Pay Attention: Burroughs, Flower Arranging, and Falling Wardrobes

W S Burroughs at The Photographers’ Gallery

Maybe it is?

Is it all over?

Over is it all?

All over is it?

I don’t know, but I’m paying attention. 10, steps, 6 steps, 10 steps, 6 steps to the intersection, each ruled in, ruled out. 20 black coats and grey, one pink and one blue as I surface the line away from the camera obscura. “Did you want to come back from your vacation?” says the boy. “It’s so grey.” And it is. It’s as though the sun only half rose above that crossroads. No white dress for me, no love of flower arranging. No coke of any kind. In my head I pay attention to a round vase full of blue agapanthus and yellow roses and the brush of colour that I’m craving. I’m paying attention as I cross that road. Things happen. “Is it all over?” “All over is it?” Life is something that happens when you have other plans. Yes, I think about that often. The song is in my head.  But the motorbike has passed. One bottle catches that writing on the wall and another half drunk bottle of coke on his mother’s knee holds the words. There’s a book beside her, “The joy of flowers in sex.” Cut into the present and the future leaks out. It leaked on to an empty bed and its past has already left it. Encounter over. “Make a wish and be careful how you use it,” said The Future. But it was already too late. A gun arranged on a wall, ugly views of St Louis, languorous people by the river smoking blackberries from jade pipes. A pin-up train of sailors. A white clad woman smiles at them, but they only have eyes for each other. She walks to the empty bed and finds the future gone.

Astrid Sutton Sharkey

Liza Minelli’s Smile

Cinderella was in front of her at the check-in at Heathrow Terminal Four. Then again, fifteen minutes later, at the security conveyor belt. She noticed that Cinderella had eczema on her ankles and thought how much she’d like to sit next to her on the plane.

“Who’s is this?” asked the security officer holding up an emerald green tote bag.

“Mine,” said Cinderella.

“No, its mine,” she cried, and Cinderella drew back.

“Hold your head up,” she said outloud and faced the officer.

“Did you pack this yourself?”


The officer asked her to open the bag and lay out her soul. Infront of her she lay: a huge kite, a bottle of Helmanns mayonnaise and Liza Minelli’s smile.

“I should have swapped this,” she said lifting up the mayonnaise, “for some leaves of silver gelatin.”

“I’m afraid I’m going to have a confiscate that madam,” he said and she watched him put it on a shelf next to a glass slipper.

“Happy birthday Lena,” she whispered in his ear.

The aeroplane was delayed by two hours because a palm tree had been taken on as hand luggage and the doors would not close properly.

“I’m going to Tangier to get married,” she told the stewardess who handed out complimentary cups of Horlicks.

She wanted him often. She wanted him for herself but not for him. She wanted to be locked up in Villa Mounivia in Tangier where the room with the best view looked out on an everlasting  car crash and the nutbrown, bare leg of a child.

“I knew you would come,” he said. He was sucking a choc ice under an abour of bouganvillia.

“My prince,” she winced as she stepped on something sharp.

Mary Morris



That was where it happened, right there. I know it. I recognise the old tin Pear’s soap sign, rusted down one side, and the broken shopping trolley squashed against it, but they are in the wrong place, on the wrong wall and the squashed car is a different make, too large, too many doors. In the photo it’s sunny, a smiling woman has her arm curved above her head as if about to dance and her friend is winking at the camera. The label says it was the afternoon of the accident, but it can’t have been. That afternoon everyone was gathered round sombrely staring: policemen, a reporter, photographers, street vendors, general gawpers. No-one would have been so playful and the crowd was so big they would have masked the trolley. It’s so long ago. Am I remembering it accurately? I stop and close my eyes and think back. There’s a smell of earth and leaves. I open my eyes to see flowers in a vase. A stranger in the street gave me a bunch yesterday, so I’ve put them in water, but they are so mixed up: a hot red, Mexican bloom, five tiny daisies, three yellow chrysanthemums and a variety of leaves. Like the photograph, that seems like several images pieced together, the flower arrangement is false, a fraud. None of the leaves belong to the flowers. It reminds me that William Burroughs said: ‘The art of flower arranging is the art of collage,’ or was it the other way round? I can’t remember now. I go back to the accident site with the photograph to compare. The sooty, hat factory is so clean now, transformed into offices with brass plaques for a dentist, a solicitor and an up-market club. Large pots stand outside with fresh purple pansies planted between dusty dwarf palms and a bamboo, as if they had grown together. I stare up at the steam-cleaned factory sign and neat windows with white blinds and then down through the railings over the basement to cracked paving, green with algae, dotted with cigarette ends, crushed paper cups and a can of Pepsi. As I try to remember what my mother and grandpa told me about that day, try to hear the tone of their voices, passers-by press against me, jabbering loudly: “Analyse this….listen, listen….Ha ha…..Go to reception then to the open plan…Do you ever stop? …..I have to work, I need to get some money….The man from Del Monte he say….” I cross to the emptier side of the street to where I stood at the time of the accident and realise now that not only was the photograph taken on the wrong day, but many things are reversed. The shop I’m walking towards is shown on the opposite side of the street and the window is the wrong side of the door. Inside the shop window my eye fixes on a small copy of a stone sphinx. It has a woman’s head, lion’s body, breasts where shoulders should be, wings and clawed feet. Another amalgam. An ancient, 3D collage. I stare at myself, looking back from the glass, smaller, fatter, wavier and know I’m a collage too. I’m the laugh on the phone to my friend Maeve, the irritable voice with the man who stepped on my toe, getting off the bus, the goose-bumped trunk of human flesh in the bath afterwards, the sculptured hair being sprayed in the mirror by the hairdresser, the squeezed lips and squinty eyes in my compact as I smear on my lipstick. Sometimes, like my puzzlement over that old pieced-together photo, I find it hard to recognise myself.

Kathryn Healey


Cinderella had eczema on her ankles.

Things happen.

Make a wish.

You notice everything John Milner and son.

I’d walk half a mile for a sandwich.

The tyres were hissing air.

Palm trees taken on as and luggage so the doors wouldn’t shut.

He was carrying a bunch of flowers.

Co – habit happily together – you me her.

Who knowing that would take a step further.

It dissolves in the seeing.

No white dress. No love of flower.

Half drunk bottle of coke.

Open her bag  and lay out her soul

– I knew before you did it that you would…

I will record my thoughts in my journal but I wouldn’t let anyone read it.

Difference in perception of all that happens around them in awareness of the present moment.

That’s a picture of you William, what it might be like to be dead.

I hear the shot in my dream.

Ghosts looking at ghosts sat in silence and emptied our minds.

Make a wish.

I couldn’t do it myself so I let you – the newly dead and yet to be born.

The ship did come for me and you rescued me.

You notice everything … cut into the future and  the present leaks out…

being trapped and nowhere to hear us.

She walks back to the empty bed and finds the future gone.

Geraldine Cornwall


TPG Burroughs studio


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