for Eileen Agar

We are become floral persons, in a garden of respite with a peacock at our feet. We gather for peace. Yesterday was the war and tomorrow will be the war. Let us stay in the present and the present and the present. We dance for peace, facing each other, facing away from each other but together.

Locusts, windmills, fur coats in the high heat of the summer, rickshaw rides in the garden, mud pies, (struck with a hairbrush), diamond bracelets on the dinner plates, the impossibility of lies, the desert irrigated and floating with colourful birds.

The streets of Buenos Aires, the streets of New York, the streets of London: all the children applaud, soft soup, a man in a large bright suit gathered all the spoons together and threw them in the air and they landed as knives. I am not a surrealist.

A postcard from Apollo.  Yes, no, I don’t remember. Paul picked up a chair and flung it at another poet and picked up a chair and flung it at another poet. And they’ll forget about art, they’ll forget about art. A serpent marble fireplace, collages, a silver clock dish with light and time pouring through it from underneath. A blind architect, a modest man who does not think modestly. To leave one’s beautiful home for a tiny room. The smell of turpentine is completely necessary to my wellbeing. What kind of person can sleep under their blanket in the basement with the sounds of guns casting shells up into the sky, and planes, passing and passing, dropping bombs from the sky. Sitting on our donkeys, working away at our drawings, and later, in the studio, dancing to the gramophone. I live on milk. Turn the lines around and around, and all the faces appear, with tears, without tears.

Gertrude was a lovely person, who helped many people after she stopped being poor, and for all I know, before that. Small kindnesses in the slough, in the despond, with its slanting, horizontal rain, its underfoot softness, its false light in the distance. Gert was a lovely person.

I cannot go to the gallery on my own. Help is so difficult. Others’ pictures remain at a distance now, physically and memorially. The recalled images come at me out of the dark, last thing at night, or out of the light, first thing when I awake. How human they are, full of thought and feeling, all spoken in colour and line and form, all made through imperfection, even the perfect ones. Light works in two ways. I cannot remember what they are and I’m not sure that it matters much. We make things belong together that once lay on the bed of the sea, or grew from a ram’s head. Each work is an argument for unity. That we might come from the many but live as one, even though the hand might disagree with the head, the mouth with the ear.

The skin replaces itself, our teeth fall out, or perhaps our hair, other cells renew themselves or die out, or rebel against us and require removal by the knife. Our memories turn defective, selective, compress together to make stories that never were but seem more real than the passing scene visible through my studio window as I sit in my most comfortable chair, drinking tea and talking to myself. I tell the story of my good friend Harry who, as a child, would rub cheap embrocation into the broad, arthritic back of his mother, from which he learned how forms are shaped, how they live in pain, inholding their agonies, large and small, how our bodies shape the space around us, how love shapes others and is shaped in turn. The apples, retrieved from the fearful dark under the stairs, to be cored, the hollows filled with sweetness and baked. A mother’s love, a mother to love, her body, her pain, her laughter, her unending gravity, absent for so many, we are unmirrored without her. Hollows to be made for the eye to escape in, to find sweetness in release, in sight’s freedom.

A head, not unlike my husband’s, I decorated and sent to Amsterdam, before the beginning of the war. There was bombing and invasion, and the head was never seen again. I found a spare cast and dressed it with the materials I had to hand and the spirit of anarchy. This unthinking head is a moment of laughter and hope and vulgar beauty—the best kind—caught in a permanent dialogue with its lost and devastated twin, safe in its vitrine, or in storage, or wherever it is kept by the good gallery.

Life is not good, it is excellent. The birds and their eyes look over the beach. I was one of their number. I made a golden brindled box for him, to hold my letters, to contain male and female. The paints, he knew, were all and severally me and, he knew, the well and the brush, the little cunning drawers, the silver box within. His letters, in his sweet hand of smudged pencil or sharp black inky slices, I kept until the end, the words fresh and eager and loving across time, bitter partings, the well and the brush, the silver hammer, the paints of me.

Gouache laid on board. We are the landscape, outside of nature, nature inside and springing from hands’ ends, with birds for partners; a thrush or a cuckoo, a peacock and the shade of a swan. Our bodies blue and collaged with verdancy, with a dark spot that might be a heart, or the eye of a giant face grown wide and wild with witness of war. The sun animates every cell, our dance as slow and irreversible as vegetable growth. We dance, facing each other, facing away from each other but together. The war is yesterday and tomorrow is the war and the present is the war.

David Hayden

David Hayden was born in Ireland and lives in England. His writing has appeared in The Stinging Fly, Granta online, Zoetrope All-Story, The Dublin Review, AGNI, The Georgia Review and A Public Space, in the Faber New Irish Writing anthology, ‘Being Various’, edited by Lucy Caldwell, in ‘The Art of the Glimpse: 100 Irish Short Stories’, edited by Sinéad Gleeson, and on BBC and RTÉ radio. His first book, ‘Darker With the Lights On’, is published by Transit Books and Carcanet Press. This story is taken from a new collection: ‘Imperfections Are the Only Perfections We Have’.

About All Made Through Imperfection: This story came out of the life and work of the artist Eileen Agar, an Argentine- born, British artist who studied at the Slade School in the 1920s. Agar, like many women artists of her generation, is admired in a diffuse way while being fundamentally underrated. Her use of colour and line was superbly controlled and anarchic, symbolically and densely rich about the interior and exterior world, visually complex and simple. This range and tension might have been seen as a strength in another artist, but perhaps it is a cause of her relative neglect. The depiction of life as dance is a repeated theme in her work, and I return often to her 1945 painting ‘Dance of Peace,’ a superb composition of beautifully coloured, overlapping, interlocking subjectivities that seems to suggest that human flourishing, even survival, depends on how well we can harmonise motion with each other, beyond our contingent differences. That’s one reading, in any case. Others are, as with any worthwhile artist, very possible.