The Reassuring Otherness of Ritual Roleplay
On Founders’ Day we dress as dogs, squeezing into the old spots and patches, buckling on the studded collars, and tagging ourselves in case we get lost. I’ve been here more than twenty years and remember the old days, with the boisterous yapping and a little bit of nipping at throats. It was all fields then and you could chase rabbits until your breath sang like a high-pitched whistle and your head spun like cartoon bluebirds. My coat was gold and jet and fit like my true self; my teeth were a case of knives to carve up the world before I swallowed it raw. I’m proud to say the fur still fits, though it’s threadbare in patches and worn at the joints; and though the zip bust way back when, a few pins and you can’t see the join. No one ever told me why we do it, but we’ve corridors full of photos of employees sat at heel, their eyes bright and tongues lolling. And though these days I just lie by the fire in a dream of speed and green pastures, it’s still the best day of the year. Tomorrow I’ll dress as a human and sip a tall latte macchiato, but today I’ll lick water from a low bowl and take a bite out of anyone who comes too close.
Last night I left the door ajar, and now the house is full of songbirds. I barely know a coal tit from a chaffinch, but taxonomy’s merely a short step to taxidermy and today’s all about life. A tiny lad the colour of burnt syrup hops beneath the sofa, while a red-breasted girl with a black mask dances with a blue-cloaked dandy on the glass-topped table, and speckles and stripes chatter and dash from chairs to shelves, to picture rails. All hail the beak and feather! When the cat’s away the mice may play, but when the cat’s asleep the birds will cheep, as my birdlike auntie used to say as she pecked seeds from a willow pattern plate. What songs resound from lamp and cornice! Feel how those windows shimmy and shake! I’d love to share their trill and flutter, but my tongue is tuned to the roots of the earth, an early worm still blissfully asleep.
My New Favourite Museum
Smell Project Offers Scents of History
– Metro, 18 November 2020, p. 6
In the digital museum of lost scents, they have synthesised fish baking on the Galilee shore, Pepys’s parmesan melting beneath the burning city, sweat and metal polish on the raised Jules Rimet cup, and Titus Oates’ breath mixed with nothing but ice and sky. These are the ones that bring in the punters; the ones on which school children write misspelled essays—Oats, Rime, Peeps, and how many ls are there in Gallillee? —and the ones casual visitors buy en masse on keyrings, T-shirts, and virtual postcards for friends and family. My interests are more niche, and I always find myself at the blood drying on Van Gogh’s left shoulder, or Lizzie Siddal’s cold bathwater with its base notes of oil and dying flowers. There’s a lesson to be learned about art here; a lesson to be learned about devotion, and I’ve filled a dozen or more A5 pads with reactions and reminiscences, their margins crammed with olfactory equations and sketched grotesques in the medieval mode, their noses poking at key revelations. Come: press Enter. It’s best if you close your eyes. Scratch the screen with the last coin in your pocket, then lean in close. Breathe.
Oz Hardwick is a European poet, who has published “about a dozen” full collections and chapbooks, including Learning to Have Lost (IPSI, 2018) which won the 2019 Rubery International Book Award for poetry, and, most recently, A Census of Preconceptions (SurVision Books, 2022). He has held residencies in the UK, Europe, the US, and Australia, and has performed internationally at major festivals and in sparsely populated back rooms. Oz is professor of Creative Writing at Leeds Trinity University.