Past Imperfect


Damask and linen tablecloths have been permanently inscribed and stained with a record, in pencil and ink, of shadows of the objects which were set on them.

Past imperfect : spills, stains, scorch-marks, shadows

I sit at the dining table under six down-lights, freewheeling ... endlessly, mindlessly twirling my wineglass ... twirling ... twirling ... the swirling rubies of the dregs and the six shadows are hypnotic ... twirling ... twirling ... twirling ... the glass fuses with its shadows ... I half close my eyes ... only the shadows remain ... shadows of my glass ... others ... the narcissus ... multiplied sixfold ... a palimpsest of shadow over shadow ... the objects are vague ... obscure ... invisible ... I pick up a pencil and begin to draw ...

Cloth is an exceptional witness. Spills, stains, scorch-marks, cuts, and tears provide forensic evidence of past presences and events, not just on the surface but impregnated into the fibres, lodged in the interstices of warp and weft.

The shadow, which appears as a dark area on the surface of cloth is not a stain, it is a phantom — transient, ephemeral; but with the advantage of the absorbency of the fibre or the accepting ‘tooth’ of the weave the shadow (or its negative) can be captured and rendered with ink, pencil, paint, or dye. Thus the shadow is transformed from a apparition into a more or less permanent image. While not in the same league as the Turin Shroud, or the Veronica, the table-cloth, by virtue of its absorbency, accepts and bears witness to events which have taken place upon its surface.

(The marks on the Shroud and the Veronica were not shadows, of course, and are probably not considered to be stains — the word lacks salutary affirmation. One might presume they were more like scorch-marks generated by the Radiant Corpus, such as might be left from a cigarette ember.)

The tablecloth — that genteel article, which most of us use only occasionally in these accelerated days of fast and faster food — provides evidence of convivial or solitary acts and scenes performed at the meal table, whether a festive repast, a simple family gathering, a romantic meal-for-two, or an austere and solitary near-fast. Spills and stains, or the lack of them, are articulate. They may furnish mere hints or solid clues about the drama at the set table — an exposé of pasts, perfect or imperfect. Accompanied by shadows, they become eloquent.
ic or acrid.

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Memory, its shadows, stain the warp and weft of our being; stain the thread (like ikat) before the cloth is woven; stain the cord before the cut is made, the knot is tied.

Shadows darken and merge with evening; dissipate when the light would conjure for the yearning eye or soul some sharp, delineated evidence of what was. With their disappearance, the memory of objects, of their use, gains weight, can be touched, felt, palpated, their heft ascertained, they can be smelled, heard. Listen to the clink of glass, feel the edge of the knife, who is it chews so loudly, (or are they gnashing their teeth?) The wail will follow by and by, in the small hours, when all is threatened by the dawn. Listen for it.

The mood is fragile, easily fractured by the optimism of early birds, shattered by the blaze which simultaneously heightens and obliterates both memories and shadows.

Memories fuse into shadows. Breathe on them and they begin to smoulder, with the apt tinder of words may ignite, flare, leaving scorch-marks behind our eyes, ash and the smell of smoke — aromatic or acrid.

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