The Snail

I’m planning to get the 10.41 to Liverpool Lime Street. I’m on the single-decker blue Magic bus, with the bright orange bars and handles inside. We’re crawling through the Curry Mile – with the newly completed cycle lanes and a few badly parked cars, the buses have to manoeuvre; even the walkers are catching up with us.

white petals float
towards the shisha bar
sleeveless cyclists

The Liver birds are shimmering, a salt tang, ice cream sellers and flocks of French pupils draped around the dock. The Tate opened late this morning. A friendly guide – grey curly hair, faded lilac shirt – directs me to the first floor.

On one side of The Snail four bronzes: a backbone has become an “abstracted plait”. In fuzzy black-and-white film Matisse points with a walking stick to where the next piece of cut-out should be attached. The Snail’s alternative title is Chromatic Composition. Apparently it was planned as part of a triptych, this “purified sign for a shell”. The pin holes are visible in the brightly coloured paper.

In a traditional saijiki (list of kigo, or season words) the snail is linked to summer and that fits with these colours: orange, lilac, greens, blue. My own saijiki is Haiku World: an International Poetry Almanac compiled by the late William Higginson. It’s a unique anthology: over a thousand haiku, from more than six hundred poets, living in fifty countries, writing in twenty-five languages. At 400 yellowing pages it’s too heavy to carry around.

The snail is caracol in Spanish, slak in Dutch/Afrikaans and katatsumuri in Japanese. The Spanish word sounds like the shape of the protective shell and katatsumuri is, perhaps, the non-moving or slow moving, the snail stuck to the window. Many years ago I had a Korean manager lodge with me at Norwood Rd. He and his colleagues were learning English at the Business School. Smoking he paced through the rear garden, saw me sprinkle blue pellets…Miss Fokkina, you nourish the snails?

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