Hamlet does not utter the words North by Northwest (a compass direction that does not exist.). He does say "I am but mad north-north-west. When the wind is southerly, I know a hawk from a handsaw."
He laughs and scatters gifts, but he looks
unwell – no, he’s fine – the man playing cards
looks sick – he has a full hand of spades,
but then, he gets to tell the story about
how the ace of spades leads the pack.
Suspicion follows you like a snake in the grass,
so the story is torn up. But destroying the evidence
points to the evidence. Sleeping dogs lie.
Now, should a girl tell on the bad man?
It would kill Mother. But Uncle Charlie
has been killing plenty of those, it seems,
the fat, lazy, greedy widows eating cake
and wasting money – they deserve to die.
Now those two men are here to see you,
again – something about a survey,
counting all the happy American families
and listening closely to their apple-pie opinions
as they look down from a high window through
shade-dappled branches at a pair of neighbours
pausing for a gossip in the sun. On the busy street
the old traffic cop can’t help the girl, he’s
avuncular and normal, and he has a job to do.
Now everything falls to pieces
and a killer pleads for his life. Traffic
everywhere, an engine running and leaking gas,
then back on the train again, the train
that takes you out into the horrible world.
The man with all the cards is here, somewhere,
behind the viewfinder, watching everything,
a resident alien with a point of view.
Uncle Charlie has to die, we all knew that,
it just took a while to fall into place
in front of a speeding black locomotive
somewhere out of town, and far away.
North by Northwest
A hero breasts Manhattan traffic, always
ready to stop off at a tourist destination.
A blunder with a telegram and Mother –
a demon never seen, only hinted at
in her distant, comfortable castle –
will lose her little boy, who quickly
plunges into an irritating adventure
in the picaresque mode – leaping
to conclusions as the scenery reels past,
into bed and out again, dodging and weaving
across a landscape more deadly and bucolic
with each passing trick of the light.
Of course it’s post-postmodern to have the hero
an advertising man rather than a policeman-detective
tough-guy action type, and the crop-dusting plane scene
is funny and priceless. Perhaps the Master was trying to
lighten up after Vertigo. There’s no fun there, just
descending levels of madness and sadness.
The blonde, unlike his sainted Mother,
is very good and also devious and wicked,
and so roller coaster morals are the norm
and in fact this unravelling storm of incidents
and grief is the painful future due to us
when we stumble blinking into the light,
for this sequence of parables was built
by its huge crew of many talents to be seen
and heard in the crowded dark, the wicked
are found out and trampled on, another
train, another bed, good night.
Poor Vincent Parry: he rolls out of a garbage can
and stumbles through a valley of coincidences,
falling into the lap of a blonde.
Poor Vincent: we are locked inside his head,
seeing everything, feeling nothing but vertigo
as the screen swoops and wobbles with his weaving
and ducking to avoid his fate. He can’t
have a drink, we would get splashed,
he dare not look in a mirror, because
we would be there gawking, dismayed…
Poor Vincent: he gets disfigured by a man with a towel
and a razor, and wakes up tied to the bed.
Madge calls, and whispers, and goes away,
and calls back again, spying, sneaking a drink, and
every fragment of conversation ends with Madge
who, if she can’t have what she wants,
kills it. Vincent gets punched around
and a pal gets it, beaten to death with a trumpet.
Madge, fatal Madge, fallen Madge,
defenestrated Madge on the sidewalk.
Ah, Vincent: he used to look handsome
with a pencil-thin moustache, then he woke up
looking like some movie star. He wants to
call out in his bad dream: Untie me!
Set me free! But he will not be free
until he takes the bus to distant Peru
alongside a boring couple of jerks
who have just stumbled over each other
in a bus station of all places.
Vincent dreams that he sits in a white jacket
sipping a drink by the moonlit beach in Peru,
feeling anxious until the music changes
and a blonde appears: Well, tie me down,
and start me dancing.
Girl in Water
Waiting to meet a pretty girl – any pretty girl –
hot summer day in 1958, beach crowd, emotional algebra,
also list and remember: makeup, perfume, lipstick, talc,
telephone passion – no, a soda fountain, a pizza.
Do they dream of mystery and adventure, women?
or do girls want to drown in literature? No, stupid. I
bet she’d like a fragrant pizza topped with mozzarella,
or is that just me? A movie: Item: Kim Novak. A drive-in –
yes, more subtle and powerful appetites litter the sand.
So become that detective, wounded, pitiful; so
learn to love and fail in love in the back row at the Bijou,
in parked cars, or snug among sandhills… your spyglass a nib,
keyhole secrets memorised and filed away, until
eternity comes calling at the foot of a staircase.
After that ending, another climb, another cliff
beyond which something awful awaits: love
or falling in love or into love or falling into death, a
uniform and dizzying and swift descent
that leaves you breathless, leaves you
very unsteady like a cork in the water,
effervescent and febrile and emotionally labile,
ready for almost anything.
That conscious pilot spoke: scripsi quod scripsi:
I have written what? I have written for
girl in water ‘girl in water’, girl
or woman in waves of water. I,
keen to find behind mirrors, wavering echoes, burn
in plots and complex narratives to draw
many clues out, threads of meaning. A
new insight into the convoluted plot
of good and evil I can look for, where good men whine,
villains struggle to prevail and bluster
against ordinary background noise and hubbub:
kaleidoscopes of criminality and subtle fiscal judo
scam and prosper, and some ordinary guy
will win and lose everything. I
owe more than money. The key will turn:
nervous ex-detectives afraid of causing harm
drop into floods of anxiety, plunge into semi-
enervating doubt; whirlpools of suspicion, and later
refuse help from well-meaning friends or
from glum old girl-friends, dawdling, doodling, who
understand too well their weaknesses, their
lack of manly self-respect, who know how hypnotic
those doubled mysteries within a mystery are. You reach
into a maelstrom of neurosis. Beyond bodily desire,
these complex chess-like fantasies are the true romantic
scenes in your life: the most ludic acrostic paradises: click!