“… the red poppy often meant imagination and eternal sleep, but also pleasure . . . ‘The rose and poppy are her flowers; for where/Is he not found, O Lilith, whom shed scent/And soft-shed kisses and soft sleep shall snare?’”
Allison Meier writes in Hyperallergic about the hide-in-plain-sight secret language of flowers, as the prim Victorian loaded the bouquet with va-va-voom blooms, to do the talking for him or her.
Or, as the young, wild, mocking Istvan once observed amongst the quality:
“Sometimes the alderman’s wives enclose flowers with their billet-doux, rosemary for remembrance, blue violet for constancy, yellow tulips for hopeless love . . .”
To go under the poppy can mean many things.
“Something in him so loves the world that he gives himself to the laws of gravity and chance. Far from flying with the angels, he traces with the fidelity of a seismograph needle the state of the solid bloody landscape. His house is dangerous and finite, but he is at home in the world. He can love the shapes of human beings, the fine and twisted shapes of the heart. It is good to have among us such men, such balancing monsters of love.”
Leonard Cohen salutes the particularity of saints in the passage above; to me it speaks particularly of Mercury, and of puppets, and of Istvan the puppeteer, especially as his character returns, revolves, evolves, in THE MERCURY WALTZ.
To continue to investigate, to plumb and parse the tricky, humorous, amorous, cloven and singular state of that character, that saintly monster of love and of play, was play, for me, of a very joyful order, a joy I hope translates to the reader when that play is mounted and the story is read. Not everyone will find that story speaks to her, to him, of course, and that’s as it should be: not every god – or monster – appeals to every ear. But for those who hear what this story has to say, welcome to the balance! Or welcome back.
Each generation thinks it has – it must have! – invented both desire and sex; because, no doubt, it all feels forever new. But the 19th century knew just as much as the 21st. For a timely reminder, see Mihaly Zichy’s drawings, and let your bodice rip if it will.
There have been requests and suggestions for an Under the Poppy album of erotica, based on the “menu” of services available. The brothel ponders …
If in the city winter comes and goes in a swift gray coat of mist and snow, like a secret traveler eager to be off, then true spring takes its time to settle in: adrift and sullen in the rainclouds, unsure if the staying shall be worthwhile. But when at last the sun appears, its warmth spreads everywhere, insistent as the hordes of chattering black sparrows, fecund as the river adrift with life and death, fish heads and flotillas of swans and their cygnets, broken sprigs of pink heart’s-ease sent drifting to mark some lover’s advent or end, tossed by the maidservants and shopgirls in their ribboned serge jackets leaning over the still-cold stone of Crescent Bridge, eyed by the gray-suited bridge patrolmen and the quayside grifters and the stray cats who yawn at the statues’ feet like bored familiars, all teeth and pink gullets in the spill of lemony light. [from THE MERCURY WALTZ]
Some readers are certain that the city that is the stage for THE MERCURY WALTZ is actually Prague. Others claim, as certainly, other cities. Still others want to know which city it is “really,” finding the geography a puzzle that they’d like me, as the writer, to solve.
History is aggregate memory handed down, geography is fact on a map. The story of Rupert and Istvan, and their friends and enemies, is set in a landscape created by the mind – mine when I wrote it, yours when you read it – that may indeed wear the vestments of Prague, or of another place altogether. Fiction has its own boundaries, and the story of the Mercury Theatre and its actors is ultimately one of play: where something is what we say it is, what we agree it is, as long as the playing lasts.
Delighted to have found this Poppy quote online while researching something else and other . . . A religious belief in the power of make-believe, yes indeed.
Writing a piece on the writing of THE MERCURY WALTZ, when I’d thought the story ended in the POPPY, brought me back to the surprise of that beginning, or re-beginning: the doubt and the challenge, and the exhilaration that the show, yes, must go on, with new players aside the veterans, and new puppets to jig, sport, break hearts and tell the truth no matter how inconvenient.
A work must first be a gift to the writer before s/he can give it to its readers. I’ll hope that you’ll accept this mercurial gift, that it be as surprising and pleasing and bracing as a cold Champagne cocktail served stageside by a beauty in a mask, while drums, or is it thunder, or is it soldiers? thrum outside in the greater dark.
The Musée d’Orsay’s exhibition “Masculine/Masculine. The Nude Man in Art from 1800 to the Present Day” is one that, were he in the vicinity, the young writer Frédéric-Seraphim Blum might well attend, and more than once, though with varying feelings of elation, pleasure, and dismay:
. . . Frédéric’s last question trailing as they cross up the aisle—“Why is it called the Mercury, your theatre?”—to bring Istvan’s quote from “Priapus, do you know him? That is, the classics? I’m sure Seraphim does, it’s a fairly juicy bit,” as the door is closed, as the quote is proffered, as before they part Istvan sees once more that alarmed and charming blush.
From THE MERCURY WALTZ, soon to be released by Roadswell Editions.
“Vera’s packed her traps,” Lucy says, to everyone and no one. “She’s on her way up the road tonight.” Their startled murmurs, Jonathan’s wide eyes and “The last train,” Lucy says. “Bought her ticket with that money she squirrels away, you note she’d never the price of a ribbon or a cigarette, always promising to pay you back later. Well, she’s paying us back all right. Off she goes, to Victoria she says, and thence to Paris. Paris! She might as well fly up to the moon.”
Readers of The Mercury Waltz will not learn if Vera ever made it to Paris, as her story-thread disappeared from the tale mid-point through the Poppy; and we are most concerned with those gentlemen of the road, Rupert and Istvan, where they went and what they did, what new allies or enemies they gathered in the city where they find themselves making a home, this time for good.
But no character is “just” a character, they’re all intrinsic to the story, otherwise why were they found there at all? Why this floozy, this sharp-eyed, acquisitive, self-protective Vera, sister to watchful Velma, if she did not belong at the Poppy, however briefly? To follow those threads, all of them, what fun it would be . . . I like to think that Vera made it to Paris, and made a lot of wealthy gentlemen less wealthy, if incrementally more wise.
[Photo of Vanessa Ellen Hentschel courtesy Rick Lieder.]