Site icon Alexander Hammil

Saying the Name of a Painted Dragon

many thanks to David Gleicher and Cang Yangqing, who know what I can only half-understand.

There is a little bit of a wall behind the house where I live, tucked away along the alley. There is a shallow depression the whole length of the top, into which leaves, bits of paper, pieces of string, bird’s nest — all the junk of a windy city, in short — have made their way, to decay and moulder into fertility and black promise. I have taken to planting herbs in that trough, sweet basil, woodruff, pungent rosemary that I love to smell but cannot bear to eat…

An old man lives in my building. He saw me tending to my herbs one day. “Hey,” he said. “Is this your wall?”

“No. I don’t think it’s anyone’s. No one has every said anything to me about it.”

“I want to paint on it,” he said.

“Oh, you paint?” I said, amused, for he was a funny old man, given to outrageous claims of unsuspected genius and the most incredible fabrications.

“Not well,” he admitted, “nevertheless I want to paint on it.” And he turned and went inside again. I busied myself with my garden (slugs were after my mint), and forgot his dreams.

Later I came home in the evening to find him sitting in front of the wall, looking very down-at-the-mouth. His clothes were spattered with paint, and his hands, and even his seamed and toothless face. On the wall he had painted a dragon, crudely done as far as technique, perhaps — I am no painter and have no eye — but bright and vivid and menacing.

“Well,” I said.

“It needs a name,” he said. “I can’t think of what to call it, and it won’t let me leave until I’ve given it a name.”

“Why not call it Memorious,” I said. “It looks a resentful beast, slow-angered but long-grudged.”

“Ye-e-e-e-e-s,” he said. “Memorious.”

The wind came howling down the alley and my herbs swayed madly. On the wall the dragon writhed and bellowed and then settled down to quiet watchfulness. It regarded me with no especial love, but with (I fancy) a certain amount of angry respect. My neighbour slowly gathered his paints and went inside. I remained outside, watching Memorious, until the sun had set and the flickering street lamp made the dragon a creature of paint once more.

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