Three Studies of the Male Back

francis-bacon-Three-Studies-for-a-Male-Back
Three Studies of the Male Back by Francis Bacon (1987)

My memory of it is not entirely reliable, but I remember a little heartache and no little sense of loss. I’d been out all night with a friend and we were walking back along the cracked pavements of Exeter from lamplight to lamplight. As we reached each successive pool of light, a crispening sobriety began to settle upon me and on the periphery of my vision I closely watched my friend bound along next to me, gesturing and chatting.

The affection that I felt for him then comes back to me through my arteries. I’d felt the same once before, lying on my back amongst the flowerbeds in Saville Gardens. The flowers were so beautiful that I wish I knew their names. To the side of me lay Tom and next to him, James. Idly and thoughtlessly, James let an index finger draw a circle in Tom’s hair, binding a curl up and about it as we looked up through the stems of, maybe, sunflowers.

The affection that I felt for him then comes back to me, bouncing along my diaphragm and launching itself, like a bouncy-castle child – shoes off, into the mess of my heart-strings.

Oh lord, but there are so many good, good men.

If you are drawing a dark circle. If you’ve tried everything and nothing, but nothing works. If you dread the sun’s rise and sleep only as one dead. If you see your world a world of diminishing light and narrowing pathways. Please – please – let me be your good, good man.

If your bones ache with the weight of what you cannot bring yourself to say, let me help you speak your bones.

If you cower and flinch, fearing a hand or an eye. If you police yourself at every step, seeing yourself only through the eyes of others. Please – please – let me be your good, good man. No knight, no empty heroics – or if a knight then at least with helmet removed so as better to listen and armour removed so as better to bear the greater weight of your words.

I remember riding pillion through the gray streets of Hampstead, swooping down into underpasses and resisting strongly the urge to embrace you in your wax riding jacket. Even though I couldn’t see your face blinkered by your helmet, I could feel your smile – winning.

Oh lord, but there are so many good, good men. Let us count ourselves, not a knight among us. Listening, doing… knowing the better part to be our heart.

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