Derek Jarman’s “Blue” (1993)

Derek Jarman’s “Blue” (1993)

BLUE

(1993)

A sound poem by Derek Jarman (1942-1994)

 

You say to the boy open your eyes

When he opens his eyes and sees the light

You make him cry out. Saying

O Blue come forth

O Blue arise

O Blue ascend

O Blue come in

 

I am sitting with some friends in this cafe drinking coffee served by young refugees from Bosnia. The war rages across the newspapers and through the ruined streets of Sarajevo.

 

Tania said ‘Your clothes are on back to front and inside out”. Since there were only two of us there I took them off and put them right then and there. I am always here before the doors open.

 

What need of so much news from abroad while all that concerns either life or death is all transacting and at work within me.

 

I step off the kerb and a cyclist nearly knocks me down. Flying in from the dark he nearly parted my hair.

 

I step into a blue funk.

 

The doctor in St. Bartholomew’s Hospital thought he could detect lesions in my retina – the pupils dilated with belladonna – the torch shone into them with a terrible blinding light.

 

Look left

Look down

Look up

Look right

 

Blue flashes in my eyes.

 

Blue Bottle buzzing

Lazy days

The sky blue butterfly

Sways on the cornflower

Lost in the warmth

Of the blue heat haze

Singing the blues

Quiet and slowly

 

Blue of my heart

Blue of my dreams

Slow blue love

Of delphinium days

 

Blue is the universal love in which man bathes – it is the terrestrial paradise.

 

I’m walking along the beach in a howling gale –

Another year is passing

In the roaring waters

I hear the voices of dead friends

Love is life that lasts forever.

My hearts memory turns to you

David. Howard. Graham. Terry. Paul….

 

But what if this present

Were the world’s last night

In the setting sun your love fades

Dies in the moonlight

Fails to rise

Thrice denied by cock crow

In the dawn’s first light

 

Look left

Look down

Look up

Look right

The camera flash

Atomic bright

Photos

The CMV – a green moon then the world turns magenta

My retina

Is a distant planet

A red Mars

From a Boy’s Own comic

With yellow infection

Bubbling at the corner

I said this looks like a planet

The doctor says – “Oh, I think

It looks like a pizza”

 

The worst of the illness is uncertainty. I’ve played this scenario back and forth each hour of the day for the last six years.

Blue transcends the solemn geography of human limits.

 

I am home with the blinds drawn

H.B. is back from Newcastle

But gone out – the washing

Machine is roaring away

And the fridge is defrosting

These are his favourite sounds

BLUE (part 1)

 

I’ve been given the option of being an in-patient at the hospital or to coming in twice a day to be hooked to a drip. My vision will never come back.

 

The retina is destroyed, though when the bleeding stops what is left of my sight might improve. I have to come to terms with sightlessness.

 

If I loose my sight will my vision be halved?

 

The virus rages fierce. I have no friends now who are not dead or dying. Like a blue frost it caught them. At work, at the cinema, on marches and beaches. In churches on their knees, running, flying, silent or shouting protest.

 

It started with sweats in the night and swollen glands. Then the black cancer spread across their faces – as they fought for breath TB and pneumonia hammered their lungs, and Toxo at the brain. Reflexes scrambled – sweat poured through hair matter like lianas in the tropical forest. Voices slurred – and then were lost forever. My pen chased this story across the page tossed this way and that in the storm.

 

The blood of sensibility is blue

I consecrate myself

To find its most perfect expression

 

My sight failed a little more in the night

H.B. offers me his blood

It will kill everything he says

 

The drip of DHPG

Trills like a canary

 

I am accompanied by a shadow into which H.B. appears and disappears. I have lost the sight on the periphery of my right eye.

 

I hold out my hands before me and slowly part them. At a certain moment they disappear out of the corner of my eyes. This is how I used to see. Now if I repeat the motion this is all I see.

 

I shall not win the battle against the virus – in spite of the slogans like “Living with AIDS”. The virus was appropriated by the well – so we have to live with AIDS while they spread the quilt for the moths of Ithaca across the wine dark sea.

 

Awareness is heightened by this, but something else is lost. A sense of reality drowned in theatre.

 

Thinking blind, becoming blind.

 

In the hospital it is as quiet as a tomb. The nurse fights to find a vein in my right arm. We give up after five attempts. Would you faint if someone stuck a needle into your arm? I’ve got used to it – but I still shut my eyes.

 

The Gautama Buddha instructs me to walk away from illness. But he wasn’t attached to a drip.

 

Fate is the strongest

Fate Fated Fatal

I resign myself to Fate

Blind Fate

The drip stings

A lump swells up in my arm

Out comes the drip

An electric shock sparks up my arm

 

How can I walk away with a drip attached to me?

How am I going to walk away from this?

 

I fill this room with the echo of many voices

Who passed time here

Voices unlocked from the blue of the long dried paint

The sun comes and floods this empty room

I call it my room

My room has welcomed many summers

Embraced laughter and tears

Can it fill itself with your laughter

Each word a sunbeam

Glancing in the light

This is the song of My Room

Blue stretches, yawns and is awake.

 BLUE (part 2)

 

There is a photo in the newspaper this morning of refugees leaving Bosnia. They look out of time. Peasant women with scarves and black dresses stepped from the pages of an older Europe. One of them has lost her three children.

 

Lightning flickers through the hospital window – at the door an elderly woman stands waiting for the rain to clear. I ask her if I can give her a lift, I’ve hailed a taxi. “Can you take me to Holborn tube?” On the way she breaks down in tears. She has come from Edinburgh. Her son is in the ward – he has meningitis and has lost the use of his legs – I’m helpless as the tears flow. I can’t see her. Just the sound of her sobbing.

 

One know the whole world

Without stirring abroad

Without looking out of the window

One can see the way of heaven

The further one goes

The less one knows

 

In the pandemonium of image

I present you with the universal Blue

Blue an open door to soul

An infinite possibility

Becoming tangible

 

Here I am again in the waiting room. Hell on Earth is a waiting room. Here you know you are not in control of yourself, waiting for your name to be called: “712213”. Here you have no name, confidentiality is nameless. Where is 666? Am I sitting opposite him/her? Maybe 666 is the demented woman switching the channels on the TV.

 

What do I see

Past the gates of conscience

Activists invading Sunday Mass

In the cathedral

An epic Czar Ivan denouncing the

Patriarch of Moscow

A moon-faced boy who spits and repeatedly

Crosses himself – as he genuflects

Will the pearly gates slam shut in

The faces of the devout

 

The demented woman is discussing needles – there is always a discussion here. She has a line put into her neck.

How are we perceived, if we are to be perceived at all? For the most part we are invisible.

 

If the doors of perception were cleansed then everything would be seen as it is.

 

The dog barks, the caravan passes.

Marco Polo stumbles across the Blue Mountain.

 

Marco Polo stops and sits on a lapis throne by the River Oxus while he is ministered to by the descendants of Alexander the Great. The caravan approaches, blue canvasses fluttering in the wind. Blue people from over the sea – ultramarine – have come to collect the lapis with its flecks of gold.

The road to the city of Aqua Vitae is protected by a labyrinth built from crystals and mirrors which in the sunlight cause terrible blindness. The mirrors reflect each of your betrayals, magnify them and drive you into madness.

 

Blue walks into the labyrinth. Absolute silence is demanded to all its visitors, so their presence does not disturb the poets who are directing the excavations. Digging can only proceed on the calmest of days as rain and wind destroy the finds.

 

The archaeology of sound has only just been perfected and the systematic cataloguing of words has until recently been undertaken in a haphazard way. Blue watched as a word or phrase materialised in scintillating sparks, a poetry of fire which casts everything into darkness with the brightness of its reflections.

 

As a teenager I used to work for the Royal National Institute for the Blind on their Christmas appeal for radios, with dear miss Punch, seventy years old, who used to arrive each morning on her Harley Davidson.

BLUE (part 3)

 

She kept us on our toes. Her job as a gardener gave her time to spare in January. Miss Punch Leather Woman was the first out dyke I ever met. Closeted and frightened by my sexuality she was my hope. “Climb on, let’s go for a ride.” She looked like Edith Piaf, a sparrow, and wore a cock-eyed beret at a saucy angle. She bossed all the other old girls who came back year after year for her company.

 

In the paper today. Three quarters of the AIDS organisations are not providing safer sex information. One district said they had no queers in their community, but you might try district X – they have a theatre.

 

My sight seems to have closed in. The hospital is even quieter this morning. Hushed. I have a sinking feeling in my stomach. I feel defeated. My mind bright as a button but my body falling apart – a naked light bulb in a dark and ruined room. There is death in the air here but we are not talking about it. But I know the silence might be broken by distraught visitors screaming, “Help, Sister! Help Nurse!” followed by the sound of feet rushing along the corridor. Then silence.

 

Blue protects white from innocence

Blue drags black with it

Blue is darkness made visible

Blue protects white from innocence

Blue drags black with it

Blue is darkness made visible

 

Over the mountains is the shrine to Rita, where all at the end of the line call. Rita is the Saint of the Lost Cause. The saint of all who are at their wit’s end, who are hedged in and trapped by the facts of the world. These facts, detached from cause, trapped the Blue Eyed Boy in a system of unreality. Would all these blurred facts that deceive dissolve in his last breath? For accustomed to believing in image, an absolute idea of value, his world had forgotten the command of essence: Thou Shall Not Create Unto Thyself Any Graven Image, although you know the task is to fill the empty page. From the bottom of your heart, pray to be released from image.

 

Time is what keeps the light from reaching us.

 

The image is a prison of the soul, your heredity, your education, your vices and aspirations, your qualities, your psychological world.

 

I have walked behind the sky.

For what are you seeking?

The fathomless blue of Bliss.

 

To be an astronaut of the void, leave the comfortable house that imprisons you with reassurance.

Remember,

 

To be going and to have are not eternal – fight the fear that engenders the beginning, the middle and the end.

 

For Blue there are no boundaries or solutions.

 

How did my friends cross the cobalt river, with what did they pay the ferryman? As they set out for the indigo shore under this jet-black sky – some died on their feet with a backward glance. Did they see Death with the hell hounds pulling a dark chariot, bruised blue-black growing dark in the absence of light, did they hear the blast of trumpets?

 

David ran home panicked on the train from Waterloo, brought back exhausted and unconscious to die that night. Terry who mumbled incoherently into his incontinent tears. Others faded like flowers cut by the scythe of the Blue Bearded Reaper, parched as the waters of life receded. Howard turned slowly to stone, petrified day by day, his mind imprisoned in a concrete fortress until all we could hear were his groans on the telephone circling the globe.

 

Mad Vincent sits on his yellow chair clasping his knees to his chest – Bananas. The sunflowers wilt in the empty pot, bone dry, skeletal, the black seeds picked into the staring face of a Halloween pumpkin. He is unaware of Blue standing in the corner. Fevered eyes glare at the jaundiced corn, caw of the jet-black crows spiralling in the yellow. The lemon goblin stares from the unwanted canvasses thrown in a corner. Sourpuss suicide screams with evil – clasping cowardly Yellowbelly, slit eyed.

 

Blue fights diseased Yellowbelly whose fetid breath scorches the trees yellow with ague. Betrayal is the oxygen of his devilry. He’ll stab you in the back. Yellowbelly places a jaundiced kiss in the air, the stink of pubs blinds Blue’s eyes. Evil swims in the yellow bile. Yellowbelly’s snake eyes poison. He crawls over Eve’s rotting apple wasp-like. Quick as a flash he stings Blue in the mouth – “AAAUGH!” – his hellish legion buzz and chuckle in the mustard gas. They’ll piss all over you. Sharp nicotine-stained fangs bared. Blue transformed into an insectocutor, his Blue aura frying the foes.

BLUE (part 4)


We all contemplated suicide

We hoped for euthanasia

We were lulled into believing

Morphine dispelled pain

Rather than making it tangible

Like a mad Disney cartoon

Transforming itself into

Every conceivable nightmare

 

Karl killed himself – how did he do it? I never asked. It seemed incidental. What did it matter if he swigged prussic acid or shot himself in the eye. Maybe he dived into the streets from high up in the cloud lapped skyscrapers.

The nurse explains the implant. You mix the drugs and drip yourself once a day. The drugs are kept in a small fridge they give you. Can you imagine travelling around with that? The metal implant will set the bomb detector off in airports, and I can just see myself travelling to Berlin with a fridge under my arm.

 

Impatient youths of the sun

Burning with many colours

Flick combs through hair

In bathroom mirrors

Fucking with fusion and fashion

Dance in the beams of emerald lasers

Mating on suburban duvets

Cum splattered nuclear breeders

What a time that was.

 

The drip ticks out the seconds, the source of a stream along which the minutes flow, to join the river of hours, the sea of years and the timeless ocean.

 

The side effects of DHPG, the drug for which I have to come into hospital to be dripped twice a day, are: Low white blood cell count, increased risk of infection, low platelet count which may increase the risk of bleeding, low red blood cell count (anaemia), fever, rush, abnormal liver function, chills, swelling of the body (oedema), infections, malaise, irregular heart beat, high blood pressure (hypertension), low blood pressure (hypotension), abnormal thoughts or dreams, loss of balance (ataxia), come, confusion, dizziness, headache, nervousness, damage to nerves (peristhecia), psychosis, sleepiness (somnolence), shaking, nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite (anorexia), diarrhoea, bleeding from the stomach or intestine (intestinal haemorrhage), abdominal pain, increased number of one type of white blood cell, low blood sugar, shortness of breath, hair loss (alopecia), itching (pruritus), hives, blood in the urine, abnormal kidney functions, increased blood urea, redness (inflammation), pain or irritation (phlebitis).

 

Retinal detachments have been observed in patients both before and after initiation of therapy. The drug has caused decreased sperm production in animals and may cause infertility in humans, and birth defects in animals. Although there is no information in human studies, it should be considered a potential carcinogen since it causes tumours in animals.

 

If you are concerned about any of the above side-effects or if you would like any further information, please ask your doctor.

 

In order to be put on the drug you have to sign a piece of paper stating you understand that all these illnesses are a possibility.

 

I really can’t see what I am to do. I am going to sign it.

 

The darkness comes in with the tide

The year slips on the calendar

Your kiss flares

A match struck in the night

Flares and dies

My slumber broken

Kiss me again

Kiss me

Kiss me again

And again

Never enough

Greedy lips

Speedwell eyes

Blue skies

 

A man sits in his wheelchair, his awry, munching through a packet of dry biscuits, slow and deliberate as a praying mantis. He speaks enthusiastically but sometimes incoherently of the hospice. he says, “You can’t be too careful who you mix with there, there’s no way of telling the visitors, patients or staff apart. The staff have nothing to identify them except they are all in leather. The place is like an S&M club”. This hospice has been built by charity, the names of the donors displayed for all to see.

 

Charity has allowed the uncaring to appear to care and is terrible for those dependent on it. It has become big business as the government shirks its responsibilities in these uncaring times. We go along with this, so the rich and powerful who fucked us over once fuck us over again and get it both ways. We have always been mistreated, so if anyone gives us the slightest sympathy we overreact with our thanks.

 

I am a mannish

Muff diving

Size queen

With bad attitude

An arse licking

Psychofag

Molesting the flies of privacy

Balling lesbian boys

A perverted heterodemon

Crossing purpose with death

 

I am a cock sucking

Straight acting

Lesbian man

With ball crushing bad manners

Laddish nymphomaniac politics

Spunky sexist desires

of incestuous inversion and

Incorrect terminology

I am a Not Gay

 

H.B. is in the kitchen

Greasing his hair

He guards the space

Against me

He calls it his office

At nine we leave for the hospital

 

H.B. comes back from the eye dept

Where all my notes are muddled

He says

It’s like Romania in there

Two light bulbs

Grimly illuminate

The flaking walls

There is a box of dolls

In the corner

Indescribably grim

The doctor says

Well of course

The kids don’t see them

There are no resources

To brighten the place up

 

My eyes sting from the drops

The infection has halted

The flash leaves

Scarlet after image

Of the blood vessels in my eye

 

Teeth chattering February

Cold as death

Pushes at the bedsheets

An aching cold

Interminable as marble

My mind

Frosted with drugs ices up

A drift of empty snowflakes

Whiting out memory

A blinkered twister

Circling in spirals

Cross-eyed meddlesome consciousness

Shall I? Will I?

Doodling death watch

Mind how you go

 

Oral DHPG is consumed by the liver, so they have tweaked a molecule to fool the system. What risk is there? If I had to live forty years blind, I might think twice. Treat my illness like the dodgems: music, bright lights, bumps and throw yourself into life again.

 

The pills are the most difficult, some taste bitter, others are too large. I’m taking about thirty a day, a walking chemical laboratory. I gag on them as I swallow them and they come up half dissolved in the coughing and the spluttering.

 

My skins sits on me like the shirt of Nessus. My face irritates, as do my back and legs at night. I toss and turn, scratching, unable to sleep. I get up, turn on the light. Stagger to the bathroom. If I become so tired, maybe I’ll sleep. Films chase through my mind. Once in a while I dream a dream as magnificent as the Taj Mahal. I cross southern India with a young spirit guide – India the land of my dreaming childhood. The souvenirs in Moslem’s peach and grey living room. Granny called Moselle, called ‘Girly’, called May. An orphan who lost her name, which was Ruben. jade, monkeys, ivory miniatures, mah-jongg. The winds and bamboos of China.

 

All the old taboos of

Blood lines and blood banks

Blue blood and bad blood

Our blood and your blood

I sit here – you sit there

 

As I slept a jet slammed into a tower block. The jet was almost empty but two hundred people were fried in their sleep.

The earth is dying and we do not notice it.

 

A young man frail as Belsen

Walks slowly down the corridor

His pale green hospital pyjamas

Hanging off him

It’s very quiet

Just the distant coughing

My jugs eye blots out the

Young man who has just walked past

My field of vision

This illness knocks you for six

Just as you start to forget it

A bullet in the back of my head

Might be easier

You know, you can take longer than

The second world war to get to the grave.

 

Ages and Aeons quit the room

Exploding into timelessness

No entrances or exits now

No need for obituaries or final judgements

We knew that time would end

After tomorrow at sunrise

We scrubbed the floors

And did the washing up

It would not catch us unawares

 

The white flashes you are experiencing in your eyes are common when the retina is damaged.

 

The damaged retina has started to peel away leaving the innumerable black floaters, like a flock of starlings around in the twilight.

I am back at St Mary’s to have my eyes looked at by the specialist. The place is the same, but there is new staff. How relieved I am not to have the operation this morning to have a tap put into my chest. I must try and cheer up H.B. as he has had a hell of a fortnight. In the waiting room a little grey man over the way is fretting as he has to get to Sussex. He says, “I am going blind, I cannot read any longer”.

 

A little later he picks up a newspaper, struggles with it for a moment and throws it back on the table. My stinging eye-drops have stopped me reading, so I write this in a haze of belladonna. The little grey man’s face has fallen into tragedy. He looks like Jean Cocteau without the poet’s refined arrogance. The room is full of men and women squinting into the dark in different states of illness. Some barely able to walk, distress and anger on every face and then a terrible resignation.

 

Jean Cocteau takes off his glasses, he looks about him with an undescribable meanness. He has black slip-on shoes, blue socks, grey trousers, a Fairisle sweater and a herringbone jacket. The posters that plaster the walls above him have endless question marks, HIV/AIDS?, AIDS?, HIV?, ARE YOU INFECTED BY HIV/AIDS?,ARC?, HIV? This is a hard wait. The shattering bright light of the eye specialist’s camera leaves that empty sky blue after-image. Did I really see green the first time? The after-image dissolves in a second. As the photographs progress, colours change to pink and the light turns to orange. The process is a torture, but the result, stable eyesight, worth the price and the twelve pills I have to take a day. Sometimes looking at them I fell nauseous and want to skip them. It must be my association with H.B., lover of the computer and king of the keyboard that brought my luck on the computer which chose my name for this drug trial. I nearly forgot as I left St Mary’s I smiled at Jean Cocteau. He gave a sweet smile back.

 

I caught myself looking at shoes in a shop window. I thought of going in and buying a pair, but stopped myself. The shoes I am wearing at the moment should be sufficient to walk me out of life.

 

Pearl fishers

In azure seas

Deep waters

Washing the isle of the dead

In coral harbours

Amphora

Spill

Gold

Across the still seabed

We lie there

Fanned by the billowing

Sails of forgotten ships

Tossed by the mournful winds

Of the deep

Lost Boys

Sleep forever

In a dear embrace

Salt lips touching

In submarine gardens

Cool marble fingers

Touch an antique smile

Shell sounds

Whisper

Deep love drifting on the tide forever

The smell of him

Dead good looking

In beauty’s summer

His blue jeans

Around his ankles

Bliss in my ghostly eye

Kiss me

On the lips

On the eyes

Our name will be forgotten

In time

No one will remember our work

Our life will pass like the traces of a cloud

And be scattered like

Mist that is chased by the

Rays of the sun

For our time is the passing of a shadow

And our lives will run like

Sparks through the stubble.

 

I place a delphinium, Blue, upon your grave

 

 

“Blue” is Copyright 1993 The Estate of Derek Jarman.

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