by Erik Wennermark
Gilbert Glavel was a deviant homosexual pornographer. He was a playboy poet fop. Like Jesus Christ, he committed suicide at the age of 33. In time, it came to be considered a “metaphysical work.” The portrait of Gilbert Glavel, painted by a Futurist master, hangs in the Künstlerhaus Wien, displayed in its gilded frame next to a lesser De Chirico. In the picture, Gilbert Glavel holds a small scythe close to his breast; behind him are the twilight suggestions of a deep cave lit dull ochre by the light of a waning moon. The careful viewer notes Gilbert Glavel in the act of fixed preparation: he will enter the cave to harvest the nests of the sparrows that nest within. Climbing ropes flung around knobby outcroppings with the scythe clasped firm in his teeth, sweeping the nests from the east then west walls with lazy precision and placing them into a silk case attached to his calfskin belt with a ruby-encrusted gold clip. Then, dusting the dust from his velvet breeches, rearranging his cravat and straightening his topcoat, he pilots his hansom to Zürich’s small Chinatown and sells the nests, a rare and much desired delicacy, for large sums of money or passes them in trade for equally large amounts of opium, a substance to which Gilbert Glavel is hopelessly addicted. Entering the opium den, falling into the uterine cushions, the long pipe swaying from his mouth to the lilting bob of his head, black-toothed boys dressed only in tall felt hats massage his hands and feet as the smoke plumes from his open mouth into the webbed corners of the broken hospice. Some hours later taking crude daguerreotypes of the same boys cavorting in all manners of antic horseplay to sell to cramped civil servants or be used in service of elaborate schemes. Given the proper black-toothed boy and the requisite blank company, Gilbert Glavel forgoes the prurient representation and instead, with uncommon swiftness, sinks the scythe deep into the boy’s neck and watches the blood cascade from the boy’s angled veins into a wooden bucket Gilbert Glavel places to catch the blood and, as the flow tempers, washes his hands in the blood of the still sputtering black-toothed boy; the remnant liters then alchemically turned into a highly-prized facial cream that Gilbert Glavel provides to matrons of Swiss and Austrian society. His hands are remarkably smooth. The well-placed matrons providing Gilbert Glavel with a similarly valuable commodity: the drunken rants of equally well-placed husbands or the pillow talk of worse-placed lovers. A repository of potential intrigue that Gilbert Glavel finds unmatched, and one that allows his own tacks a tidal security. He takes advantage of this good fortune to numerous effect, most enjoyably earning the rank of Viceroy of Hindustan where Gilbert Glavel performs similar devotional acts with similar downtrodden boys, making provisions for the maharajah’s wife gratis. Upon his return to the continent at the age of 31, having recovered from a bout of cholera that leaves him infirm for some many months in an unending hallucination not dissimilar to the more sinister branch in the oeuvre of Hieronymus Bosch–a delightful tidbit–Gilbert Glavel removes himself from the increasingly tiresome world of European aristocracy and enters instead into pursuit of his new life’s mission–during his convalescence he had been called in a vision; it was the angel Gabriel–by beginning the composition of a book of mystical insights in the Sufi tradition. These he has directly experienced with varied imbibements and illnesses and varied designs of men and boys, devoting himself exclusively to this act aside from the occasional visit to his tailor or the caves for nests to trade for opium which, while traveling in the Kashmir among the prince’s retinue, he learns to refine into heroin that he injects intravenously into his feet, unwilling to leave an impure trace or discoloration upon his china arms or swan soft neck. Upon conclusion of his messianic tome, he promptly eats it, page by page, with the accompaniment of a delightful brandy given to him by a pasha in Constantinople in exchange for his discretion–the pasha a fruit of notorious appetite–a pact that he kept–and then slowly undresses and begins a course of vigorous exercise, vomiting the undigested pages onto the walls and floor, where they are later discovered and reassembled by the famed conservator Adolf Baer, a fastidious man well up to the task. Not but an hour on, Gilbert Glavel leaps from the roof of his highest balconies, still naked, a hemp cord fixed around his previously unblemished neck in his ultimate act of auto-erotic asphyxiation. On the anniversary of his death–a holiday for some–the schoolchildren of Zürich stand guard his tomb and recite his verse in unison. Often, at the sound of their chorus, old matrons weep fitfully.
Note: First published by Kitty Snacks No. 4.
I wrote “Gilbert Glavel” after going through an old notebook I kept when I interned at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, an art museum in Venice, Italy. In the notebook, I had sketched a rough approximation of a rather abstract portrait I saw in a gallery of a man named Gilbert Glavel. The story followed quickly thereafter.
Erik Wennermark lives and writes in Hong Kong, a cacophony of threadbare velvet, combat umbrellas, Michelin stars, and domestic cages; Gilbert Glavel would fit right in. Follow Erik on Twitter @erikwmark.
FF.Net Editor Commentary (Randall Brown)
Gilbert Glavel. That name appears thirteen (13) times in this short piece. A pronoun replaces the name, yes, but the name returns, again and again. I often use a name at the beginning and never return to it, but I like the effect of the repetition. I like the consonance, too, those repeated “G” and “L” sounds.