Ode to Scallop & Solo
I’m offered a Chinese scallop on a toothpick at a Botanical Gardens Hallowe’en pumpkins and a hundred friendly scarecrows event. Some kids play I am one of the hundred. I carve an Assyrian face out of a pumpkin. I make faces to make children laugh: Russian, French, English scarecrow smiles, I pull handkerchief seagulls from my sleeve. Drunk on Irish whiskey, I talk to myself, ‘Blind trees are in love with the sun, they have green eyes, teach philosophy, some are Buddhists.’ I tell the barkeep, ‘If I am born again a bivalve, I’d rather be a scallop than a clam. Give me a shipwreck on the rocks, singular and numerous, please.’ I speak to a kind lady scarecrow, ‘Maryrose, a scallop has a thousand eyes inside its hinged shell, each eye akin to a reflector telescope, the sort first invented by Isaac Newton. This cloudy night, I believe in the Big Bang, but I do not know the reason why it happened.’ My old board and hay lady scarecrow is undressed by moonlight and the wind.
Truth is, neither scarecrow nor pilgrim, without authority, I wear a scallop shell on my hat, I walk to Santiago and Saint James, then to 8th Street with its five used bookstores
and two theatres. Out of the blue a stranger says to me, ‘I disagree with Oscar Wilde who wrote: art is useless.’ Stranger, in Paris I used to live where Oscar died, at the Hôtel d’Alsace on Rue des Beaux Arts. I am full of useless information.
I’m comfortable on Washington Square. I step on a handy Ivory soapbox, I speak to passersby, ‘Attention! I draw your attention to the wonders of the scallop’s eye: each eye contains a miniature mirror that reflects incoming light onto a pair of retinas, each of a thousand eyes reflects a different part of the scallop’s surroundings. Each eye like a novelist or poet, penetrates self.’ Why have I left All Hallow’s Eve in the Bronx? I raise a single finger like Christ Pantocrator, I face myself like a congregation, an almost empty church where the old and shivering come to sleep. I put this note in a poor box: ‘A scallop swims from predators, it opens and closes rapidly in water, flies away from starfish and crustaceans.’
I write I speak aloud to the living and the dead, to begin with – trees living and petrified. Since time’s beginnings and loose ends, osprey dive into the ocean, catch scallops in their claws, drop the shells on rock to break them, then devour the miraculous creatures that have souls but no hearts. Ignorant,
I’ve often dined on Coquilles Saint Jacques. I just discovered the mirror in the scallop’s eye is made of molecules called guano, crystals found in seabird excreta. Chameleons use such crystals to help them change the color of their skin, that means to me so much created has nothing to do with humanity.
A paradox, guano crystals don’t reflect light on their own – they are transparent, but their arrangement turns them to a collective mirror. I’m on my way to Alabama or Bethlehem, I’m game. I hold a scallop, a fellow of infinite jest. Eventually the light is completely turned around, like poetry, it heads back to the front of an eye, it sees what it hadn’t seen before. Like Goya, I mirror grotesque reality. I have no one to thank for the gift of my eyes. My hat is out of fashion. I still ask, ‘Who am I?’