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Ferdinand Mount

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Claire Hall

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Looking at Rousseau’s ‘Sleeping Gypsy’

For Anna Brodsky

A gypsy girl decides to visit her grandmother
on the other side of the desert. Carrying a staff,
a jar of water to quench her thirst, and a lute for songs
to keep her company, she travels all day.
It’s getting dark when she arrives at an oasis.
After she eats a few dates and drinks some water,
she picks up her lute and sings herself a song.
Then she lies down and quickly falls asleep.
She doesn’t see the moon rise, and the stars as well,
and the night turn into an approaching lion.
Lions eat anything from insects to antelopes and giraffes.
This one has to be at least ten feet long from the end of his tail
to the tip of his nose. I can’t tell you what he’s doing here.
I don’t know why he’s not back home in some African savannah.
He walks up to the sleeping girl. Maybe she’s dreaming about
her grandmother, whom she counts on seeing tomorrow. Maybe not.
The desert is completely silent, except for a jackal barking
faintly and far off. The lion looks around with a shining eye,
and a breeze stirs his yellow mane as it would the curtain
across the window the girl sleeps next to in really hot weather.
No, I don’t think the lion is going to eat her. Yes,
you could say she’s wearing a brand new dress.

The End of ‘Out of the Past’

(RKO, 1947)

‘I never told you I was anything but what I am,’ she says.
Black and white, the sunset behind Lake Tahoe looks spectacular.
She turns and goes upstairs, his chance to light a cigarette
and dial the operator. She slips a pistol into her briefcase,
gives the bedroom a cursory final glance. A moment later,
sitting on the couch, he hands her a shot of brandy.
‘Thanks,’ she says. ‘Por nada,’ he answers, pouring one
for himself. She says she thinks they both deserve a break. ‘We deserve
each other,’ he replies, and wings his glass into the empty fireplace.
She’s unperturbed, strictly business, already in Mexico.
His sleepy expression shows he knows exactly where they’re going.
Night has already covered most of the country. The airwaves
are vibrating with the strains of ‘Sentimental Journey’, ‘Satin Doll’,
and ‘String of Pearls’. As they get into his Chevy stationwagon,
I could be five and just waking up from another nightmare.
Half the world is lying in ruins.

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