The Dancing Snake
À te voir marcher en cadence, Belle d’abandon, On dirait un serpent qui danse Au bout d’un bâton.
To see you rhythmically advancing Seems to my fancy fond As if it were a serpent dancing Waved by the charmer’s wand.
Charles Baudelaire, ‘Le Serpent Qui Danse’ [The Dancing Snake] in Les Fleurs du Mal, 1857
I dreamt you came back.
An essay entitled “Death Explained to Children” was casually lying on the bedside table. Among other advice and explanations, chapter nine was relating to what extent humans would often reincarnate into animals, cats, dogs or snakes. So it was you, the dancing snake. Twisting around my neck, worming your way out of the bedroom, brushing the purple walls. A few years ago I left for Los Angeles. The day of my departure you asked me what I would like to keep as a souvenir. Among all the books, the carpets and the pictures, I chose a gold ring that was shaped like a snake, rolling around its own neck. An Iranian lover of yours gave it to you some decades ago but, as far as I remember, you never wore it even once. I wear it everyday.
Did I dream you dreamed about me?
You came back and you are everywhere, hidden in my bottle of water like a song to the siren, under the transparent tent displayed among my cactuses in the backyard. You are riding through my mind and my head is a pink cap with an apparent brain. I am back to Los Angeles. They make movies here, I live here. We drive through the purple moonlight, watching MacArthur Park melting in the night. The next morning I drink my coffee slow, and I watch your shadow grow. Before the colors of our memories vanish in the eternity of silence, I would like to tell you a few words, but since words have been cruelly missed, I borrow those of another one.
When I was a child we would stride along the aisles of the Mesopotamian Antiquities at the Richelieu sector of the Louvre, just the two of us. Our favorite sculptures were the human-headed winged bulls from Khorsabad, the Assyrian capital. They were protective genies called shedu or lamassu, and were placed as guardians at certain gates or doorways of cities and palaces. As symbols combining a man, a bull, and a bird, they offered protection against enemies. One day we visited Iran together. You landed from Paris and I arrived from L.A., and we found each other in the crowd of Tehran. A few days later, our taxi was cruising through the golden dust outside of Shiraz and, suddenly, two large dark grey figures of stone emerged at the horizon. We saw them, the winged bulls of Persepolis. We had found them, our childhood’s beloved memories, the sphinxes of the Middle East.
I am standing in the sun I wish that I could be A silent sphinx eternally. I don’t want any past Only want things which cannot last And I can’t even cry Through God knows how I try A sphinx can never cry And sphinxes never die.