Patti Smith on Orson Welles
The poet and musician Patti Smith has written many poems about her favorite film directors, including Pasolini, Godard and Robert Bresson. Here she writes a poetic souvenace for Orson Welles. And since this piece isn't an actual poem about Welles, I thought I'd also include a poem taken from Patti's most recent collection Auguries of Innocence (Ecco Press) which, while not specifically about Welles, seems to capture some of his spirit.
George Orson Welles
May 6, 1915 October 10, 1985
"We are made of opposites; we live between two poles. There is a philistine and an aesthete in all of us, and a murderer and a saint. You don't reconcile the poles, you just recognize them."
These words might well have tumbled from the mouth of the darkly, limpid Harry Lime, whom Welles crystallized so brilliantly in Carol Reed's rendering of Graham Greene's The Third Man. He played his part with no make-up and thus gave us a naked portrayal of a very clothed mind.
Orson Welles was born in Kenosha, Wisconsin. His beautiful mother, an accomplished pianist, died when he was eight. His father died a few years later leaving the precocious Orson an orphan. But little more than a decade later this breathtaking fellow produced what is considered to be a cinematic masterpiece. His Citizen Kane brought critics to their knees but was deemed a commercial failure.
This was the story of his life. He created Art yet he craved box office success. The poles of his life never aligned. He was not consumed however. He responded by feasting and took on the form of a warm and gluttonous genius. In the end, his heart did not break, it failed and only God knows what word spilled from his lips.
A PYTHAGOREAN TRAVELER
Awoke in a light not known before
the lodging's glass door mirroring
a likeness not hoped to glimpse again
clouds of my childhood, clouds of God
that supported the feet of Jesus Christ
ascending the brush of Raphael.
The young on their motorbikes do not lift
their heads nor cry: The clouds, the clouds.
They are always thereMediterranean arias
mounting with swift and terrible calm.
Do they know me? Do they know I am here,
scribbling as they are decomposing?
The moon rises filled with moon blood
drawn from the Italian skies. Here Byron
unwound his turban and shook out his locks
as gulls dropped into the sea. The moon
knew her rival and hung like an ornament
from the ear of a bright deity curling his lips,
expelling great puffs, the clouds of San Remo.
I will sit here until dawn tripping the spine
of the stars, a Pythagorean traveler marveling
another numerical scheme, adding to his shoulder
a music not heard but attained.
Beauty alone is not immortal.
It is the response, a language of ciphers,
notes, and strokes riding off on a cloud charger
the bruised humps of magnificent whales.
clouds of my childhood, clouds of God.
Awash in rose, violet and gold.