The Desire to Write about The Acrobats
I sat in the sex room, a waiting room. I’m often sitting in this underfurnished, underlit room, a space (heated, windowless, cramped) devoted to the religion of the under: undercover, underground, underwear, underarm, under erasure. Into this undemonstrative room, a room without connotations, another man entered. He had, so far, no name; I’ll call him Francis Picabia, the artist whose painting The Acrobats, 1935, I’m looking at while I write this account. Picabia, whom Gertrude Stein admired and encouraged, walked into the sex room and sat a few feet away from me on a white horizontal platform. He crossed his legs to conceal his penis, which I had little desire to see. I prefer the area surrounding the genitals — the penumbra of inferences and speculations tripped into motion by the presence (real or imagined) of a penis. With dispassionate scrupulousness, Picabia rubbed his thighs, as if to verify their palpability, or to wipe off scum. Then he uncrossed his legs and put his hands over his crotch, to shield me from a display I might find appalling or disappointing. His modesty wounded me; as retaliation or compensation, I wriggled out of my tight blue uniform, as a clumsy Salomé might execute her final dance, and turned to face Picabia, to give him my nudity’s veined ultimatum. Picabia, whether to avoid my advance, or to show more of himself, stood up from the white platform and turned around. On his right buttock, a large brown mole, not disfiguring, was uncannily beautiful and individuating, much like (if you’ll forgive the sacrilege) the late Elizabeth Taylor’s beauty mark, a flaw that highlighted the presence, below, of famous breasts. If my stranger’s name weren’t temporarily Picabia, I’d say that his buttocks were Rubenesque; in this context, it might be more appropriate to say that his buttocks had the dark gravity — the heft, the humor, the consoling solidity — of Gertrude Stein’s body, clothed in eccentric, Buddhist/Maoist garb, in photographs by Cecil Beaton, Man Ray, and other apotheosizers of the surreality that animates a fashionable body. I placed my hands on Picabia’s buttocks, to judge their worth — and he moved toward me, until his buttocks were level with my mouth. Paradoxically, by capitulating to my desire, he was punishing me. His buttocks, their cooperativeness, wordlessly aimed invective at me, and I became a nullity, a receptacle for his contempt. Picabia’s buttocks smelled of vetiver; when he finally turned around, I noticed that his crotch and its complicated vicinity smelled of lavender mixed with turpentine, the oil painter’s companion.