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Traveller’s Tales: Chapter 13

The bicycle paths of this Social Democracy
are busy with pedallers, humourless and good,
speeding down their privileged corridors,
kinetic emblems of an enlightened state,
efficient, compassionate, and on the go.

Our visitor shuffles to the fine arts museum
and sits there, mildly hungover, before the Delvaux,
not one of his best, as if that really mattered,
finding refuge in the moonlit porcelain breasts
of the recumbent, homely maja, de maja van het noorden

and the old locomotive that waits, steaming fitfully
in the middle distance.
T-t-toro, t-toro, t-t-t-toro,
crackling from the invisible loudspeakers,
or so one might imagine, in a stammering falsetto;
the background sky the kind of purple you find

summer midnights in far northern climes.
Meanwhile, Inspector X engages Inspector Y
in a whispered exchange, a matter of singular import,
an unspeakable incident, a clue gone missing …
What is the function of art in society today?

barks the guest moderator at today’s symposium,
crosstown, the Institute of Higher Learning:
a small, nervous choleric creature, indeterminate gender,
dressed in what look to be black angora Mao pyjamas.
The conversation afterward involves a sharp exchange.

It is raining. It is always raining on days like this,
the gallery nearly deserted but for the museum guard
and our visitor, sitting there on the bench,
as he has been, for what seems like nearly an hour,
maybe more, staring at the painting in front of him.

Outside, in the courtyard, rain falls intermittently
on the grotesquely phallic sculpture in bronze,
a prize acquisition that still raises eyebrows.
Who is to say what is going through the mind
of our visitor, sitting there, stolid, transfixed?

It is often remarked upon, in survey books, compendia,
the strange and unearthly calm of these paintings
by the minor surrealist, an enigmatic Belgian,
even here, and doubtless on the audio guide;
that and what they call his atmosphere of mystery.

Traveller’s Tales: Chapter 34

The native whites are flat of head,
especially small children,
who bark sharply and spit
at any provocation.
The dark race wears an earthen cast,
a mix of sand and ash,
and look out from under their brims
wary and dazed,
as if for a long time hunted.

Sun Microsystems is at one end,
the bank towers at the other.
In between, terror alerts
are rotated with sportswear ads
on the sides of bus shelters.
If you see or hear anything
out of the ordinary
it is your duty as a citizen to phone …
One feels almost at home,
and here so very far away,
another hemisphere,
facing on a distant ocean.

A sea breeze called ‘The Doctor’
arrives at 6,
along with the stewardesses
in their red caps and gauzy veils,
filling up the hotel lobby
and chattering away like exotic birds.
The purply neon of the bank towers
does something,
something marvellous over the river
with the magenta
of the altocumulus clouds,
vibrating off one another
until the Supreme Court gardens are suffused
in a light, first spectrum violet,
then Moorish blue, then back again.

Dubai sky,
offers the famous travel writer.
He is standing at my shoulder,
a dark, slight, genial man.
We meet in such places at this.
Every few years we cross paths
far away from home.
Although he seems not really to have a home
except that of airports
and a perpetual predawn realm
lived out alone
in this Asian city or that,
unable to sleep,
walking the streets,
always in search of the red lantern
betokening the entrance to an unforeseen world.

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