I never did care for poetry.
I find it difficult to read without imagining the author’s smug smile, as they welt their backs with self-congratulatory patting. Others coo and croon as they try to decipher meaning from vague artistic language or the placement of punctuation. It always reminded me of wine tasting - spend enough money and you can convince yourself that yes, yes, you can indeed detect strong floral aromas and a bitter-sweet woody aftertaste. Whereas in reality, most wine tasting “experts” will struggle to separate a £10 bottle of supermarket swill, to an extravagant merlot named after an obscure French vineyard with the word ‘chateau’ adding to a hefty price tag. At the end of the day, it’s all just fermented grape juice.
That is what poetry feels like to me. It gets lumped in with art, but it is not art. Not to me.
And I should know, after all. I have spent a lifetime accumulating true works of art. Sculptures, paintings and curiosities. But poetry has never had a place in my collection. Because I never understood it.
She changed all that, though. When I saw her, my mind conjured all those words that I had brushed off as nonsense. One glimpse of her beauty, and I realised at once why men had crafted sentences aiming to define love and wonder, simple words trying to convey just how mesmerizing it was to simply... behold her. To my shame, I tried myself. I wrote passage after passage, tried to capture the curve of her lips or the tilt of her eyes upon the page. But I am just a man, just a collector. And I quickly found I am no artist. No poet.
I doubt anyone could do her justice with mere words. A poem of her would be like describing a painting. How can one possibly communicate each brush stroke, the use of colour, the raw emotion that the viewer experiences when witnessing true art?
So, after a brief period of attempting this, I soon realised why I discount poetry as art. Because it is - without exception - an attempt to communicate art, rather than being art itself. It is secondary, relying upon the reader to take the words and reassemble the picture in their mind. The viewer must become the painter, the sculptor. And so few are capable of such things.
That was when I knew. Knew she belonged in my collection. No mere footnote, attempting to capture her beauty, but the real thing, to be observed and appreciated. The viewer can simply look. She is the painting.
Getting her to agree would be the challenge. As soon as I first laid eyes on her, I made all the subtle adjustments a man of my power and reach needed to be closer to her. I never conversed or engaged with her directly, of course. That would have been far too blunt, and carried too great a risk of failure.
Over the years, I have obtained many curious items. Relics, I believe, of an age before order and science. Most are safe, providing one follows the rules. And once one knows the rules, such relics can be highly profitable. If you play amongst the right circles, as I do, you can remain exclusive, and charge for the privilege. Art is never truly appreciated by the masses, after all.
And so, it was a simple task of extending the right invitations to the right people. I have never allowed a ‘plus one’, without knowing exactly who would attend. Trust me when I say, the lucky fool she was dating would have never been allowed within my walls had it not been necessary.
But it worked. The day came, and there she was. Inside my manor, walking amongst my collection. She was as ravishing as ever. Glittering chandelier earrings, a flowing green dress that seemed painted on her flawless figure, split at the thighs, revealing an almost indecent amount of leg. Ignoring her might have been the greatest challenge of my life, but it was essential. As we moved through each exhibit, her golden heels clacked across my marble floor. As I introduced each item, I could feel her dark, exotic eyes watching me. Intently listening to my every word. When her breath caught at the butterfly display, my own heart was sent aflutter. When she saw the eye of Horus blink, I allowed myself a glance, and saw her own eyes widen to the point of bulging. Somehow, even with such shock painted across her face, she still looked beautiful. And when the grotesque spoke aloud, the childish wonder conveyed by her grasping hands almost made me feel a younger man. I have always enjoyed the reactions of newcomers when they first witness my curiosities. But she was a true delight. I felt as though I were witnessing my own accumulations for the first time. A lifetime of work, re-experienced through her emotions. More than ever, I knew she belonged amongst them.
Sooner than I would have thought possible, we reached the end of my tour. In that moment, I doubt I have ever been hungrier to expand my collection. I wished it would have gone on forever. That I could have experienced all the wonder the world had to offer, seen entirely through her eyes. As my guests enjoyed their drinks, mingling and asking questions, I intentionally ensured I was unavailable to the couple. They may have had questions, but I knew what would truly hold them was the business proposition I had dangled before the fool she had travelled here with. An empty gesture, of course, but sufficient. Once all the other guests were departing, he approached, her flowing behind. He shook my hand and fumbled his way into my carefully laid snare. How she had deemed him worthy of her company, I shall never know.
Still, ever the showman, I smiled and continued. I assured him that I had not forgotten. Mentioned the final exhibit we had discussed. My first artefact, as it happens. And the only one I had never been able to turn into a lucrative display.
I promised they could see it, and I did not lie. The Mirror of Narcissus has always posed a challenge. All who glimpse its surface fall in love with their own reflection. And whilst they are under the mirror’s spell, the rest of the world appears to matter very little to them indeed. Until the spell is broken, they do not appear to notice anything except themselves. But a display of such an item has always proved impossible. The audience do not truly experience the art, they simply indulge in their own appearance. Even the most hideous of men appear enraptured by their reflection. But worst of all, once their gaze is broken, once the mirror is taken away and the spell is broken, they have no recollection of the event at all. Over the years, my numerous attempts at showcasing this item had failed.
But these two had no objections. They leapt at the opportunity to witness such an artefact. With no idea of the dangers, they watched me remove the silken sheet covering the mirror. And as their eyes fell upon their reflections, I could move amongst them freely. At last, after what felt like an eternity, I could gaze upon her freely. And all those thoughts of poetry bubbled back to the forefront of my mind. Once again, I watched her expression, watched her experience her own breathtaking beauty. That was when I knew that this was no mere selfish act on my behalf. For the first time, I hadn’t simply purchased a piece of art. I had created it. Combined two curiosities in this world and forged something greater than the sum of their parts. This alluring creature brushed a perfectly manicured finger against the plump curve of her lips. Gazing at her own reflection, mouth parted, eyes wide, she tilted her head slowly from side to side, the barest trace of a smile enhancing her radiance. Art, experiencing itself.
The man was removed. An irrelevance. A few purchases in his name. An intentional accident. A body.
At long last, she was where she belonged. Placed behind glass. The Mirror of Narcissus facing her, its surface unseen to the audience. The latest and greatest addition to my collection. Perhaps my true talent has always lied in knowing exactly which attractions appeal to whom. In knowing who will keep my secrets. And everyone always does.
Each day, my employees would clean her and ensure her biological needs were met. Her nails would be manicured, her make-up reapplied. When the mirror’s spell is broken, those who observe it are placed into a temporary stupor. As long as my employees were timely, they could dress her however I instructed, and do whatever was required to ensure she was always looking her best. And of course, I ensure my employees are timely to a fault. She never managed more than a few confused slurs before she was back in her display, once again lost amongst her astonishing glamour.
She was popular. I knew she would be. And most importantly of all, the Mirror of Narcissus was finally put to proper use. I do despise waste.
But time is cruel. And beauty fades. As the years passed, despite our best efforts, flaws began to show. A wrinkle here. A sag there. Grey hairs can be masked, but there is a limit. Day by day, we watched her radiance disappear. And soon my clientele no longer wished to see her. She still admires herself as much as ever. But now, she is alone. I will admit, I kept her longer than I should have. A fondness, I suppose. My first true work of art.
It is a pity. Nobody knows that more than me. But true art is so often temporary.
And new art is made every day.