"At 700 Nimes Road"

Kevin Shaw

Kevin Shaw is a poet and essayist living in Ottawa. He’s the author of a poetry collection, Smaller Hours (icehouse), and his poems and nonfiction have appeared in Arc, CV2, PRISM international, Event, and Best Canadian Essays 2018.

“I first encountered these photographs by American artist Catherine Opie when visiting the Tate Modern Gallery in London. Opie was allowed rare access to photograph Elizabeth Taylor’s Los Angeles home during a period of time when the actor was ill and, later, dying. I was fascinated by this example of ‘indirect portraiture’ (Taylor is never seen in the photographs, except in photographs of photographs), but I was especially taken with appearances of Opie’s faint reflection in various shots. 700 Nimes Road is Taylor’s address, as well as the title of the monograph collecting Opie’s photographs.”

     Elizabeth Taylor sleeps upstairs
     as Catherine Opie shoots a self-
     portrait in the glass of Warhol’s Liz
     (his silkscreen print a gift “to elizabeth

     with much love”), and ten years later,
     in a London museum full of uniformed
     schoolkids, I take a pic of Opie on
     Warhol on Liz—a selfie in the first person

     plural, a case the students are instructed
     to avoid, but forgive. They sketch her still
     lives: the Oscars, the angel trinkets, Liza’s
     sculpted horses. At Elizabeth’s bedside:

     photographs of Michael Jackson,
     a TV remote’s operating guide. AIDS
     ribbons, like a clutch of jeweled poppies
     in a black velvet field, and the palimpsest

     dresses, caftans, shoes, handbags, purses
     are years arranged by cut, colour, and designer
     to be slipped, shrugged, or torn off—dying’s
     diachronic undressing. Then, a star’s

     set pieces: tiaras in soft focus and Richard
     Burton, smiling. After her death, Opie shot
     Taylor’s diamonds boxed for the Sotheby’s
     auction; the women never met. Now, the kids

     are ushered on by a tired docent. What to do
     but lay our reflected faces, too, against the vanity’s
     mirror, where Colin Farrell once scrawled

     in lipstick, as a reminder or a prayer
     for a future dinner date, and be proximate,
     momentarily, to this queer immortality
     we’ve traded the famous for our gazes.