Carole Coates

Letter to Molly

Letter from Frank Changeling to his wife, May 1980

My dear,

...............I love your notion that being in Kor is like
watching a tennis match played with invisible balls.
Invisible to me at any rate. Gestures, I can see,
and movements - but what they relate to is opaque.
Maybe one day I'll see the ball. I tell myself this
after each long day studying the language.
I can talk to people now, not that they want me to,
often they walk away. Foreigners have been as rare as phoenixes,
(if you can use the plural) but soon will be like seagulls – everywhere.

They've already started on the new city. Yesterday,
with the greatest ceremony, but no bands or fireworks -
that's not the Korish way – the first building was opened.
You must imagine a bare plain above the river,
tractors instead of trees, churned up mud, uneven concrete paths
leading from villages that will become the suburbs of the city –
Aren where I'm lodging, Fend and Sidmar... I forget the other.

Obviously the first building is a church - huge as a Mormon temple but octagonal
and on the steeple, not a weather vane but a crimson angel with a condor's wingspan.
All courtesy of Alberic, USA . it says on the plaque by the door. Also
they provide the Art. That's what I want to tell you about.

The service ( improbably they let me in ) was reminiscent of the Greek Orthodox
with lots of deep male chanting, priests and congregation like great answering gongs.
I envied them. I could observe that oceanic feeling,
belonging to something bigger than oneself, but I fidgeted
like an awkward adolescent at a wedding.
Afterwards I stayed behind to look at the walls. Alone.
You'd think they'd make more fuss about wall panels by Moth.
(Remember when we saw his stuff in the Tate?)

At first I saw huge desolate rectangles,
dark entries that were sealed by layers and layers...
but I just looked and looked and I was seeing not down
but up through water, fathoms of water, with sometimes dark expanses
and sometimes sharp oblongs of light. There's nothing, I think, no, and then
miles away, no, years away, something suspended - high fragments maybe,
curves like ancient ropes, or whorled shells or even whale ribs
and then rust-coloured spurs of something, mottled impasto... and
navy and prussian blue and sometimes lapiz
and scraps of bronze foil dropping,
yellow and orange like rust-flowers, like lichen,
blue shadows of curved parallel lines...
I don't know what I saw – it was unfathomable,
sometimes turquoise green expanses and then gulfs of darkness rising up.
I can't explain it. Sometimes it seems I saw
some terrible fragments frozen in disintegration or maybe
it was something coming together very painfully and slowly, waiting to coalesce.

Whatever it was, it was a space
so full of meaning I couldn't write yesterday night or study. I watched the stars instead.
There's no pollution here – not yet at any rate – and they were bright as diamonds.
Diamonds of course will make Kor's fortune ( courtesy of Alberic, USA).

Oh, I know where that tennis ball trope comes from – Arts Cinema, Cambridge, 1967.
Antonioni's “Blow Up” and that ten shilling biryani we had afterwards.
God, what a long time ago, Molly, such ages and ages ago.

Published in Swallowing Stones, Shoestring, 2012

© 2012 Carole Coates

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Last updated 15 March 2012