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An Asp Is Known By Her Fangs Alone

I hate art and I absolutely do not want to talk about it.

I hate the first time I saw a painted pearl and understood the the full, bulbous,

translucent dimension of a thick, tiny speck of Titanium White; a hairline swirl

of iridescent Cobalt Light; the utter lack of anything that somehow falsified my

eye into seeing something precious between.

Oil isn’t precious. Dirt isn’t precious. Crushed beetle wings and synthetic dyes

and pulverized clays aren’t precious.

Do you know what is precious?

Cleopatra’s asp bite.

I didn’t know that was how she died until I saw that painting of it, hanging in

the salon room of the Victoria Art Gallery in Bath.

They call it the VAG and I get it confused with the Vancouver Art Gallery by

my uncle’s house on the West Coast which they, incidentally, also call the VAG.

The latter VAG has a Lawrence Weiner work plastered to its back porch frieze,

PLACED UPON THE HORIZON (CASTING SHADOWS), so it’s probably the better VAG. At least, to me.

The latter VAG is also where I first [and last] saw the work of that woman or

sculptor or installation artist. The one who I want to call Suzy Lake.

But she isn’t Suzy Lake.

But I can’t remember her name.

But she laid out a bunch of martini glasses with imitation maraschino cherries on a white plaster platform in a grid that descended into something of a spill.

And I really liked that.

But the former VAG is where I first [and last] saw that unimportant, unremarkable, unshakable Cleopatra. That one particular painting of her being

bitten by the asp. Which I think about, on average, about once or twice a day.

It is not, by any stretch of the imagination, at all my favorite painting.

I mean — I hate art.

But I do think about her a lot.

That Cleopatra.

Also, that snake.

I think about the way I didn’t know that the last Pharaoh was struck [and

sucked] down by something as small as two little fang sutures and a slip of

some sorry poison.

I think about my friend [who’s no longer my friend] [but was my friend] with

the snake fang forever embedded between the skin and bone of the lowest

knuckle of her left thumb.

I think about Hamlet’s father sleeping in the garden and the poison his brother

dripped so sweetly in his ear.

I think about the story Susan told me — the one about the toddler who was

strangled in his crib by his parents’ python. How you probably can’t hear suffocating through a baby monitor.

I think about vampire bites and love bites and goblets of ambrosiac blood.

I think about the babywine I sipped at many young seders, dipping my pinky

tip into the child-sized kiddush cup and leaving a halfmoon line of nine ma-

genta droplets to bleed into a thin stream along the curved edge of my plastic

dinner plate.

I think about my rental flat in Bath with the beautifully renovated bathroom

with the most luxurious shower, but somehow, no bath.

I think about the man who stopped me and Karen on the damp pavement by

the Avon, who whipped around his bicycle to interrogate me — with glittering

eyes and a round, red nose of a man who overdrinks — all about my 1985

Canon AE1-P.

I think about how Karen was so jealous of the way he glanced past her, only

wanting to discuss the portraits of Martin Parr with me.

I think about it smugly.

And I think about that Cleopatra again.

I imagine the long s-curve of her spine, even though I know I must be mashing

it up mentally with Dominique-Ingres’s warped reclining nude, that Grande

Odalisque. And, as certain as I am of the Fibonacci sequence of my Cleopatra’s

spine, I am equally certain of the blush-bare point of her round right breast.

I am certain of the trickle of blood leaking from the asp bite, high up on her


And I am certain that it’s there — just a few paces from Cleopatra and her asp.

But don’t remember much of this other painting. Other than that tiny stretch,

that small expense of its treacherous string of painted pearls. No bigger than

the valley between forefinger and thumb.

I think about it much less often than that bitten Cleopatra.

Of that singular, extended moment in which I first [and last] understood what

it meant to create False Space like I never will and never have.


I hate art. And the last thing I’d want to do is talk about it.

Anyway, her name is Gathie Falk. The WomanSculptorInstallationArtist who

I thought was Suzy Lake. I remember it now; her name. She’s 96 and they call

her a painter. But I’ve never seen her paintings. Only sculptures. And it wasn’t

just cherries among her slippery grid of martini glasses.

There were also oranges.

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