Pig Cupid

A quirky love story

"You people are cursed. All of you cursed. Cursed by love."

Epigraph

Silting the appraisable
Pig Cupid his rosy snout
Rooting erotic garbage
"Once upon a time" ...

~ Mina Loy, Songs to Joannes

I

Pig Cupid holds court in a WEST HOLLYWOOD BAR, and that’s where I find him. Hirsute, chubby, sebaceous -- he’s sitting in a chair smoking a cigarette and drinking a cocktail. He wears nothing but a loincloth, a pair of tattered wings, and a quiver of arrows slung across his back.

He says:

Look, I don’t know what to tell you. You people are cursed. All of you cursed. Cursed by love.

He slurps his drink and says:

You think it’s some sort of gift. You don’t always treat it that way, but I know that’s what you think.

Pig Cupid’s round, tusky smile shines in the cigarette fog, and his oinky chuckle rises above the acid jazz and the Hammond B-3.

LATER, a cigarette with a long ash dangles precariously from Pig Cupid’s lips. He says:

No, no, no. Of course we don’t have it up on the mountain. It’s just wine and orgies. A scholar like you? You know that. Olympian, Titanic sport fucking. And anyway, the big guy is more interested in the four-legged, two-winged things down here than he is for anything up there. I mean, that wife of his ...

Pig Cupid makes a face that expresses his displeasure. It fades, and he says, thoughtfully:

But maybe that’s why he comes down. Maybe that’s why I come down. To experience something of what you all have. Love.

Pig Cupid grunts, shrugs, and sips his drink with a thoughtful frown.

LATER, Pig Cupid drinks deeply from his cocktail. Mid sip, he begins laughing suddenly and lowers the glass. Liquor and water drip out of his nose and run down his stubbly chin. Slightly intoxicated, he says:

You do make for good sport, though. You really do.

Pig Cupid sets his drink down carelessly, tosses away his cigarette, and rises from the chair. Amidst a series of sexual acrobatics and profane genuflections, he says:

I mean, with your, “Ooo’s” and “Oooh’s” and “Ahh’s” and “Gimmie baby’s” and “Uh, uh, uh’s.”

Exaggerating profession-of-love gestures, he says:

With your “Will you marry me’s” and your “Be mine forever’s” and your “Promise to wait for me’s.”

Pig Cupid collects himself and says, slightly out of breath:

And your “I love you’s.” We especially like that one up on the rock. We really do.

Pig Cupid smiles, sits back down, and sips his cocktail. Crunching ice, he says:

Oh, you make Vulcan shit horseshoes with that one. I’ve seen him do it.

He places a cloven hand over his heart:

Honest to fucking Jupiter: horseshoes!

Pig Cupid gaffaws and points up:

And all the while, there we are. Watching, laughing, ...

He tips his drink and smiles wryly:

... drinking.

LATER, Pig Cupid removes a crumpled pack of cigarettes and a greasy lighter from inside his loincloth. He lights a new cigarette and says:

So you see, it’s me who should be asking you about it really. But I’m here. I came. I’ll answer questions and guide you through it. When you’re the god of something, I suppose you’re bound to it no matter what. Hell, Neptune can’t sail for shit, but that doesn’t keep the old salts from making their entreaties?

Pig Cupid’s laugh releases a steam engine’s worth of exhaust from his nose, but he’s composed and earnest when he tells me:

So let’s do this. I’m here for you.

LATER, Pig Cupid and I exit the bar and turn onto the sidewalk. He mocks me:

Harley Keno? Well, that explains the argyle.

A tall man walks toward us and nods as he passes. Even though I’m the only one who can see him, Pig Cupid assumes the man was looking at him:

What? You’ve never seen a love god before?

The tall man opens the door to the bar, but before he can enter, Pig Cupid raises his bow, sets an arrow, and fires. The arrow strikes the man in the rear-end, but he continues into the bar unawares. Pig Cupid seems pleased with his shot:

A little low, but I think it’ll do the trick.

He nudges me and gestures to the quiver on his back:

His night just got a whole lot more interesting. These make beer goggles look like trifocals!

Over Pig Cupid’s boisterous laugh, I say:

Bedfellow madness. Just what this town needs more of.
This town, this world -- they need a whole lot more of me, Harley.

We continue down the sidewalk, and I say:

Gonna be hard when they can’t see you.
That’s true. But I manifest myself in my work. In you. They’ll see me soon enough, in one form or another.

Pig Cupid laughs loudly and begins firing arrows indiscriminately into the night air. The arrows stream down on cars, buildings, yards, and houses and strike people and animals walking along the sidewalk. I hear bed springs squeak and see couples kiss. Animals hump one another and the legs of their masters, and various other professions of love and cries of ecstasy fill the air. Pig Cupid dances within the saccharine chaos unseen and roars:

They’ll feel the wrath of my love before I’m through! Oh yes they will!

II

AN HOUR LATER, AT ROSCOE’S, Pig Cupid and I sit in an isolated booth near the back of the mostly empty restaurant. A cigarette dangles from his lips, and he blows a thick cloud of smoke out of his nose as he dumps an enormous amount of syrup onto a plate filled with greens, grits, chicken, and bits of waffle.

After pouring the syrup, Pig Cupid uses his fork to mix the plate’s contents into an indiscriminate mass. I sip a cup of coffee and watch Pig Cupid woof down food. Smacking, he offers me some, but I shake my head, disgusted.

Pig Cupid wipes his mouth with his forearm and says:

So let me get this straight. You wooed this Columbina woman as a military man? You? The poetry professor?
Yeah. So?

Pig Cupid chuckles:

Well, you don’t look like a military man. You look like a poetry professor. But I suppose women always see what they want. How else can you explain Vulcan and Venus and all the other asymmetrical pairings between monstrous men and beautiful women?

I suggest that’s why we call them the fairer sex, and Pig Cupid agrees:

In every way.

Pig Cupid continues smoking and eating noisily as he interrogates me:

So you told her you were a Navy man from San Diego?
That’s right. Her husband ...
Fabian.
Right. My colleague at the university. After he realized I had an interest in Bina, ...
“Bina?” That’s adorable.
He told me she had a thing for military guys.
Insightful! All women do. The uniform, the protector instinct, the enduring prestige of the equestrian class -- all terribly effective tools when wooing women.
Well, Fabian told me about this trip he’d be taking to Cleveland. To New Orleans really, to be with this Alessandra woman he was obsessed with. Anyway, that’s why Fabian pushed me to seduce Bina. To get her off his back so he could be with Alessandra. Not that I minded, of course.
Get to the wooing and the screwing, Harley. I know the broad strokes of this story. I’m just fuzzy on the details.
So much for omniscience.
I’m just one guy, Harley. I can’t be everywhere at once. You’re confusing me with the big "G" Hebraic God. We small "g" Mediterranean deities believe in delegation, in well-defined specialization, in taking time off. As such, I have helpers. They give me briefings.
Lucky me. I get the real thing.
Hey, you know my poem.
Mina Loy’s poem, you mean.
The point is you make a special effort for me, and I’m making a special effort for you. Didn’t delegate this one out.
I’m flattered.
As well you should be. Now, if you don’t mind ...
So Bina thinks Fabian is in Cleveland at some conference, and that’s when I was supposed to make my move. This way, when he came back to Los Angeles, our affair would be in full swing and their marriage could enter its endgame.
Just tell me this. Did you wear a uniform?

I smile. Pig Cupid mocks me again:

Tell me you didn’t. You know military guys hate that.
Then they should stop using their veterans’ benefits to open surplus stores.
Just tell me: when did you actually get around to wooing Bina?
After Fabian left for New Orleans, I took the address he gave me and went to their house. I wore the uniform and pretended my car had broken down. I think I could have told her I was a serial killer, though. That uniform worked like a sorcerer’s talisman, and she invited me into her house. I pretended to call a friend I said lived on base in San Diego, but it was rush hour so I knew she’d think we’d have a few hours to get to know one another. She served me coffee on the patio, and we chatted until dark. Bina must have been pretty lonely then because she really opened up to me. Way more than anyone should to a stranger, even one who looks as good in service khaki as I do. She even told me she thought her husband was having an affair.
How’d you get out of there?

I smile:

Who said I did?

Pig Cupid scoffs:

Mild-mannered professor like yourself? Not a chance.
We started up on the couch, and the whole time she kept telling me it was revenge. But I didn’t care. Her eyes told me something else entirely. When we’d finished, she told me:
“I’m a theatre director, Harley. Did I tell you that? And I teach some courses at a nearby college.”
I told her I loved the theatre, and she offered to be my USO girl. That got us going again, and after we’d finished the second and third time, she finished the thought:
“Being a theatre professional in this town is like driving a Model-T on the autobahn. One feels so helplessly old fashioned and pushed to the median by more powerful vehicles of expression. I came out here like Orson Welles, Harley, lured away from the theatre-rich East to work in pictures. But that’s where Orson’s and my paths diverge. I never found my place in the studios. But I stayed anyway. For my job and for my husband. You know, Welles once said, ‘If you want a happy ending, it depends on where you stop your story.’ Happiness, love -- they’re wholly artificial stops. All stories, given enough acts and enough time, end in tragedy. Fabian and I went too far is all. Didn’t know when to stop. Too stupid to claim our happy ending and just walk away smiling.”
Lying there, sweaty and naked, I asked her about the two of us. She looked at me with cold eyes and said:
“If we were smart, we’d stop right now. At our happy ending. We’d claim it and walk away smiling. Why should we go on? Things can only get worse from here.”
But, of course, we did go on. And she was right. It couldn’t last, and we too ended in sadness and pain.

Pig Cupid tries to cheer me up:

Don’t beat yourself up. You had a good run: wild, passionate.
I just wish there was more. Giving her up was like coming off heroin.
Story’s not over yet, kid. You’re still in the shadows, waiting it all out. You just gotta know when to work your way back into the spotlight and play your part. Take command, take the lead.

I shrug sadly. Pig Cupid asks:

So how’d you explain your buddy not showing up?
I told her military men were notoriously unreliable, that he probably met a girl on his way up from San Diego.
You, the impostor military man warning her about the unreliability of military men. Irony’s such a cheap way of pumping drama into life, Harley.

I smile as Pig Cupid resumes shoveling enormous bites of food into his mouth. He never stops talking:

Now as military men go, Julius Caesar was a true god of war.

I’m incredulous:

You knew Julius Caesar?
Oh yeah. Well, you know, in my previous form.
Your previous form?
That’s right. One day, I’m flying around Arcadia, shooting arrows into people, generating love and intercourse ex nihilo. Then, in an instant, I fall out of the sky. When I wake up, I’m stiff and out of breath. I crawl over to a nearby pond and see that I’d turned from cherub into the beautiful beast you see today. Turns out it was our girl Mina’s fault.
Is that right?
It all begins with this commedia dell'arte scenario. You know about commedia, don’t you?
Of course: Italian Renaissance improv. Bina manages a local troupe.
Well, this particular scenario had a rather profound effect on Mina and, as a result, on me. Thalia told me ...

Disbelieving, I have to interrupt:

Thalia? The muse?
That’s right. A goddess with more than your usual interest in these sorts of things. She told me Mina saw it in Florence, during Carnival. You see, while the rest of Europe was shelling itself during the first year of World War I, neutral Italy found itself under siege from something called “Futurism.” And as you know, amico, Florence was the goddamned epicenter of that nonsense.

Pig Cupid finishes his meal, leans back, and belches. After liberating entire meals from between his teeth and lighting a new cigarette off the last, he tells me the story Thalia told him:

III

FLORENCE, ITALY - FEBRUARY 16, 1915

It’s late afternoon, and Carnival revelers crowd the street. Mina Loy sits outside the Caffè delle Giubbe Rosse with a dozen friends. Filippo Marinetti sits at the center of the group, sipping a glass of wine and speaking loudly above the chaos:

As I said in my manifesto, art can be nothing but violence, cruelty, and injustice. And war, glorious war, is the world’s only hygiene. It helps us clear away the waste, the detritus of the past. And we must always, always distance ourselves from old things. Destroy the museums, the libraries, and every type of academy. Sing of the great crowds, shaken by work, by pleasure, or by rioting.

A boisterous group of Carnival revelers crash into the caffè patrons and then continue on. In their wake, they leave chairs and tables overturned, dishes broken, and patrons on the ground. Mina rises and dusts herself off as do others in the group. Smiling, she says:

There’s your great crowd, Filippo! And your destruction.

Marinetti responds:

See how it stirs them up? Carnival? The coming of Lent and, beyond that, Easter? Instead they should be agitated by militarism, patriotism, the destructive gesture of freedom-bringers, beautiful ideas worth dying for ...

to Mina pointedly

... and scorn for women.
Ah, the famous Futurist disprezzo della donna, your “scorn for women.” But I ask you, Filippo, Where are your feelings on women when your belligerent little spear rises and needs attention?

Marinetti shouts over the group’s laughter:

We Futurists will find kindly peasant women to please us. By force, if necessary.
Is that right, Filippo? Rape?
Yes it is, Signora Loy. We Futurists take what we need, and rape is the reproductive right of victors on the battlefield. And in the enduring, war between the sexes, men will always prevail as they have always prevailed.
Such virility. And a bit overdone considering the experiences I’ve had in your bed.

Mina continues her assault over the group’s laughter:

But we must be careful not to criticize Filippo too harshly. He once fought a duel with one of his critics. And we don’t want to wind up like that man: slightly grazed by the wind coming off an effeminate slap.

Marinetti is incensed:

The Futurist does not hide from mockery. Indeed, he courts it. For example, me this afternoon. Taking your insults. As for the duel you mention, it was merely an extension of the art that provoked it, an attempt to unify life and art in one flash of violence. You would do well, Signora Loy, to exact violence on your own verse. As I recently wrote in the introduction to my anthology of Futurist poetry, now’s the time to do away with traditional syntax and move toward parole in libertà: “words set free.” Only then can poetry be recreated into something new, something bold, something worthy of the new future we’re building.

Mina nods:

Well, Filippo, on that topic, we are in complete agreement. Poetry, in both form and theme, needs drastic recreation. Words need to be liberated from linear patterns.
Then I have defeated you! A most masculine victory and push forward over feminine timidity and its ridiculous dedication to the past.

Mina reaches into the nearby handbag of her friend Vita Moreno and pulls out a rubber phallus. Shaking it at Marinetti, Mina says:

Remember your Lysistrata, Filippo. With our own tickling pricks, men can seem quite extraneous!

The group laughs wildly as Mina returns the phallus to Vita’s bag. Enraged, Marinetti responds:

What are affairs, Mina, but temporary parking stalls?

As Mina and Vita take their leave and enter the Carnival crowd, Mina waves Filippo off:

The great Filippo Marinetti! Wounded by a rubber phallus!

LATER, Mina and Vita make their way south along the Via de’ Brunelleschi. Vita asks:

So it’s over between you two, then?
It’s been over for a while now. Filippo once brought me alive with his passion. He awakened something in me, and I was all too glad to serve as his audience. Even with all the misogyny inherent to his movement. But he’s as distanced from me now as my husband Stephen, it seems. Of course, that man and I were more or less finished as soon as we arrived here in Florence. Hard to believe it’s been almost ten years. British and Italian, Jew and Christian, painter and poet -- I’m rather inconveniently complex.
What is Stephen doing these days?
I’m not at all sure. After he sailed for Australia and the South Pacific two years ago, I’ve not heard much from him. Early last year, he’d made his way to San Francisco where his paintings met with some success. He’s really nothing more than a pretender Gauguin, Vita. And God, don’t Americans love second-rate copiers of original masters? As far as I know, he’s hawking his wares in New York now. All too glad to let my meagre income pay his way, I might add.
And Giovanni? What about you and Giovanni, the so-called “ugliest man in Italy”? They say he and Marinetti had a falling out over you.

Vita and Mina turn left onto a quiet Via delle Terme and stop in front of a poster plastered to a nearby wall. It bears a picture of Giovanno Papini and advertises an upcoming lecture he’s scheduled to deliver. Fingering the word “Stroncatore,” Mina says:

Ah, Papini. Now you’re hitting something. No good news there either, but it hurts more. I think our fall-out will recreate me into love’s atheist. What good is all this heartache? All this drama? Mixing with buffoons like Marinetti and self-involved, scarred polemicists like Papini for what? A quick root between the legs? In fact, I’m not sure I know love as anything but that. I think we’ll all come to see love, and its monstrous pairings, as nothing more than distant constellations reflected on trickles of saliva.

Vita and Mina turn south onto the Via Por Santa Maria. There, they encounter a parade filled with floats, costumed revelers, and acrobats. Mina says:

At the very least, love’s a grand masquerade!

Vita and Mina watch the parade, and Vita spots a handsome young man handing out trinkets to the crowd. Mina notices Vita watching him:

Notice how the pulse quickens. Mucous membranes begin flowing in great lakes. Pupils dilate. The tongue swells in expectation.

Vita blushes and looks away from the young man. Mina continues:

That’s how it begins anyway. And then, of course, there’s the bedroom romp, attachment forms, and inevitably the split follows.

A young girl, who favors Mina, approaches the women and offers them Carnival trinkets. Vita and Mina take the trinkets and smile at the girl as she runs off. Mina says, wistfully:

And, in the ashes of everything, you begin seeing the children you might have had in the faces of random urchins.

Mina and Vita continue south along the Via Por Santa Maria, moving through a group of boisterous children. Mina continues:

And you hear echoes of the children you did have and gave to servants to raise in favor of other ambitions.
And then, you write about it.
Yes. And then you write about it and everything else because the experience of love and sex is everything else. There’s a totality to it, even if we resist it and resent it and try to complicate it.

When Mina and Vita reach the Ponte Vecchio, they make their way across the Arno. Half way across, the women stop and gaze out at the river, watching the boats move along it. Mina paraphrases lines she’ll later incorporate into Songs to Joannes:

We might have lived together, my children and I, here in the lights of the Arno.

She grabs an apple from a passing cart and continues:

Or gone apple stealing under the sea. Or played hide and seek in love and cob-webs and talked till there were no more tongues to talk with.

Mina takes a bite of the apple, chews for a moment and, growing despondent, tosses it into the river. Watching the splash and then the concentric ripples, she continues:

Licking the Arno, the little rosy tongue of dawn interferes with our eyelashes and our dreams.

After watching the river for a few moments more, Mina and Vita turn and continue crossing the Ponte Vecchio. Vita asks:

Perhaps you felt anything else would be too common a life?
Common and uncommon, love’s the preeminent experience. It’s the whole of things. It needs to be recreated is all. It needs this meek, bourgeois comfort stripped away if we’re to face it as it really is. All the Victorian idealizations of the Renaissance idealizations we inherited are impostors.
Now you sound like Filippo.
He’s not wrong, you know. In fact, he’s more right than he knows. His bravado and chauvinism blind him. It’s not enough to stop at form, you see. At syntax as he suggests. It’s so damned masculine to focus on the scaffolding and ignore the color of the walls, is it not? We have to go deeper. Write grander, more authentic love poetry. Lines that are new in form and new in subject. It’s natural that the task should fall to a woman, of course. Perhaps my ambition needs tempering, but at the very least, such poetry should reinvigorate the sort of love that’s been so successfully masked by the poets of the last fifty years. And by the Church. The love Sappho and Aristophanes and even some early modern poets knew well. Lusty. Earthy. Real. It’ll seem new to modern eyes by virtue of reintroduction, by merely bypassing the censors, if we’re so lucky. But the sentiment’s really quite old. Older than Cupid and all his cults.
You still sound like Filippo.
Yes, well. There was some spark of similarity that brought us together. And some spark of similarity that broke us apart.
Funny how often the things that bring us together eventually drive us apart.

Mina smiles thoughtfully as she and Vita turn east onto the Via de’ Bardi and wander amongst the crowd. Vita breaks the silence:

Will you be coming to Gordon’s commedia performance tonight?
The legendary Gordon Craig! Even with an Englishman at the helm, it would be hard to find something more Italian than that or more appropriate to Carnival.
I heard he wanted to turn all of Florence into a sort of moving Renaissance tableau. We’d all wear Renaissance robes, eat Renaissance food, and play Renaissance music. I suppose he settled for this instead.

Vita loops her arm around Mina’s as they turn south onto the Costa de’ Magnoli. Vita continues:

Oh do come, Mina. It’s the last night of Carnival. Tomorrow’s Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. Last chance for theatre and wine for over a month.
Of course, of course. Having become a stock character in my own love affairs, why shouldn’t I go watch stock characters play out another scenario? Moreover, with Gordon living next door to me, I don’t suppose I could I really avoid attending.

Mina and Vita bear east onto Costa San Giorgio and approach a door marked “54.” Vita asks:

Well, what shall we do until then?
Let’s step off the street, keep the men out of our lives for a few hours more.

Before they can enter the building, a boisterous, flamboyantly dressed Gordon Craig calls out to them. As he approaches, Mina remarks:

So much for keeping the men out of our lives for a few hours.

Vita replies:

Do fops count?

Gordon greets the two women and says:

Fops always count, ladies. As do dandies, beaus, and gallants. And anyway, I’m in a sort of costume. There’s no place theatre does not exist, my dears. This is especially true during war and Carnival.

Mina asks:

War does inform everything we do, doesn’t it? This party in the streets and these theatrical productions seem out of place while the rest of Europe’s in chaos.

Gordon replies:

Nonsense! The soldiers and politicians have their fleshy Carnival, their booming theatrical performance. Why can’t we have ours?

Mina says:

I’d say you’re in the thick of their war, Gordon. Isn’t there talk of shutting down your theatre and school? For the war effort?
There’ll be no more talk of that, thank you very much. You’ll bore me with that talk.

Playfully, Vita offers:

Mismanagement. That’s what I heard.

Gordon replies:

To be fair, war interests are far more likely to shut us down before that little problem has a chance to overtake my Arena Goldoni. I sometimes pimp for the landlord, you see. This makes him quite conveniently forgetful of the rent date. And with so many lovely young women coming to the Arena for theatre training, I’ve got a near endless supply of fuel.

Mina says:

I think I shall volunteer as a nurse if war comes to Italy.

Gordon says:

When, you mean. When war comes to Italy. These are a warrior people, from their earliest days. Eutruscan, Latin -- they’re not going to sit this conflict out. On the streets and in the caffès, they’re begging for it!

Vita says:

I’ll help you, Mina. We’ll be nurses together.

Gordon asks:

Arms deep in blood and viscera? Will you like that, Vita? It’s rather like a giant menstruation, the aftermath of war.

Mina interrupts:

Or the rupturing of a hymen. The death of innocence and virginity. The eruption of eroticism.

Gordon removes a notebook and begins writing in it:

I’ll steal that if you don’t mind, Mina. Or even if you do. They’ll march to the Arena in hoards when we stage The Eruption of Eroticism.

Gordon stows the notebook and asks:

Doesn’t your Marinetti consider war hygienic, Mina? In any case, I rather like my metaphor better. Of course, I suppose menstruation is a sort of hygiene.
That quite ignores the essential parallels between the violence of war and the violence of love. Eros. The war between men and women. Violent. Spilling blood, water, and mucous.
God, I rather think your husband’s been away too long, Mina. Your lovers too.
There is some innate antagonism between men and women, I think. Some inherent enmity else the sex act -- really, the only point at which our interests merge -- would be more intrinsically gentle. As it is, sex is rough, dangerous, bloody stuff. Bastardy’s the best that can come of it, I think, since we’re all orphans anyway.

Gordon replies:

Maybe that’s why that god-awful pink baby with fat rolls and wings never did anything for me. Too peaceful. Too reassuring. Too one-sided. A traitor to his parentage. Love and its representations should be something quite different. Raunchier. More violent.

He notices the shadows growing long at his feet:

Well, I’m off to the theatre. I assume my dear friends Mina and Vita will be in attendance tonight, along with any stragglers they may round up along their way. Exceptionally beautiful women would be most appreciated. I’ve an insatiable john to satisfy and a theatre to preserve.

Gordon turns to leave and says, over his shoulder:

Ciao, bellas.

Mina and Vita gaze up at a faint moon that’s appeared above Florence. Mina quotes Jules Laforgue:

“I’m just a lunar reveller who makes rings in pools. And this, without any other other purpose, than to become a legend. Ah, yes, to become a legend on the threshold of charlatan centuries! But where are the moons of yesteryear? And why isn’t God to be reinvented?”

Vita replies:

I fear we’ve already crossed the threshold of a great charlatan century, Mina. The greatest, perhaps.
If it is to be the century of Marinetti and his buffoons, then yes. We’ll all be singing impotent love songs to a cold, distant moon; we’ll all find ourselves Pedrolinos and Arlecchinos run amok.

IV

HOURS LATER, AT THE ARENA GOLDONI, Mina and Vita enter the open-air theatre. It’s filled to capacity, and Gordon sits in the front row, enthralled with the stage. Lit with colored light from above, the stage is set with symbolic, mobile, non-representational screens typical of Craig’s scenography.

Onstage, already in mid conversation, masked actors playing Il Capitano and Pantalone face one another. Il Capitano says:

I assure you, Pantalone, Arlecchino will successfully woo Columbine away from your son so he can marry the woman you’ve chosen for him. In the war of love, men can always find their way to victory, and I will give Arlecchino his marching orders.

Vita and Mina work their way into a group of patrons standing near the stage. Onstage, Pantalone hands Il Capitano five coins:

Then do this for me. And when I come into my fortune and my seat on the Florentine council, I’ll remember your kindness, Il Capitano. Or should I say, Signore Ambasciatore.

Pantalone thinks better of his generosity and takes one of the coins back:

I’ve a wedding to pay for, after all. Do what you can with that. I’ll give you this one when you’ve completed your task.

Pantalone and Il Capitano bow to one another, and the former shuffles offstage. Il Capitano watches Pantalone leave, puts the coins in his vest, and cries:

Arlecchino! Arlecchino!

A masked actor playing Arlecchino tumbles onstage. Il Capitano swaggers over to him:

Arlecchino! There you are.

Arlecchino replies:

Il Capitano! Returned to Florence, are you? The women have been most ill-at-ease in your absence.
Ah? Well, it is Florentine women I want to speak to you about.
Anyone in particular?
Yes, as a matter of fact. One Columbine: a zanni from the Devolo house.

Arlecchino swoons and says:

Oh! Web-spun hair of sunshine and gold. A scent of newness never cloying. Mine own heart.

He thinks for a moment and continues despondently:

But she continually rebuffs me.
Is that so? Well, what would you say if I told you I have a secret? A way into her good graces?
I would lend you my full attention.
Rumor has it she loves military men.
Ah! Military men!

Arlecchino considers his limitations with a frown:

But I am not a military man.
No. You are not, but she doesn’t know that.
No, she doesn’t.
You can act, can’t you?

Arlecchino scratches his head for a moment and tries marching around the stage. He gradually finds his cadence, and Il Capitano cries out:

Good! You know how to carry yourself like a soldier. Now, we just need a costume.

Il Capitano scans the stage. Pulcinella walks into view, and Il Capitano calls him over:

You! Pulcinella! Come here.

Pulcinella squeaks his way over to Il Capitano who continues:

Idiot boy, can you understand me?

Pulcinella squeaks and nods his head. Il Capitano removes a coin from his purse and says:

I want you to take this coin and buy a military uniform. Cape, hat, sword. Understand?

Pulcinella takes the coin, nods, and squeaks his way offstage. Arlecchino says:

Pulcinella has been touched by the angels. Do you think he understood what you said?

Il Capitano replies uncertainly:

We’ll see.

Pulcinella reappears on stage carrying a wooden sword, a motley cape, a large hat, and a second Il Capitano mask. Pulcinella deposits these items at Il Capitano’s feet and looks up at him, eager for approval. Il Capitano looks over the items and says, unenthusiastically:

Horribly cheap, but they’ll have to do. Thank you, Pulcinella.

Pulcinella smiles and squeaks excitedly as he makes his way into the wings. Il Capitano considers the pile at his feet:

Now, Arlecchino. This is a sword, this is a hat, and this is a cape. I’ll show you how to put them on.

As Il Capitano helps Arlecchino put on the uniform, Pulcinella makes his way back onstage carrying a gigantic salami, a towering cone of gelato, and leading a horrific looking whore by the arm. Neither Il Capitano nor Arlecchino see him, but the audience laughs as Pulcinella squeaks his way across the stage and disappears.
Arlecchino places the Il Capitano mask over his own as Il Capitano steps back to review him:

Now, you’re a fine looking military man! Fit for the vigorous wooing of women. Love’s warrior! And then, perhaps, the battlefield.

Arlecchino is frightened:

Oh, no. Not battle. I’m not interested in that. No war for me.
Coward! Love isn’t for the timid; only milksops avoid war.

Several audience members yell:

Help the Entente!
Glorious war!
Viva Italia!

Mina looks at Vita:

Even here, the Futurists. Bloodthirsty children with naive ideals.

Onstage, Il Capitano adopts the posture of a drill sergeant:

How can you hope to woo women without backbone? Let me ask you, who’s blocking your sword from its rightful scabbard, soldier?

Arlecchino answers tentatively:

Columbine?
That’s right! Men and women, uomini e donne, are enemies. We either make battle-red together or against each other. Either way, men take what they want!

Male audience members shout their approval, and lines she’ll incorporate into Songs to Joannes begin running through Mina’s mind:

Red, a warm colour on the battle-field ...

Onstage, Il Capitano continues drilling Arlecchino:

But we march in like soldiers and take what we desire. Rarely does one have his heart’s desire given to him freely, Arlecchino. It’s only natural, then, that you don a soldier’s cloak and prepare for conquest, for impact. Like flint rubbing on steel, men and women will always create sparks!

In the audience, Mina’s eyes widen:

No love or the other thing. Only the impact of lighted bodies. Knocking sparks off each other in chaos.

Onstage, Il Capitano’s nose fences with Arlecchino’s:

Seizure! Surmounting her wall! This is what you must do. No timidity, no quarter given. And what’s more, my boy, she will love you for it. She will let you take her. Or you will simply take what you want, and she will thank you for it. Moonstruck and jibbering from your assault, what else can she do?

Mina’s brainstorm continues:

Unnatural selection, breed such sons and daughters as shall jibber at each other uninterpretable cryptonyms under the moon.

Il Capitano continues drilling Arlecchino:

We are not the same, but we can be made to think similarly, Arlecchino. To act in similar ways; to pursue similar ends. For God’s sake, man: we already fight our way toward seismic orgasms!

Patrons stomp their feet and laugh. Lines continue running through Mina’s mind:

Let them clash together, from their incognitoes, in seismic orgasm.

Onstage, a masked actor playing Columbine appears. Il Capitano whispers to Arlecchino:

Now, there’s your target, solider. March!

Arlecchino nods confidently and marches over to Columbine. Il Capitano retreats to the wings, and Columbine greets Arlecchino:

Well, well. A soldier.

Arlecchino’s oversized hat almost falls off as he nods eagerly:

Yes. And I’m here to woo you. Most vigorously.
Is that right?
Yes. Cupid, once a babe, is now a lion ready to roar.

In the audience, Mina paraphrases Laforgue:

A God to be reinvented ...

Onstage, Arlecchino tries to grab Columbine and throw her over his shoulder. He cries out:

Prepare to be seized, lady!

Columbine resists, and she and Arlecchino tumble on stage for a few beats. Columbine says:

You soldiers! Always so stiff and eager.
And you comely Florentine women, always so hot and ready!

The crowd roars its approval as Arlecchino dives toward Columbine’s legs:

Think of me as a pig, Columbine, rooting for truffles, between your legs!
A spawn of my fantasies. Your rosy snout at my command, ready to root in my erotic garbage.

The audience explodes, and Mina closes her eyes, enraptured:

Spawn of Fantasies, silting the appraisable ...

IN ARCADIA, Infant Cupid seizes in mid-air and falls toward the ground. He lands on a thick patch of grass and begins struggling as his violent metamorphosis begins.

MINUTES LATER, Pig Cupid drags himself toward a nearby pond where he inspects his reflection in the water. As his image resolves, he screams.

Pig Cupid, his rosy snout ...

MINUTES LATER, Pig Cupid rises to his new height. Standing naked in Arcadia, his old loincloth, bow, and quiver lie tattered at his feet. Dozens of cherubs fly down from the sky and flutter around him. Two wrap a new loincloth around his waist, and another hands him a new bow and affixes a new quiver of arrows to his back. A final cherub places a cigarette between Pig Cupid’s lips and lights it.

Rooting erotic garbage ...

Looking off into Acadia with a new look of confidence, Pig Cupid inhales deeply, smiles devilishly, and blows smoke out of his nostrils like an incensed bull.

Once upon a time.

MINUTES LATER, Pig Cupid runs wildly through Arcadia, squealing and agitating the Arcadians with a smile on his face. He takes one turn too sharply and bumps into a marble statue of a classical Cupid. As Pug Cupid continues on his way, it falls to the ground where it breaks in half.

IN THE THEATRE, Mina rises to leave. Vita reaches for her, but Mina waves her off, smiling. Confused, Vita watches Mina make her way through the crowd and exit the theatre.

SECONDS LATER, OUTSIDE, a beaming Mina Loy makes her way home determinedly.

V

ON VENICE BEACH, AN HOUR LATER, Pig Cupid finishes his story. He and I sit in the sand smoking a joint and sharing a bottle of tequila. Starlight glints on gossamer saliva strings as Pig Cupid lowers the bottle reluctantly:

Better than the wine on Olympus. Of course, if they had tequila and pot on Olympus, I’m quite sure the mountain would crumble overnight. At the very least, a good many gods and goddesses would be sliding down its slopes, I can tell you that.

Pig Cupid laughs:

Lushes. A whole race of indulgent alcoholics. No wonder we lost ground to Jehovah, Buddha, and Scientology.

Pig Cupid and I smoke and drink and stare out at the ocean. Mixing hot, sweet smoke with cool, maritime brume, Pig Cupid breaks the silence:

After my transformation, I wandered far north to Mount Parnassus: to Apollo’s sacred mountain and home of the muses. I made my way up the mountainside and entered the Corycian Cave on the mountain’s western slope. There, I approached one of the sacred springs where Apollo busied himself with several giggling nymphs. God of light and the sun; of truth and prophecy; of archery, medicine, and healing; of music, poetry, and the arts -- who was in a better position to help me, to explain what had happened, to heal me, if possible? As I approached the water’s edge, I startled him, and he rose to his full glory. I stared up at him in awe as that great and terrible voice boomed:
“Who goes there? Who dares tread, uninvited, alongside my sacred springs?”
He examined me slowly and eventually softened his posture and his tone:
“Eros?” he asked, puzzled.
He invited me to a lavish area of the cave where we drank wine and talked as nymphs attended us. After explaining what I’d experienced, Apollo said:
“Cousin Eros -- or Cupid as you’ve more lately been called -- your metamorphosis troubles me. But it should not trouble you. You see, most of our kind has already retreated deep into the mountains and out into the heavens. Men have no room in their hearts or imaginations for old mythologies they’ve deemed illegitimate. They’ve replaced most of us with new gods. Dour, stern ones: Jahweh, Allah -- lawgivers they’ve deemed exclusively legitimate. For the moment, anyway. You, though, seem to be more adaptable than most. As men find ways to manipulate the body and heal with chemicals, they don’t need Apollo Paeon anymore. Soon Greece will find itself face-to-face with the great machines men have built to replace your father’s blazing touch.”
He placed his great hand on my arm to comfort me and said:
“But they still seem to need you. Fortunate that you embody the great abstraction, the eternal puzzle, the enduring goal and focus of human life. Sex and love, cousin. Man isn’t likely to master, resolve, or do away with these. Not now, not ever. Such primitive, powerful forces will always seem otherworldly to them, and they’ll always treat love and sex with reverence and distance. They’re primitive children, Eros, and they will always turn things they don’t understand into more comfortable and familiar Cupids. As they issue in their twentieth century anno domini -- “
Dwelling on his fate, Apollo grew angry and once again boomed:
“Having reset time for a carpenter when it was once I, the sun, and my sister the moon who controlled time itself!”
Stirred by the noise, nymphs filled Apollo’s cup and arranged pillows around him. They ran their fingers across his great head and calmed him. When Apollo resumed, he was smiling:
“They seem to have distorted you into a base version of yourself, of themselves. And one that’s not at all uncomical. So they’ll laugh at love for a time, concentrate on its earthy delights. On its belligerence. And they’ll project this onto you. But at least you, my cousin, will be on their minds. However monstrous, at least you don’t find yourself obsolete. I’ll take grotesque over obsolete any day.”
He grew despondent and waved the nymphs off. He pulled me close and warmed my ears with wine vapor:
“Gods, it seems, need men just as men need gods. And it hurts to be forgotten. To be done away with. Even I, Phoebus Apollo, am not immune.”
We reflected on the fate of our race for a few moments more before he brought our conversation to a close:
“As to the specifics of your transformation, there are those better suited than I to give you details. Specialization has always been the Mediterranean way. Here at the end of our twilight days, when even school children will soon find themselves unable to match god with gift, there’s no reason to change, I suppose.”
Apollo stared deeply into my eyes and said:
“Walk a few steps more up this mountain, cousin, and consort with the Muses.”
I did as my cousin Apollo Musagetes suggested, Harley, and climbed almost to Parnassus’ peak. There, I found a sunny clearing where all nine muses busied themselves in ways appropriate to their domains. Frowning Melpomene directed me to singing Erato and laughing Thalia, and it was Thalia -- beautiful, happy Thalia -- who told me about the commedia scenario, about Mina Loy, and about her poem. And as the other muses looked on, Thalia kissed me on the nose. She smiled sweetly, as only she can, and helped me accept my fate. Later, with Terpsichore leading them and Euterpe playing her reed pipe, the muses joined hands around me and danced in a circle for hours.

Frowning thoughtfully, Pig Cupid drives the empty tequila bottle into the sand:

Days later, I watched them retreat far into the mountains where I couldn’t follow. And I hated to see them go. But to be among such wonderful women, however briefly, made the transformation almost worthwhile.

I frown and crush our joint’s happy ember into the sand. Pig Cupid lies back and says:

Hours and hours, Harley -- we’ve drunk and we’ve eaten. We’ve smoked, and we’ve talked and reminisced. Now, I say we sleep. Tomorrow, we’ll see about winning Bina back.

Following his lead, I fall backwards and look up at the sky. The Pleiades, several constellations, and the moon shine there, and Pig Cupid continues softly:

The daughters of Atlas, old heroes, gods and goddesses -- there they are. Their remnants anyway. And here I am. Left behind.
"Eternally relevant," I believe, is how Apollo described you.
Still, though, to take my place among them. As I once was. Beautiful and glorious.

Pig Cupid exhales sadly:

Thousands of years ago, some saw my arrow there, above Aquila.

Sagitta sparkles in the sky bordered by Vulpecula, Hercules, Aquila and Delphinus. Pig Cupid names them all with the fluency of an astronomer:

Sagitta: the arrow. That’s all I ever got. And it’s pretty insignificant.
You’re better suited to this world. Apollo’s right. We need you. I’m glad your form never painted the heavens.

Pig Cupid smiles:

Still, it’s always nice to see old friends and the creatures I played with as a child.

We watch the sky as stars begin shooting toward the moon. They try to wriggle inside it like spermatozoa as Pig Cupid sings lines from Mina’s poem:

We lifted our eye-lids on Love: a cosmos of colored voices and laughing honey and spermatozoa at the core of Nothing, in the milk of the Moon.

A single star-spermatozoa enters the lunar ovum, and the moon blossoms like a flower, grows a stamen, and begins spilling pollen into the sky. Pig Cupid finishes his song --

Clear carving, breath-giving, pollen smelling space.

-- and we both fall asleep as the pollen rains down on us and the rest of Venice Beach.

Colophon

Job's Evil Dreams

Pig Cupid (the text) began its life as a feature-length "spec" screenplay. However, for reasons that must be obvious to the contemporary writer and cinéaste, this particular vehicle ensured it would experience little more than an uninteresting, static life in an overlooked corner of the cloud. Somehow, this seemed like a less-than-appropriate end for the text's eponymous character. Pig Cupid (the character) doesn't do well out of sight and, despite my best abilities, refuses to be ignored for long.

He lives on the far side of my right shoulder, just beyond my peripheral vision where I must turn my head to see. From this perch, He speaks to me a little every day, and, unlike looking at him, hearing Him takes no special effort. My ear is always, unavoidably available.

This is both fortunate and unfortunate, entertaining and distracting, depending on the circumstances.

Most of the time -- when the opportunity for a less-than-tasteful joke presents itself, for example, or one of life's more destructive pastimes appear before us -- I choose to keep staring straight ahead, cool and ignorant like a horse-in-blinders trotting before a sulky. But other times -- when we notice a wayward skirt in the breeze or spot an untended bottle of scotch or hear the Neon motherland singing on the far side of the San Gabriels -- I turn my head and acknowledge Him with winks and nods that build to smiles and snickers and great, gasping guffaws.

Then, we set about our mischief.

We're very much of one mind in these moments, and this amuses Him to no end.

On one such an occasion, not too long ago, He presented an idea to me, in his own particular way:

"There are other things you can do with that text, you know? With my text? Don't act like you haven't thought of them. If they've occurred to me, they've occurred to you. So what's the hold up? 'We have one sap and one root - Let there be commerce between us!'"

Pig Cupid knows I'm a sucker for poetry, just like Harley. And when He wants to drive home a grand point, He quotes and quotes and quotes like a schizophrenic parrot with a PhD. Then, He starts in on the ego and the long view of history:

"We're not communicating with scrolls and smoke signals and passenger pigeons anymore, for chrissakes. You can bend the greatest communication system ever devised by man to your will. Why not try something new? Where's the harm in pushing a bit, in kneading the dough?"

History and ego, poetry and disruption -- these get me every time. And as is often the case, Pig Cupid's right, as uncomfortable and inconvenient as it usually is.

Like Job, I know it all too well: cloven-hoofed devils are master rhetoricians, and master rhetoricians know their audiences better than they know themselves. They spoon-feed intelligence into willing mouths, clarify ambiguity, and check ambient insanity with confident, intuitive, overwhelming logic. And so Pig Cupid knows He's won before He even opens his mouth. Speaking is just a formality, a feathered cap extended graciously downward in supplicant cascades.

And so I nod. He winks. We smile. He laughs. He has me. We're one again, and off we go making mischief once again.

 

Hoof in Hand

In addition to wrangling tutelary, anthropomorphic swine (among other assorted shoulder angels), I have an acute interest in “readerly” dramatic literature and the contemporary post-genre narrative landscape. The suspect value of Pig Cupid (the script) as a traditional movie-making tool attests to the first, this site to the second.

As Pig Cupid (the character) suggested, it had occurred to me that it would be interesting to hybridize: (a) the comfortable, paragraph-based flow of the traditional short story and (b) the airy directness, stark scene divisions, and active, present tense verb structure of the screenplay. In so doing, one might be able to engineer a textual bridge that would connect production spaces and readers' armchairs. As single-sitting, three act, character-driven genres, the short story and screenplay seem to reach toward conjunction anyway, even outside the context of this particular expression. And since I live and work in Southern California, and since the screenplay is effectively the region's native literary art form, any indigenous form of short fiction might very well look like I've presented it here. (It's "pretty to think so," anyway.)

Pushing this formal exercise one step further, over time, I'll be replacing some of the textual dialogue and descriptions above with filmed, produced scenes. This will pull visual storytelling into the mix, reframing what we might presently call a "script story" into something we might call a "production story." (This patchwork text/film hybrid would be a good example of what my friend Nick Roth has christened "potential cinema.")

In this way, Pig Cupid is a living, evolving text, and I'm at peace knowing I'll inevitably die with pieces of the clay still misshapen and unfired. This is the nature of writing for the web, outside the context of legacy media, beyond leather binding and hard pages and ink stains. This is the nature of all work, really, as brief expressions of mortal life. And when I'm haunting the hall of my ancestors, fearlessly trading life stories with mothers and fathers (some of whom I'm reuniting with, others I'm meeting for the first time), Pig Cupid may very well be someone else's companion.

He's an eternal spirit haunting mortal shoulders, and for the moment, and for a few years more, those shoulders belong to me.

The two of us have our peace, and we have our chaos. We have Apollo. We have Dionysus. We have moments of confusion and moments of great clarity. We have our war and our struggle. We have dominance and submission. We have hooves and hands and mischief and infinite laughs. We make monsters, elegant and inelegant, and we read and write and talk endlessly about everything.

He's a happy burden, but he isn't mine alone.

Not if you've read this far.

~ Quimby Melton

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