Night Life

Night Life

“Names are everything.
I never quarrel with actions.
My one quarrel is with words.”
—Oscar Wilde,
The Picture of Dorian Gray

The public-houses were always open—louche men
and women clustering—in broken groups by

dim doors—from some of the bars came the sound
of horrible laughter—in others, drunkards brawled

and screamed—sitting in the hansom with his hat
pulled over his forehead—Dorian Gray watched with

listless eyes the—sordid shame of the great city
coming to life again—the night of the living dead

a dog barked as they went by—and far away in
the darkness some—wandering sea-gull screamed

the horse stumbled in a rut—then swerved aside
and broke into a gallop—after some time they left

the clay road and rattled again over rough-paved
streets—most of the windows were dark

but now and then—fantastic shadows silhouetted
against lamplit windows—murderously grotesque

Dorian watched the city at night—totally bored by
people moving like—monstrous marionettes

but where were the puppeteers?—the ones that
pulled the strings—but even more dreadful

and horrible—what if there weren’t any? just
emptiness—no evil puppet-masters at all?

then as they turned a corner—a woman yelled
something at them—from a ghetto window

Dorian’s throat burned—as his delicate hands
wrung nervously together—on and on plodded the

hansom, going slower—it seemed to Dorian
thrusting up the trap—calling to the man to drive

faster—the hideous hunger for opium gnawing him
he could taste it—toking the long slim evil pipes

his lips burned—his twitching fingers snaking
in and out of each other—nervously anticipating

the road seemingly interminable—the streets like
black spider webs—strangling grey-flannel fists

then they passed by lonely brickfields—the fog
so thick it rang in his ears—making him feel sick

was it true that simply—plunging into the senses
could cure him—but innocent blood had been spilled

who would atone for that?—for there was no
atonement—forgiveness was impossible

forgetfulness was still possible—there were
opium dens where one—could forget things forever

and Dorian was determined to forget—to stamp
the world out to crush it as one—would crush an adder

that had stung him—like Lord Henry stinging him
with serpentine sullen words—what had he done?

who had made Dorian—the judge of his own soul
yes, that was the secret—he had to endure

the hideous craving for opium—wanting to forget
he could buy oblivion—in dens of horror where the

memory of his sins—could be destroyed by the
madness of even more—sullenly ancient sins

the moon hung low in the sky—like a yellow skull
from time to time—a huge misshapen cloud

stretched a long arm—over the evil lunar light
the gas-lamps growing dimmer—the streets more

narrow and gloomy—a ghostly steam rising from
the sleek black horse—splashing through the puddles

Dorian desultorily ogling—out the sidewindows of
the hansom—as a cold rain began to slant down harder

blurring the dim street-lamps—into London darkness
buildings looking ghastly—in the dripping mist

now and then repeating—to himself the words that
Lord Henry had said to him—that first day they met

"To cure the soul—by means of the senses
and the senses by means of—murdering the now”

To live this most terrible—of all man's appetites
quickening into force—each trembling nerve & fiber

ugliness that had once—been hateful to him
now making things more real—becoming dear to him

ugliness was the true reality—the coarse brawl
the loathsome den—the crude violence of queenly

decadence—the very vileness of thief and outcast
more vivid—their intense actuality of expression

beyond the gracious shapes of art—the dreamy
shadows of plays—the bleary-eyed Symbolistes

young foreign sailors—Greenwich in the evening
and the sullen hustlers—by the East End docks

they were what he needed—for forgetfulness
their moody gestures—sulky dangerous beauty

Dorian hated himself—a dull rage deep inside him
two thugs ran after the hansom—for a few blocks

the driver whipped at them—with his long whip
both had recognized—the wealthy stranger inside

it’s said that decadence—makes one think in a circle
an endless circle of heaven—and recurring hell

certainly plagued by these—hideous reiterations
Dorian Gray bit his lips—shaping and reshaping

those subtle words—said by Lord Henry that
the soul was nonsense—the ultimate fiction

that there was no way—to fully express such
an abyss of emptiness—decadence once realized

it was already too late for Dorian—he’d gone beyond
Lord Henry’s naïve dilettantism—beyond even Basil

it was Dorian who—willed his Evil Twin into existence
and it was Dorian—who’d done in this doppelganger

as if betrayal of oneself—was even an option
anymore—everybody betraying themselves daily

Evil as performance art—one’s Double required
Keep it closeted in the attic—that’s very wise

Give it a nice Stamp of—Good Housekeeping Approval
the kind that—did Sylvia Plath in

Pick your Double carefully—Bosie just won’t do
Neither will Chester Kallman—Rimbaud or Hughes

Dorian took his Double seriously—everything
else had become mere—selfish dilettantism

passionless without—any sense other than
pure unadulterated—doomed eternal hedonism

such jaded justification—dominated his temper
each sullen second—the web of his thoughts

the same sprawling spider—in the dismal night
where even opium eventually—becomes monotonous

decadently unbearable—as the mist thickens
one thought—desire for a new portrait

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