Megan Beech: 'I Watched Tilda Swinton Be a Vampire'
How can you have lived so long and still not get it? This self obsession, it's a waste of living that could be spent on surviving things, appreciating nature, nurturing kindness and friendship. And dancing
--Eve to Adam, Only Lovers Left Alive (2013), dir. Jim Jarmusch
I watched Tilda Swinton be a vampire: a shrouded frame of Latinate grace, sunglassed face, and tight white leather. And I wondered whether, if I lived forever, I could weather the weal and woe of the world. Would I too devote myself to learning all languages? Would my long pale fingers lie languorous across the annals of human history, carving out comfort in the vellum of its volumes? Perhaps I’d have the compulsion to finally read Proust after a thousand years lost in time. Tilda’s suitcases in death look like mine in life: foresaking clothing for Quixote and Kafka and Shafak and Basquiat.
I think of the things that I could unravel and capture from deep time’s cavities. What about your heroes? What will I make of mine, when they have vanished beyond the horizon line? Monk and Mary Wollstonecraft, Patti Smith and Purcell, Keaton and Keats, Holiday and Coltrane, Tesla and Mark Twain: a hall of fame for those who hang on our walls in frames, and loiter in our breaths and our brains, in the depths of our strange. We keep them safe as we dance and dine and lounge with wine in fictive solipsistic existence.
Yet if we pause to listen, the planet drones an ominous tune anew. The universe howls like a wolf at the moon, echoing through ages ancient to Anthropocene. Tilda finds Fly Agaric - psychoactive toadstools - in her beloved’s back garden. They are startling, nestled at the foot of a tree growing far from fruiting season. It is reason for alarm, a planetary doom scroll, a warning that warming is near.
You know, you guys shouldn’t really be here, Tilda tells the mushroom caps in hushed, reverential, parental tones. Entangled life that thrives beneath our toes. Without it we’d die.
Her anti-diurnal, eternal boyfriend is right: We don’t know shit about fungi.
And it is hard to try to harvest hope when you have for centuries seen the way the wind will blow, the billowing smoke, the future of folk. We cannot know whether our cities will blossom from their bin fires, rise with life from the brink of burning and bloom. Detroit or detritus? Battles lost or won? These things lie unknown behind our next sun.
And we two old ones, twinned-soul ones, Trapped By a Thing Called Love. We bear the paleo pallor of prehistoric paramours, holding hands in tandem with the heady and heavy we encounter in the process of living forever. When only lovers are left alive, what within us can survive?
Love, but not the Larkin kind. Not frozen in stone but ever evolving and eldritch and astral, a connection both galactic and fragile: a cosmic kismet, an arcane kinship. Coffin, double-breasted, sealed hermetic, embedded in the dust of quintessence together.
I watched Tilda Swinton be a vampire and I wondered if we can live forever.
Megan Beech is an award-winning performance poet. She is the author of two collections and her work has featured on the BBC and Sky One. She has recently completed her PhD at University of Cambridge on Dickens’s readings.