Not a Man, A Cloud in Trousers

The Infinite Recognition, René Magritte, 1963

 

A CLOUD IN TROUSERS
(Облако в штанах, Oblako v shtanakh)

Prologue

Your thought,
Fantasizing on a sodden brain,
Like a bloated lackey on a greasy couch sprawling,–
With my heart’s bloody tatters, I’ll mock it again.
Until I’m contempt, I’ll be ruthless and galling.

There’s no grandfatherly fondness in me,
There are no gray hairs in my soul!
Shaking the world with my voice and grinning,
I pass you by, — handsome,
Twentytwoyearold.

Gentle souls!
You play your love on the violin.
Crude ones beat it out on the drums violently.
But can you turn yourselves inside out, like me,
And become just two lips entirely?

Come and learn,–
You, decorous bureaucrats of angelic leagues!
Step out of those cambric drawing-rooms

And you, who can leaf your lips
Like a cook leafs the pages of her recipe books.

If you wish,–
I’ll rage on raw meat like a vandal
Or change into hues that the sunrise arouses,
If you wish,–
I can be irreproachably gentle,
Not a man, — but a cloud in trousers.

I refuse to believe in Nice blossoming!
I will glorify you regardless,–
Men, crumpled like bed-sheets in hospitals,
And women, battered like overused proverbs.

 

Part I

You think I’m delirious with malaria?

This happened.
In Odessa, this happened.

“I’ll come at four,” promised Maria.
Eight…
Nine…
Ten.

Soon, the evening,
Frowning
And Decemberish,
Left the windows
And vanished in dire darkness.

Behind me, I hear neighing and laughter
Of candelabras.

You wouldn’t recognize me if you knew me prior:
A bulk of sinews
Moaning,
Fidgeting.
What can such a clod desire?
But the clod desires many things.

Because for oneself it doesn’t matter
Whether you’re cast of copper
Or whether your heart is cold metal.
At night, you want to wrap your clamor
In something feminine,
Gentle.

And thus,
Enormous,
I hunch in the frame,
And with my forehead, I melt the window glass.
Will this love be
Tremendous or lame?
Will it sustain or pass?
A big one wouldn’t fit a body like this:
It must be a little love, —
a baby, sort of,
It shies away when the cars honk and hiss,
But adores the bells on the horse-tram.

I come face to face
With rippling rain,
Yet once more,
And wait
Splashed by city surf’s thundering roar.

Running amok with a knife outside,
Night caught up to him
And stabbed him,
Unseen.

The stroke of midnight
Fell like a head from a guillotine.

Silver raindrops on the windowpane
Were piling a grimace
And yelling.
It seemed like the gargoyles of Notre Dame
Started yelping.

Damn you!
Haven’t you had enough yet?
Cries will soon cut my throat all around.

I heard:
Softly,
Like a patient out of his bed,
A nerve leapt
Down.
At first,
He barely moved.
Then, apprehensive
And distinct,
He started prancing.
And now, he and another two,
Darted about, step-dancing.

On the ground floor, plaster was falling fast.

Nerves,
Big ones,
Little ones,–
Various!–
Galloped madly
Until, at last,
Their legs wouldn’t carry them.

Night oozed through the room and sank.
Stuck in slime, the eye couldn’t slither out of it.

Suddenly, doors started to bang
As if hotel’s teeth
Were chattering.

You entered,
Abrupt like “Take it!”
Mauling the suede gloves you carried,
And said:
“You know,–
I’m soon getting married.”

 

Les mariés dans le ciel de Paris, Marc Chagall, 1970

 

Get married then.
It’s all right,
I can handle it.
As you can see, I’m calm, of course!
Like the pulse
Of a corpse.

Remember?
You used to say:
“Jack London,
Money,
Love
And ardor,”–
I saw one thing only:
You were La Gioconda,
Which had to be stolen!

And someone stole you.

Again in love, I shall start gambling,
With fires illuminating the arch of my eyebrows.
And why not?
Sometimes, homeless ramblers
Will seek to find shelter in a burnt down house!

 

Part II

Glorify me!
The great ones are no match for me!
Upon everything that’s been done
I stamp the word “naught.”

As of now,
I have no desire to read.
Novels?
So what!

This is how books are made,
I used to think,–
Along comes a poet,
And opens his lips with ease.
Inspired, the fool simply begins to sing,–
Oh please!
It turns out:
Before they can sing with elation,
On their calloused feet they tramp for some time,
While brainless fishes of imagination
Are splashing and wallowing in the heart’s slime.
And while, hissing with rhymes, they boil
All the loves and the nightingales in a broth-like liquid,
The tongueless street merely squirms and coils,–
It has nothing to yell or even speak with.

In silence, the street dragged on the ordeal.
A scream stood erect on the gullet’s road.
While fat taxies and cabs were bristling still,
Wedged in the throat.
As if from consumption,
the trodden chest gasped for air.

The city, with gloom, blocked the road rather fast.

And when,–
Nevertheless! —
The street coughed up the strain onto the square
And pushed the portico off its throat, at last,
It seemed as if,
Accompanied by choirs of an archangel’s chorus,
Recently robbed, God would show us His heat!

But the street squatted down and yelled out coarsely:
“Let’s go eat!”

Krupps and Krupplets gather around
To paint menacing brows on the city,
While in the gorge,
Corpses of words are scatted about,–
Two live and thrive,–
“Swine”
And another one,–
I believe, “borsch”.

And poets,
Soaking in sobs and complaining,
Run from the street, resentful and sour:
“With those two words there’s no way to portray now
A beautiful lady,
And love
And a dew-covered flower!”

And after the poets,
Thousands of others stampeded:
Students,
Prostitutes,
Salesmen.

Why should I care about Faust?
In a fairy display of the fireworks’ loot,
He’s gliding with Mephistopheles
On the parquet of galaxies!
I know,–
A nail in my boot
Is more frightening than Goethe’s fantasies!

I am
The most golden-mouthed,
With every word giving
The body – a name-day,
And the soul – a rebirth,
I assure you:
Minutest speck of the living
Is worth more than I can ever do on this earth!

Haven’t you seen
A dog licking the hand that it’s being thrashed by?

I am laughed at
By the present-day tribe.
They’ve made
A dirty joke out of me.
But I can see crossing mountains of time,
Him, whom others can’t see.

Where men’s sight falls short,
Wearing the revolution’s thorny crown,
Walking at the head of a hungry horde,
The year 1916 is coming around.

And when
His advent announcing,
Joyful and proud,
You’ll step up to greet the savior,–
I will drag
My soul outside,
And trample it
So it spreads out!
And give it to you, red in blood, as a flag.

Ah, how and wherefrom
Did it come to this, –
Against luminous joy,
Dirty fists of madness,
Were raised in the air?

And
As in the Dreadnought’s downfall
With chocking spasms
Men jumped into the hatch,
Before the ship died,
The crazed Burlyuk crawled on, passing
Through the screaming gaps of his eye.
Almost bloodying his eyelids,
He emerged on his knees,
Stood up and walked
And in the passionate mood,
With tenderness, unexpected from one so obese,
He simply said:
“Good!”
It’s good when from scrutiny a yellow sweater
Hides the soul!
It’s good when
On the gibbet, in face of terror,
You shout:
“Drink Cocoa — Van Houten!”

This moment,
Like a Bengal light,
Crackling from the blast,
I wouldn’t exchange for anything,
Not for any money.

Clouded by cigar smoke,
And stretching like a liquor glass,
One could make out the drunken face of Severyanin.
How dare you call yourself a poet
And gray, like a quail, twitter away your soul!
When
With brass knuckles
This very moment
You have to split the world’s skull!

You,
With one thought alone in your head,
“Am I dancing with style?”
Look how happy I am
Instead,
I,–
A pimp and a fraud all the while.
From all of you,
Who soaked in love for plain fun,
Who spilled
Tears into centuries while you cried,
I’ll walk away
And place the monocle of the sun
Into my gaping, wide-open eye.

I’ll wear colorful clothes, the most outlandish,
And roam the earth To please and scorch the public,
And in front of me,
On a metal leash,
Napoleon will run like a little puppy.
Like a woman, quivering, the earth will lie down,
Wanting to give in, she will slowly slump.
Objects will come alive
And from all around,
Their lips will lisp:
“Yum-yum-yum-yum-yum!”

Suddenly,
Clouds
And other such stuff in the air
Stirred in some astonishing commotion,
As if workers in white, up there,
Declared a strike, all bitter and emotional.
Savage thunder peeked out of the cloud, irate.
Snorting with huge nostrils, it howled
And for a moment, the sky’s face bent out of shape,
Resembling the iron Bismarck’s scowl.
And someone,
Entangled in the clouds’ maze,
To the café, stretched out his hand now:
Both, tender somehow,
With a womanly face,
And at once, like a firing cannon.

Take your hands out of your pockets, wanderers.
Pick up a bomb, a knife or a stone
And if one happens to be armless,
Let him come to fight with his forehead alone!
Go on, starving,
Servile
And abused ones,
In this flea-swarming filth, do not rot!
Go on!
We’ll turn Mondays and Tuesdays
Into holidays, painting them with blood!
Remind the earth whom it tried to debase!
With your knives be rough!

The earth
Has grown fat like the mistress’ face,
Whom Rothschild had over-loved!
May flags flutter in the line of fire
As they do on holidays, with a flare!
Hey, street-lamps, raise the traitors higher,
Let their carcasses hang in the air.

I cursed,
Stabbed
And hit in the face,
Crawled after somebody,
Biting into their ribs.

In the sky, red like La Marseillaise,
Sunset gasped with its shuddering lips.

It’s insanity!

Not a thing will remain from the war.

Night will come,
Bite into you
And swallow you stale.
Look,–
Is the sky playing Judas once more,
With a handful of stars that were soaked in betrayal?

Slumped in the corner of the saloon, I sit,
Spilling wine on my soul and the floor,
And I see:
In the corner, round eyes are lit
And with them, Madonna bites the heart’s core.
Why bestow such radiance on this drunken mass?
What do they have to offer?
Can’t you see, once again,
They prefer Barabbas
Over the Man of Golgotha?
Maybe, deliberately,
In this human mash, not once
Do I wear a fresh-looking face.
I am,
Perhaps,
The handsomest of your sons
In the whole human race.
Give them,
The ones molded with delight,
A quick death already,
So that their children may grow up right;
Boys — into fathers
Girls — into pregnant ladies.
Like wise men, let new born babes
Grow gray with insight and thought
And they’ll come
To baptize infants with names
Of the poems I wrote.

Athletes glistened in the carriages on the street.
People burst
Overstuffed,
And their fat oozed out,
Like a muddy river, it streamed on the ground,
Together with juices from
A cud of old meat.

Maria!
How can I fit a tender word into bulging ears?
A bird
Sings for alms
With a hungry voice
Rather well,

A poet sings praises to Tiana all day,
But I,–
I’m made of flesh,
I’m a man,–
I ask for your body,
Like Christians pray:
“Give us this day
Our daily bread.”

I’ll climb out
Filthy (sleeping in gullies all night),
And into his ear, I’ll whisper
While I stand
At his side:
“Mister God, listen!
Isn’t it tedious
To dip your generous eyes into clouds
Every day, every evening?
Let’s, instead,
Start a festive merry-go-round
On the tree of knowledge of good and evil!
Omnipresent, you’ll be all around us!
From wine, all the fun will ensue
And for once, Peter will not be frowning,
He’ll perform the fast-paced dance, ki-ka-pu.
We’ll bring all the Eves back into Eden:
Order me
And I’ll go,–
From boulevards,
I’ll pick up all the pretty girls needed
And bring them to you!
Should I?
No?
You’re shaking your curly head coarsely?
You’re knitting your brows like you’re rough?
Do you think
That this
Winged one, close by,
Knows true meaning of love?
I too am an angel; used to be one before,–
With a sugar lamb’s eye, I stared at your faces,
But I don’t want to give presents to mares anymore,–
All the torture of Sevres that’s been made into vases.
Almighty, You created two hands,
And with care,
Made a head, and went down the list,–
But why did you make it
So that it pained
When one had to kiss, kiss, kiss?!
I thought that you were Great God, Almighty,
But you’re a miniature idol, — a dunce in a suit,
Bending over, I’m reaching
For the knife that I’m hiding
At the top of my boot.
You, swindlers with wings,
Huddle in fright!
Ruffle your shuddering feathers, rascals!
You, reeking of incense, I’ll open you wide,
From here all the way to Alaska.

Let me go!

You can’t stop me!
Whether I’m right or wrong
Makes no difference,
I will not be calmer.
Look,–
Stars were beheaded all night long
And the sky is again bloody with slaughter.

Hey you,
Heaven!
Take your hat off,
When you see me near!

Silence.

The universe sleeps.
Placing its paw
Under the black, star-infested ear.

Vladimir Mayakovsky
1914

 

Originally titled The 13th Apostle (but renamed at the advice of a censor) Mayakovsky’s first major poem was written from the vantage point of a spurned lover, depicting the heated subjects of love, revolution, religion and art, taking the poet’s stylistic choices to a new extreme, linking irregular lines of declamatory language with surprising rhymes. It is considered to be a turning point in his work and one of the cornerstones of the Russian Futurist poetry.

The subject of Mayakovsky’s unrequited love was Maria Denisova whom he met in Odessa during the Futurists’ 1913 tour.Born in 1894 in Kharkov to a poor peasant family, Maria at the time resided with the family of her sister (whose husband Filippov was an affluent man) and was an art school student, learning sculpture. Vasily Kamensky described Denisova as “a girl of a rare combination of qualities: good looks, sharp intellect, strong affection for all things new, modern and revolutionary.” Mayakovsky fell in love instantly and gave her the nickname, Gioconda.

Mayakovsky started working of the poem (which he claim was born “as a letter, while on a train”) in the early 1914. He finished it in July 1915, in Kuokkala. Speaking at the Krasnaya Presnya Komsomol Palace in 1930, Mayakovsky remembered: “It started as a letter in 1913/14 and was first called “The Thirteenth Apostle”. As I came to see the censors, one of the asked me: Dreaming of doing a forced labour, eh? ‘By no means, I said, no such plans at all. So they erased six pages, as well as the title. Then, there’s the question about where the title has come from. Once somebody asked me how could I combine lyricism with coarseness. I replied: ‘Simple: you want me rabid, I’ll be it. Want me mild, and I’m not a man, a cloud in trousers.”

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A Behind-the-Seams Look at the World of High Fashion

 
 

Isaac Mizrahi can make things out of tulle or nubuck, but his most fabulous creation is the one he has made of flesh and blood. It is Mr. Mizrahi’s hilarious, happily Napoleonic personality that makes such a treat of Unzipped, Douglas Keeve‘s crafty valentine to the fashion world in general and this irrepressible designer in particular.

And intimacy with his subject — as both a fashion photographer and Mr. Mizrahi’s former lover — only heightens Mr. Keeve’s acuity rather than compromising his perspective. Of course in terms of objectivity, it helps that Unzipped has nothing to do with state secrets and everything to do with fake fur.

A smart, spiky documentary with just the right running time (76 minutes), Unzipped appreciates not only the loony excess that makes fashion such a high-stakes adventure, but also the monomania of Mr. Mizrahi’s creative process. Who else watches The Call of the Wild (William A. Wellman, 1935) and obsesses about the lip-liner on Loretta Young? As Mr. Mizrahi explains to the camera, if you’re going to freeze on the tundra, you might as well do it with your makeup un smudged.

A little while later, he is skillfully trying out the same anecdote on Polly Allen Mellen, a fashion arbiter who is enough to out-doyenne any and all of the characters in Robert Altman‘s Ready-to-Wear. (Comparisons between the two films are invidious but unavoidable. For electricity and fun, not to mention fashion sense, this one comes out miles ahead.) Ms. Mellen listens to Mr. Mizrahi in ways that make it clear his charm is working, and that charm counts for everything in this universe. For her part, Ms. Mellen advises him to “Be careful of makeup; be careful!” She sounds solemn enough to be warning Caesar about the ides of March.

Unzipped is filled with such telling moments and lively walk-ons, not only by power-brokers and Mr. Mizrahi’s business associates, but also by the celebrities who give the designer’s world its spark. It’s no small measure of Mr. Mizrahi’s talents as a born entertainer that he can chitchat easily with gorgeous, scene-stealing supermodels (Cindy Crawford talks about her pores, Naomi Campbell about her navel ring, Kate Moss about appearing in her underwear, etc.) and leave no doubt about who is the star of this show.

Unzipped is neatly structured to follow Mr. Mizrahi through the creation of a single collection, which begins in disaster. When first seen, he is crushed by reviews of his last designs (“Certainly his sense of how a modern woman dresses after 8 P.M. failed him”) and is about to start again at square one. The film understands that this process can look silly while being deadly serious. And it enjoys watching while a man who loves his work and lives vividly in his imagination — a fun place to be — tries out ideas. He’s not even really kidding when he daydreams about a fake-fur jumpsuit, perfect for dog-walking, that could work in one of two environments: Alaska or the Upper East Side.

Mr. Mizrahi is seen auditioning models, talking fabrics, working on sketches and gossiping madly about everyone he meets. (He does a dandy impersonation of Eartha Kitt, whose real presence is smoothly intercut with the Mizrahi version.) Throughout all of this, it’s also clear that he is driven rather than frivolous, controlling his employees and the camera crew with equal precision. When one scene finds him ambushed by upsetting news — Jean-Paul Gaultier has done a Nanook look before the completion of the Mizrahi version — he simply puts his face in his hands and refuses to move. That’s not as good as yelling “Cut!,” but it’s the next best thing.

The candor of Unzipped may be as contrived as the pouf skirts, but that doesn’t lessen its appeal. After all, in what other culture can you overhear people saying “punk and Hasidic” and have the slightest idea what they mean? (They mean a fashion gaffe by Jean-Paul Gaultier.) Even the film’s carefully controlled scenes can be revealing, as in its glimpses of Sarah Mizrahi, who beams at her boy and says “My Isaac made this” with motherly pride. She is all maternal encouragement until, when teased by Isaac, she insists: “That’s not funny at all. I have a very good eye.”

(Only Mary Tyler Moore in her Mary Richards days seems to rival Isaac’s mother as a feminine influence on him. Whatever that means, this film knows enough to leave it unexplained.)

Edited to capture the mounting drama of staging a collection, and filmed by Ellen Kuras in a fluent variety of camera styles (grainy black and white to accentuate the workaday fashion world, exuberant color for the finished clothes), Unzipped builds its tension until it reaches the big day. It looks on as Mr. Mizrahi changes from life of the party into drill sergeant, frantically finishing the clothes and insisting on a see-through ballet scrim to partly shield the models who are backstage. That idea itself becomes a theatrical triumph.

Then the crowd gathers and the show begins. It is alluringly “insane with color” (as Women’s Wear Daily will later gush), and yes, it is exciting enough to make sense of this whole enterprise. You may recall that Ready-to-Wear tried to lend thrills and meaning to this crowning moment by sending models down the runway stark naked. But Unzipped doesn’t have to be that unzipped. It knows why clothes work better.

The Aerosmith Chick

 
 

After seeing her in The Crush (Alan Shapiro, 1993), Marty Callner decided Alicia Silverstone would be perfect for a role in a music video he was directing for the band Aerosmith, called Cryin’; she was subsequently cast in two more videos, Amazing and Crazy. These were hugely successful for both the band and Silverstone, making her a household name (and also gaining her the nickname, “the Aerosmith chick”). After seeing Silverstone in the three videos, filmmaker Amy Heckerling decided to cast her inClueless

 
 

 
 

 
 

This music video features the first appearance of Alicia Silverstone in the band’s videos, as well as the band performing in the Central Congregational Church in Fall River, Massachusetts. The song flashes back and forth between the band and Alicia Silverstone, who plays a teen who has a falling out with her boyfriend (played by Stephen Dorff) after catching him cheating. She feigns an attempt to kiss him, but instead leans away annoying him. She then punches him and shoves him out of the car leaving him in the dust. She begins a phase of rebellion and individuality and gets a navel piercing, which has largely been credited as introducing navel piercing to mainstream culture. After having her purse stolen by another young man (played by then-unknown Josh Holloway of Lost), she chases him down and knocks him to the ground. The video then cuts to her standing on the edge of an overpass bridge, contemplating jumping…

 
 

 
 

 
 

This was the second appearance of Alicia Silverstone in the band’s videos. Paired with her was Jason London, star of Dazed and Confused(Richard Linklater, 1993), a film which was released in the same year as Get a Grip and which memorably made numerous references to Aerosmith. The characters are featured in the music video as two cyberspace kids who escape to a world of virtual reality together, both not realizing the other is also doing virtual reality. The head-mounted display in the video worn by Jason London was manufactured by Liquid Image Corporation. The founders of Liquid Image Corporation, David Collette and Tony Havelka, were contacted by the video production crew and asked to provide a head-mounted display system for the VR sequence.

 
 

 
 

 
 

It featured the third appearance of Alicia Silverstone in the band’s videos, as well as the career debut of Steven’s then-teenaged daughter Liv Tyler. The decision to cast Liv in the video for Crazy was based on the video’s creators having seen her in a Pantene commercial, with absolutely no knowledge her father was in the band. The video was very film-like and depicted the two as schoolgirls who skip class and run away, driving off in a blue Ford Mustang convertible. The two use their good looks to take advantage of a service station clerk, and needing money, enter an amateur pole-dancing competition. The video is noteworthy for its very risque and suggestive sexual scenes, some of which seem to suggest lesbianism in the characters.