· 12 July 2020

A Taste for Art

S A M U E L   S N O E K  –  B R O W N

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Campbell’s Soup Cans. Andy Warhol, 1962

Such an easy starter, soup. Save the feast for later. Tomato, vegetable, green pea, clam chowder—my third lover in a corded blue sweater, the heavy knit in ropes like suspenders down his chest. That brown knit cap, all year long.

The beef is a tinny; the asparagus thick and sour.

I save the scotch broth for last, hoping it would taste of whisky, the way my grandfather’s beard smelled on Thursday evenings when he visited for supper and bent to kiss me, his eyes small amid all the lines of his smile. But the scotch broth is small carrots and barley water, sodden ohs of pasta and gritty bits of mutton. The broth is too salty, like the taste of my first husband still on my tongue, my dash to the bathroom. Him and my grandfather confused in my mind now, my stomach upside-down.

Still Life With Drapery, Pitcher and Fruit Bowl. Paul Cezanne 1893

I move from the pop Americans to the French: a plate of peaches and green pears with a carafe of chilled white wine. All circles and oblongs, hard, clean outlines, the colors crisp but the flavors chalky like the day outside, the cloud-gauzed silver sun swimming in the reflecting pool, the air dry like old leaves.

The apples keep rolling off the folds of drapery.

In a park across outside, a vast sculpture exhibit, figures walking, all stylized limbs with trapezoidal feet and rusty torsos so thin they wavered in the breeze, swaying in a creaking song of weathered steel—a commentary on movement. Amid them a tour glides among the giants walking the grass, the tiny people helmeted and riding yellow Segways with a tour logo in blue block letters. Inside, the air temperature remains constant as I stand before the Cezanne and salivate.

Still Life with Mackerels, Lemons and Tomatoes. Vincent Van Gogh, 1888

Sunflowers give us seeds, but that can’t sustain us.

The first fish is dry but the lemon complements it perfectly, the tomatoes making a tangy-sweet juice that seeps into the flaky flesh of the mackerel. The eyes staring up at me, the briny burst of them against my tongue.

I drink a tankard of clean, clear water that overspills my lips and runs in thick rivers down my neck, my collarbones. Ripples in a riverstream, waves sloshing ashore. The second, upside-down mackerel is watching me, dripping, its mouth open. I whisper, I’m so sorry.

Still Life with Peaches. Henri Fantin-Latour, 1880

I sit for an hour with the peach in my hand. Its skin is warm, the fur of it like deerskin in my palms. I draw a fingertip over the dimple in the top of it. I hold it under my nose and smell the orchard there. When I press the knifepoint into the flesh the juice runs slow in one fine drop over each of my knuckles. Down inside, I can feel the ridged stone—it makes the blade rise or dip with each tiny ripple. I make an equator around the heart of it and then it is open to me, the fruit dark like firesmoke at dawn. The hard pit in its crater, so snug. I set that half in the lettuce and left it there. I take the other half out into the sunshine. My chin goes wet.

Still Life with Lobster. Anne Vallayer-Coster, 1781

The lobster and the boiled eggs steam on their plates, the fat of the ham drools over the cut in its face, the grapes sweat. I sweat. My lips feel dry. But there is the duck still bleeding, hanging unplucked on its hook, tiny down, speckled red, snowing over the rest of the food. I drink the red wine until it is gone, and I am gone, but the feast remains. Untouched.

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Venison and Basket watched by a cat. Jan Fyt, 1649

The table, like so many tables, is a mausoleum. Trussed quail and rabbit, hanks of venison, dead ducks collapsed in a row like they’d all lain down together. I want to press my face into the heap, but the fur and down will be cold and no comfort. This is not my bed. This is for the cat to lie in—it reclines already at its supper, one paw in ownership extended, no hurry at all. The cat has all the time in the world.

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The Last Supper. Leonardo da Vinci, 1499

Bartholomew and James lean in, hands on the table—Bartholomew’s stomach is in his dish, the food soaking into the cloth of his robe—but Andrew recoils, his hands in the air. Still, he did not spill his water. There it sits, untouched. I wish it had been wine.

Judas has his elbow in the greens and is reaching for his glass, which may indeed be wine. His lips are red like blood. I imagine he’s been dipping his cup under the table all night, probably to spike his drink from a skin, though where he would have got the money for it I can’t imagine. He must be drunk, though—he has spilled the salt. No table manners at all.

Peter, at least, has the kindness to point his table knife away from our host (be careful with your cutlery) but he’s looming over everything so young John can’t get at anything to eat. John is woozy with hunger and maybe should have eaten before the long walk up here. His shoulders sag and his cheeks now are pink, his brow dewy.

Like me, Thomas and the other James are upset about the upset of the salt—who will clean up this mess?—but Philip, helpful Philip, offers to find one more shaker somewhere, he swears.

Matthew, Jude and Simon are paying no attention to the rest. They’ve finished their meal already and are arguing about what I don’t know. Perhaps sports. But Jesus, kind Jesus, isn’t concerned with any of it. Jesus doesn’t even mind when John lays his hungry head on Jesus’s shoulder. This is dinner as usual. A night with the boys. Here is the last roll. Don’t worry. It’s yours.

And I take it. It’s long from the oven and has gone cool in the evening breeze from the windows, but the center is still soft, the crust fine like an eggshell, the dough like a cloud on my tongue. It never was anything like flesh at all.

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