty: ‘She sounds quite a gal!’ After a fruit
Dessert, and crackers, and an edifice of cheese,
The day ended on the scud of the dishwasher,
The glow of logs in a canopied fire, and the schmaltz
Of afternoon TV. This, as I re-check my listings,
Could have been soccer, or soccer, a game show,
‘Dear Ven’, is not a good beginning
For what ought to be informal. Therefore
I shan’t ask him to muse as pathetically
As I do, on the improbable hopes I had –
For Martin Adonis, friend and mid-range English
Immortal. Shall I try this—
‘You know, Ven, the City spat him out at twenty-one,
And home he came…’ (over the phone, in his room,
At the Goose Hotel)? Not my best idea. Ergo, a return
To my troubles a long way west of the Weald.
There’s a frost on the fields. A bright, blue, cloudless
Morning sky. And snow atop the moor. Still present,
After all these weeks, is that scaffold, or the depth
Of its silhouette. Tarquin has unbarred the shippon,
And in his group ellipse stands at first one focus,
Then at the other, with a ‘breath in’, ‘hold’, ‘breath out’,
As a handy start-up exercise. Even that does not dispel
The image of Adonis, frozen for twenty years, and seen
Again in the act of glancing in a shop front, the last place
We had ever arranged to meet. It sold pine furniture,
Then psychedelic lights, then became a café
Famed for its cheesecake, then a wine bar,
Then a cue club. Then then then.
So, what is it like, in the defeat of middle-age,
To pass without a word, a nod, on the opposite kerb,
People you grew up with, partied with as teenagers?
Answer: I have closed the shippon door.
There’s a letter I must dictate—
‘To agent Ven, from Messrs Amock, Amock,
Amock [my three generations of fabricated book
Consultants], cc: Mr Martin Adonis. Ms Emma Jardyne
Instructs, that having signed for said firm,
Whose dollar forecast she accepts,
No interest is gained by her association
With EmMay’s. EmMay’s shall therefore cease
Forthwith its efforts to secure Ms Emma Jardyne
As its client, in any shape, form, or understanding.
Yours, etc.’ I have picked up the phone and settled
The Goose Hotel’s ever elastic bill.
Items include: nocturnal sandwich platters; cigars,
After-dinner malts; tables for two, three,
And sometimes four, in the restaurant. Fifteen per cent
Service…. Also that low-roofed bungalow
Will have to go. And why, Ven (I anticipate)?
Well. I have tramped without detachment
In Mnemosyne’s affairs of state. My hinterland
Awaits, in ragged blue outline over that ridge.
A cloudburst darkens the features of its landscape.
I recall a sporty car I used to drive, a mottled stone
I carried in my bag to school, a first love,
Or the sole teacher who succeeded in teaching
Me something. Forked lightning illuminates
A smoke-filled room in the Sussex Arms,
Where Adonis, his hair newly blacked, is exuberant.
An impostor standing behind him at the bar
Points to a sign on the wall. I only just
Make out its don’t look back, though the toast
Is well rehearsed: ‘Fare you well, Adonis. Adieu,