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This article is taken from PN Review 238, Volume 44 Number 2, November - December 2017.

Tin Chicken R.F. Langley
Journal Entry, 9 January 2007

Much twilight these days, and filled with wind. Rain often. The sense one has had for many years that the seasons will come round has been, I realise, one of the foundations of certainty. And it has gone. They don’t necessarily have to. There might soon be a year without a winter. A great storm could come at any moment.

I put the Tin Chicken in the front bedroom window this morning so she can watch out, see the three horses in the field opposite, wearing their coats, eating into their massive pile of hay, standing glum. Most of the time a horse in a field looks glum. They are heavy-headed creatures without much to do and probably they are not even thinking much. Just enduring. Then, it seems quickly afterwards, I bring the Tin Chicken back inside and stand her on top of the pile of books on the bookcase so she can look at the room, legs braced, sharp-headed, holding her flower and her basket. I decided when I bought her in Eye last year that I would treat her frankly as a transitional object, give her a repertoire and pass with her the time of day. That much seems to help, out here in the country in the midst of weather. Already, because I always stand her on the same small pill box, so she has some elevation on the windowsill, and that pill box is always on the same paperback of Montet’s Eternal Egypt, she carries with her her ritual. And in front the pill box has bleached in the sunlight and there are her two three-toed footprints in its original yellow now, while the rest of the box is very pale green.

Tin Chicken then. Stiff and upright and elevated. She brings to mind the statue of Apollo on top of the column in Piero’s Flagellation, set in the midst of circumstance. The background observer who doesn’t speak but probably has opinions. And she brings to the role a country kitchen housewife stance, with her pinny, its central pocket on her chest, her green dress with its flower print, her cylindrical brown-stockinged legs. The sort of person who could cope out here. A bit of grandmother about her, sponging oil off a soiled blackbird. Above all, she is attentive, foursquare, watching. The big uneasiness is outside, to do with what might come, El Niño, the Gulf Stream, the sea level, the state of the ditches, and how the Gull is running. Can it be heard from the gate tonight? She is listening.

How powerful any anthropomorphic figure is in a room! Especially one that is taut, not elegantly subsumed into itself, rather raw and unposed. I am glad she is friendly – and aware that it was an odd thing to do to buy her and keep her and deliberately set about noticing her, giving her night and day positions. Bottom is the man with an ass’s head. He has the great dream, which cannot be spoken, which is all the time what requires some sort of translation. Your translation will show your sense of things. Meanwhile the seasons are at odds with what is proper and the nine-men’s-morris is filled up with mud.

Hegel said ‘Minerva flies at dusk.’ Dewey said that careful problem definition is the key to successful thought. The problem fixes the end of the thinking and the end controls the process of thinking. But that is all daylight, all system and management and mastery. It is all internet transactions, everything there to be used and available for correlations, the web of infinite correlations and accumulation of viable entities.

‘I will tell you everything, right as it fell out’… ‘Let us hear, sweet Bottom’… ‘Not a word of me. All I will tell you is, that the duke hath dined. Get your apparel together, good strings to your beards, new ribbons to your pumps.’ We are after that which is withdrawn. Why does Minerva fly at dusk? Because it begins to be difficult to gain information then, so she goes home? Surely not. Does she not fly out and begin to seek understanding, tie on her beard and gird on her pumps, being told nothing? So poetry tackles what is not yet, what is lost, what the kestrel is when it is all kestrel.

For me, this grapple can happen only in a biographical moment, a lived experience, and is felt as located in a spot of time. It is still Romantic. This lime tree bower. Minerva has the ears of a bat. What is it like to be a bat? There is something that it must feel like that cannot be assembled on the internet. The silence to be spoken. Uncork the bottle of hay. Help the old lady out of the bush. The ribbons on the pumps are not essential, but some girding up, rather than some explanation, sweet Bottom, to encourage engagement which will help the fuller presencing of things themselves. Not ‘minding to content you’ but a minding that will despite you. No pre-set goals. Nothing processed. Something essentially unavailable and unGoogled. See the voice. Kiss the lime and roughcast. This lantern doth the horned moon present. The rooks’ wings creak.

Maybe the stringed beards are the helmets of invisibility and the ribboned pumps are the sandals of flight, and you can wear them to tackle the tragic play and translate it when the parts you have learned and expect to repeat, as Bresson says actors do, slip your hold on them, and say what you did not foresee, what you could not have looked up and fitted out, which would, had you done with it what you expected, have turned you to stone. The dance at the end will be an unexpectedly raucous marriage to Andromeda, to Hippolyta, freed from the rock and seeing that it all adds up, in spite of itself, and its initial silliness, to something ‘of great constancy’. Who could doubt that Titania is Minerva and Oberon Mercury? And Bottom is a version of Theseus, both lovers of Titania, both a Perseus.

This article is taken from PN Review 238, Volume 44 Number 2, November - December 2017.

Readers are asked to send a note of any misprints or mistakes that they spot in this article to
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