Once Again, It Was Almost Time to Go
(Giorgio de Chirico is speaking)
Giorgio de Chirico, Metaphysical Muses, 1918
Pregnant the figure eight that I drew on manikins abandoned upstairs at
the factory! We servants of the infinite had traveled far from our own coast.
On our backs, we bore the crimes of a doomed cycle, on our shoulders,
bags of cities that looked like common seeds. Now, in the last days of the
planet Saturn, as the boom of the big guns echoed and then faded, we could
do little more than gesture in the language of the deaf.
The two hands of a clock told perpetually the same hour. They were right
at least twice a day. A shadow asked, "How many dead are there?" I
answered, "Thank you. My wife is well." On my doorstep, I found that the
Argonauts had left a rubber glove. It was no doubt waiting years for me to
bend over to pick it up. I did. It fit like a glove. How odd that Phineas, son
of Agenor, chose that same day to return to me the eyes that I had years
ago so carelessly discarded in Ferrara. Taking sunglasses off, I felt them fly
back to their sockets. I could see to the end of the street.
A few leaves blew. I wandered through the stillness of an autumn afternoon
in Europe. They watched me enter the square. On the tower, a clock, whose
hands had stopped at 3:15. Once again, it was almost time to go. Each
autumn afternoon I walked through the arcade. Because I was alone
intelligent, I had made good friends with others. Few ghosts had taken the
time to learn that they were dead. They had not been told of their betrayal
by the Powers of the Air. They knew nothing about my painting, my dept to
Bocklin, the atomic makeup of hydrated iron potassium silicate, otherwise
known as Verona green. They had not yet heard about their questionable
taste in music. None had seen fit to inform them of the bad faith of the
calendar, of the shells that had failed to dislodge them from their beds. Of
what could I accuse them?
Giorgio de Chirico, Melancholia, 1912
Drop by drop, fell water from the lip of the ruined aqueduct. "Cupid,
you've got moss in your mouth," I said, "Take it out, or I will scrub it out
with soap!" In my hand, I discovered that I was holding a spool of thread. It
weighed more than an asteroid. Divergent the lines of perspective that still
somehow met in a point. Birds flapped around my head, which cracked
apart. I had not been the same since mother died. For someone so
intelligent my back hurt.
At midnight, I got scared. I was the necromancer of the Cyclades! The
numbers one through 10 from lava built the antediluvian state. Its
adamantine columns towered to the stars. Their power vast, its inhabitants
were younger than my dreams. They were not yet subject to the hand of Ob
. In those days there were giants on the Earth. I alone have escaped to tell
you, but there was no one to give the message to.
Perversity of the psychopomp! I had discovered Zero—or so I thought. Fast
forward time was sent back in a circle to the factory that made it. The day
was a resounding nautilus. From a smokestack puffed a puff of smoke. It
rose. Pink and green, the pennants fluttered on the towers. The pennants
brought me joy. I could smell salt on the air. A big bunch of bananas waited
beneath the arch. I could see my paper sailboat bobbing in the harbor.
About prehistory—the truth: it echoed. The nose broke on the oceanic
statue. Sing muse of the inanimate that petrified the Cyclops in the square.
I clung to the horizon with my breath, as to a thread. It was that day I
learned of the miraculous birth of vertigo.
Giorgio de Chirico, Turin in the Spring, 1960
Silence echoed down the arches by the factory of prosthetic limbs. Above
the city, the hand of the industrial founder was enormous. "Let go of that
net,"I said, "that has pulled in all of the toys from the main deep! That net
belongs to me, Oannes!" The sun was cold. The wind searched for a city
that never did exist. Strangely, I had found it.
When I wandered through the railway station, said others, "He is lost.""No
," I said, "it is you the stranger who are strange. I am the scourge of Edom's
kings, the ithyphallic poet in a fish suit. A new light dawns above the ruined
city. Europe, praise my book, Hebdomeros! The import is: you are exports.
Do you not recognize you are relative, and that I, de Chirico, have
sacrificed my health to stoop to teach you? Stranger, who are YOU to call
me strange?" From a height, I saw that as it happened long ago. I
experienced departure. The crowds left for their appointed tracks.
The depot was not different from a wharf. You could hear the small waves
lapping at the exit.
Smoke assaulted me. Factories that put shoes on the revolution smoked. A
puff escaped the stack. "It moved. It should not move. Stay put and let the
Earth move!" I said, "Throw the migrants out. They do not speak one
language. Birds stoke the ruins of Ionia with blood. I am just a boy." Thebes
was transplanted. The mid-Atlantic flamed.
Giorgio de Chirico, The Prophet, 1916
"Stone engineers, though silent, please: wash up on the beach," I said,
"Give praise to Hygenia, the muse. Io! There are bird-lamps in the cave! I
have diagrammed the labyrinth. I have dragged to my apartment the
stalactites." The Library of Alexandria would soon be swept off by the wind.
Art is short. Life is long. I set up my ironing board to brew a cup of java.
When I thought about mother I got sadder than a sponge. I slept for several
days, my eyes wide. I then went out for a walk around the roof. For
someone so intelligent my back hurt.
As I stared at the thin line of the horizon, I could feel eyes probing into the
back part of my skull. "O infinite extension of the astronaut," I said, "I see
through you. I confront perspective. I laugh to see that I am taller than the
giants, who are not as strong as ants. I promote the paradox of the five
Platonic solids: how out of one comes ten, one half of which is more perfect
than the total. Occult triad: I excuse you, and exonerate your stealth. I
celebrate the enigma of the fatal hand."
My memory is good. I am the child of an engineer. Thoth rubbed my head.
I took a piece of candy from my bag. "Would you like one dad?" I said. "No.
In your sailor suit you will supervise the construction site on Mars." The
clouds roared north. For several years I slept in a crate. "I, Hebdomeros, do
not believe that bugs should eat my bandages!" I said. Autumn leaves blew.
I walked straight through the shadows of the long arcade. The Eternal
returns—with its own agenda. O Achilles' tendon! Hector's foot! You both
fall victim to the storyteller's voice.
Giorgio de Chirico, The Child's Brain, 1914
Are the Many real, or do I intimately possess the organs of each soul? Dad's
hand was large. His chin grew. His smile had teeth. He had hair on his
chest. He left the Earth when I was young. It was October 23rd. The
shadow of the dead: enormous. That day I went out for a walk around the
bull's eye that was Turin. On the square I found a sphere. It petrified. I
went a different day. There was a strange van in the square. From it, I
could feel the heat from a dead sun. It became apparent that the creators
had long since vanished into their work. Out of revolution, stasis. As I
wandered through the silent city, I found that I too could not help but be silent.
I knocked on the door of the Castella Estense. They gave me a piece of
bread. I was as famous as a god! They had heard about my work. "We are
sorry that you have to go,"they said. When I turned, the door's frame was
the only thing that stood.
A big bird took my hand. "Do not sleep now. We have far to go!"Chug chug
went the locomotive bound for North America. I saw the future speeding
backward, love. It had a body like yourself. Birds told me that I was good,
but I COULD NOT find a grave on which to pee. The inanimate marched
post haste over Rome. Shoe stores took a quantum leap. The men in black
were played by their pianos. Sun spots reproduced the bad art of the
demiurge. Vicarious, the voices bounced. Mechanics monkeyed with the
Island of the Dead.
Giorgio de Chirico, The Mysterious Continent 1968
I got sad when I looked at shadows on the piazza. The zodiac shuddered
like an opened cage. The birds had left before the Pleistocene. "Eurika!" I
said. As we, each in our own sub-lunar holocaust, conversed, the birds
showed me how the figure eight is not, in fact, that different from a city.
Nostalgia for the first race broke my heart. I could not return, for I had
Large buildings rot. Black ladders span the void. I wandered through a map
that was the same size as the city. For someone so intelligent my back hurt. A bird said, "Take my hand. The Eight will see you through this autumn
day." I got off where they showed.