Matisse, in the Jardin des Tuileries, 1904
The World's Worst Mime stood there next to the iron carousel,
portraying something, and the crowd understood none of it, except that
whatever thing he was trying to portray was not being portrayed well
at all. This is what you get, they laughed to their children, when you
do not follow rules. There are things that cannot be self-taught.
One Sunday afternoon, the young Henri sat with his grandmother on a
wooden bench near the carousel. His hand held tight a string tied to a
large helium balloon. The balloon was red, redder than heartblood.
Look, said the grandmother, The World's Worst Mime is Climbing a
Ladder. The World's Worst Mime was indeed clawing at the sky with his
fingers, gasping, trying to find a foothold in air. No, said Henri,
he's Drowning in People. Against his grandmother's protests, Henri
stood and approached the man and extended his clenched fist. The
World's Worst Mime bent over, took the balloon, then shot up straight,
smile splitting make-up, stretching cloudward until his joints began
to dislocate. His last was by far his finest performance, and yet no
performance at all, because the essence of him was already gone over
the carousel, past the ragged tops of the elms, headed north toward
the specks of color that were families picnicking along the banks of
Henri, now grown, placed his easel in the shade near the carousel and
began to throw color at the canvas in the way that the notes from the
calliope fell against his ear.
1996 © 2011