Photographs of the Interiors of Dictators’ Houses

Albert Goldbarth

It’s as if every demon from hell with aspirations
toward interior design flew overhead and indiscriminately
spouted gouts of molten gold, that cooled down
into swan-shape spigots, doorknobs, pen-and-inkwell sets.
A chandelier the size of a planetarium dome
is gold, and the commodes. The handrails
heading to the wine cellar and the shelving for the DVDs
and the base for the five stuffed tigers posed in a fighting phalanx:
gold, as is the samovar and the overripe harp
and the framework for the crocodile-hide ottoman and settee.
The full-size cinema theater accommodating an audience
of hundreds for the screening of home (or possibly
high-end fuck flick) videos: starred in gold
from vaulted ceiling to clawfoot legs on the seating.
Of course the scepter is gold, but the horns
on the mounted stag heads: do they need to be gilded?
Yes. And the olive fork and the French maid’s row of dainty buttons
and the smokestack on the miniature train
that delivers golden trays of dessert from the kitchen
to a dining hall about the size of a zip code,
and the snooker table’s sheathing, and the hat rack,
and those hooziewhatsit things in which you slip your feet
on the water skis, and the secret lever
that opens the door to the secret emergency bunker.
Smug and snarky as we are, in our sophisticated
and subtler, non-tyrannical tastes, it’s still
unsettling to realize these photographs are also full
of the childrens’ pictures set on a desk,
the wife’s diploma proudly on a wall, the common
plastic container of aspirin, and the bassinette
with the scroll of linen shade at the ready
in case the sun is too powerful: reminders of how
a graduated continuum connects these überoperatically
fat interior lives to our own. We all desire
“more” and “better,” Melville adds that final “e”
to the family name, and Faulkner adds the “u,” in quest
of a signified gentility. My friend Damien
(fake name) won A Certain Literary Award, and
at the stellar after-ceremony party, in the swank hotel’s
swank atrium, he found a leggy literary groupie
noshing caviar under a swankily lush mimosa,
and in under an hour his own swank room could boast
the golden statuette, the evening’s loveliest woman, and
the silver serving platter of five-star caviar,
and if you think this story’s moral lesson is
that satiation is ever attained, you don’t understand
the protoknowledge we’re born with, coded into our cells:
soon soon soon enough we die. Even before we’ve seen
the breast, we’re crying to the world that we want;
and the world doles out its milkiness in doses. We
want, we want, we want, and if we don’t then
that’s what we want; abstemiousness is only
hunger translated into another language. Yes
there’s pain and heartsore rue and suffering, but
there’s no such thing as “anti-pleasure”: it’s pleasure
that the anchorite takes in his bleak cave
and Thoreau in his bean rows and cabin. For Thoreau,
the Zen is: wanting less is wanting more.
Of less. At 3 a.m. Marlene (fake name) and Damien
drunkenly sauntered into and out of the atrium,
then back to his room: he wanted the mimosa too,
and there it stood until checkout at noon, a treenapped testimony
to the notion that we will if we can, as evidenced in even
my normally modest, self-effacing friend. If we can,
the archeological record tells us, we’ll continue wanting
opulently even in the afterlife: the grave goods
of pharaohs are just as gold as the headrests
and quivers and necklace pendants they used every day
on this side of the divide, the food containers
of Chinese emperors are ready for heavenly meals
that the carved obsidian dragons on the great jade lids
will faithfully guard forever. My own
innate definition of “gratification” is right there
in its modifier “immediate,” and once or twice
I’ve hurt somebody in filling my maw. I’ve walked
—the normally modest, self-effacing me—below a sky
of stars I lusted after as surely as any despot
contemplating his treasury. The slice of American cheese
on the drive-thru-window burger is also gold,
bathetically gold,
and I go where my hunger dictates.

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