Catherine Ormell

When did dreams of polymathy die?

When did dreams of polymathy die
Bodys Isek Kingelez City Dreams at MoMA, New York

When did dreams of polymathy die and estrangements emerge on the scene?

Among unsqueamish friends, I make cautious enquiries about their histories. Might they unearth a practically-forgotten afternoon, spot some shared crop-circle pattern?

Dizzy with peregrination, I find myself back in my private mash-up of green-check shirts, a crocodile snap of a specs’ case, a stagey swirl of a school cape that the other families shunned that encompassed my blue-lipped mother’s pluck and belied our stricken household economy.

Then my hearing was whole, art held no fear, and my map of the Rhine & Rhône, imperfect but with original rolled-up twigs of crêpe paper, lurid fists of grapes humming and scaled grandly as intermediate nuclear power stations… Hang on a second, did I ever finish it?

Plum-coloured inks gleam on scraps, while the larger scene runs away from me.

First published in The Times Literary Supplement