By John Saul 

You know Klimt
      don't you?
      Austrian artist, 1862-1918, cat lover
      painter of women in gold
      of The Kiss
      you don't know The Kiss?
      almost as well-known as The Scream
      don't know The Scream?
      oh well, so much for Gustav
      big noise at the turn of the century
      big beard, big painter's smock
      ah, you say
      that Klimt

Everything is ready for the weekend in Vienna
      to get to know the man in the smock
      the flight
      sea-bands to calm your wrists
      beside the gangway in the Thomas Cook 767
      now bouncing, sliding through the skies
      Alps below
      we're slipping apart, you say
      this could be our last time together
      you never know with aircraft

Looking back it was you, not me, finally
      who wanted the weekend in Vienna
      unearthing photos of the man in his robe
      of dark blue parachute material
      Gustav, looking wild
      that Rasputin of the easel who
      paints women
      looks comfortable with a chainsaw
      loves women
      sort of loves women
      look at him, I heard you say, I hear you still
      the man has got something

So the plane met the tarmac
      the hotel door flew back
      if you can call it a hotel
      and there we are
      walking the avenues, the public spaces
      undimmed, your interest in foreign places
      you're taking to Vienna,
      while I'm more practical
      see my phone gets charged
      our Wienerschnitzel safely fried
      don't worry
      I will run the waiter's talk through a translation machine
      I've got the app
      and I'll wait
      until your Freudian session on the couch is over
      I'll be downstairs, full of hope
      on the steps outside

It was you who couldn't wait
      to leave the hotel in the distance
      to turn off this stony boulevard and stand
      before the house of Gustav Klimt
      on schnapps and lager
      since you are so sure these are our last moments, the last bars of our little two-piece band

You're just as sure that Klimt
      bumpily successful while alive
      is still around, not quite turned to dust
      and well
      then there's hope
      infinite hope, for us as well
      don't you think?
      you don't? I do
      ah funf, sieben, neun, this is it
      number eleven Feldmühlgasse
      having come this far
      we'll knock and knock
      to see that smock

Listen, those steps must be his sandals
      and here he is, in voluminous blue
      guten Tag, Herr Klimt
      were you in your garden? I say switching on the translation machine
      not exactly, the machine replies, I was resting from a bout of rowing on the lake
      in your smock?
      look, says the machine, are you from the press, because if you are don't say I'm not modern, I have a motorboat, and a telephone
      but you are Herr Klimt, Gustav, Austrian artist, 1862-1918, cat lover, who put his gold into pictures rather than the bank?
      1918? he splutters

Klimt stomps off as well as he can in sandals
      muttering about poplar trees
      cutting a path through jumping cats
      circling his garden
      a plot he draws inspiration from


He beckons us to stand with him, beside tall sunflowers
      declaring sunflowers eclipses of the sun
      and saying, looking, looking
      at the way you're standing
      Ja ich bin er, I am he
      painter of women adorned with stars and silk and sequins
      moving, lying, standing, flowing, swimming, hair tangled in algae
      women ready to weave, to undulate
      enjoy finery, wear some gold
      would you care to see the studio?
      you not him
      since 1910 I've only painted women

Oh well, banished to the role of onlooker
      as Gustav
      a cat cradled in one arm
      stares again not at your face
      but at the way you happen to be standing
      pushes back your corn-bright hair
      tugs fur-hats on and off
      first blue fox-fur
      then black beaver
      then felt, then feathers
      as our last moments go ticking by
      that weekend
      that summer in Vienna

On I look, foolish with hope
      as he draws back a sleeve
      to free his painting hand
      as he transfers you, a brushstroke at a time
      into a canvas
      where you disappear below the surface
      to reappear
      among reeds and fishes
      swimming with the algae
      I'm sure it's you
      almost lost in ferns and tendrils
      wearing gold and silver
      lost to drifting dreams
      in underwater meadows

Another summer
      I will take a train
      smooth and quiet and continental
      slipping through the night
      I will go back to Vienna looking for you
      hoping you will be there.


John Saul's work has appeared extensively in the UK and internationally, and is next due to appear in the prestigious US magazine, Gargoyle. He has four collections of short fiction published (three at Salt Publishing, UK), and The Times has described his work as "witty and playful," proof "the short story is not only alive but being reinvigorated in excitingly diverse ways." He is currently collaborating on an innovative project with words and music. and in 2014 excerpts from this were performed at the National Portrait Gallery and Write Idea Festival in London. Find more information at his website, www.johnsaul.co.uk.

© 2015