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From Wigrum, published by Talonbooks in 2013.
CRACK SHOT LOUPE
Excerpts from Patience
This scratched magnifying glass belonged to a sniper of the Royal Canadian Rifles of Winnipeg, William Canty. In preparation for combat, the poet-warrior engraved a verse, extracted from the classics of British Romanticism, onto every bullet, using this loupe to measure the proportions.
Canty, a young man of melancholic disposition, had the reputation of being softhearted and spent most of his time alone in the trenches reading. One day, he told one of his companions that he’d never wanted to kill anyone and that “the mortal geometry of verse gave grace back to those who should never have died.”
He shot with such rigour that, in extracting the bullets from the hearts of the bodies, the poem’s verses could be read in the order written. On a battlefield in Normandy, the regiment, crazed from combat, thus reassembled William Blake’s famous stanza:
Tyger, tyger, burning bright in the forests of the night what immortal hand or eye could frame thy fearful symmetry
Ironically, Canty was killed by a stray bullet while his colleagues zigzagged, scouring the bodies with the blades of their bayonets. The shot had been fired by a young farmer from Rubrouck, Jeanne Blédor, who believed the Germans had come. Canty lay sunk in the trench, a book pierced open on his chest, shot through the heart.
DEAD LETTERS, 1988
These letters tied with a ribbon, sheets torn out of various notebooks, all appear to be addressed to women known only by their initials. None is dated. None was mailed. They come from the hand of the English collector Sebastian Wigrum.
Wigrum intended to assemble them in a manuscript entitled The Last Love Letters on Earth, dedicated “in memory of all that never happened,” with an explanatory fragment on “that sad alchemy which leads to the transformation of feelings into literature.” Also decipherable, among other illegible phrases written in a diluted ink, is this question: “Is there a place where our unresolved and inadmissible sentiments are archived and where these letters arrive at last?”
Collection of the Mirror
This stone was in the possession of a Baptist preacher from the town of Peterborough, Ontario. It was lodged in the mouth of a possible suicide, one Mr. Staunton, who was found drowned in his automobile at the bottom of Minnewebake Lake.
The preacher has chosen to remain anonymous. In the winter of 1907, his wife, let us call her Mary, was hit between the shoulder blades with a snowball containing this stone. She and her husband had apparently stumbled into a kids’ battlefield.
Shortly thereafter, Mary abandoned the manners that had made her an icon of virtue. Some of the town’s citizens—particularly the men—called her a saint or a witch.
Whether or not he is responsible for Mary’s shocking personality shift, the person guilty of launching this stone has yet to be identified.
MUSTACHIOS ROLL-UP, 1969
This rod of rusty iron, abandoned on the road to Cadaqués, belonged to the self-proclaimed genius Salvador Dalí. He would coat his moustache with brilliantine, insert each tip into the ringed part of the device and, with a virile twist of the wrist, curl his whiskers.
His neighbour, Étienne Vermil, a sculptor who worked in wood and metal, retrieved the instrument from the village path a few years after the Catalan painter died, while strolling with his Andalusian spaniel, El Buñuelo. Art historians now suspect that Vermil had taken part, with the village tinsmith, in designing the instrument.
Two years prior, Vermil was working in his yard when he heard Dalí screaming into the telephone, undoubtedly arguing with Gala, then in residence at the chateau that the painter had restored with her in Púbol. His words were the following: “By the hair of my brushes, Gala! Nothing stands up except my moustaches! Everything I paint is limp!”1
Yelling, the painter burst out of his house, the instrument in his hand and his moustache, astoundingly, shaved, went up the path towards the village, where a car would drive him to Gala and her chateau in a cloud of dust.
Art historians question the truth of Vermil’s claims, an artist of less renown who, in entrusting the sale of this hair roll-up to auctioneers, would earn more than he would from selling any of his own works.
1 ¡Por los pelos mis pinceles, Gala! ¡Nada se yergue aparte de mis bigotes! ¡No pinto más que lo blando!
RED STRING, 1959
This red string was attached to the foot of Zazie, the heroic canary. The public transportation system for the city of Paris would send Zazie on tunnel inspections following cave-ins, gas leaks and other catastrophes.
While the average life expectancy of its prospecting colleagues was typically three descents, Zazie, renowned to be fortunate, survived over 150 inspections, until a mischievous little girl cut the red string while the road workers were busy chatting, their backs to the mouth of the caved-in subway tunnel. Zazie never resurfaced and the little girl disappeared in the crowd.
The writer Raymond Queneau was among the curious onlookers.