Winter: Camden Street (1965) by Colin Middleton                                       Oil on canvas, Crawford Art Gallery, Cork

Shame is cobalt. Regret cerulean. Pain azure.

The unctuous worm that oozes from a tube of Prussian Blue: they say it has the tincture of cyanide in it.

The pale blue veins of my garret companion: a cicatrice on each wrist memorialising the razor’s slow traverse.

Crushed underfoot, in Navy blue rig, John Player’s ensigns lie stern and unfeeling in their open graves. Sailors on battleships sunk in lightless depths where the swirling involutions of blue and black splice and twine to embroider oblivion’s pall.

Cold pervades. A shilling is thumbed into the gas meter and the hissing stream ignites: a searing incandescence fringed with an aureole of Marian blue, like a grotto apparition in miniature, without revelations.

Through the window, the moon traces a slow passage over our apportioned wedge of sky: a shroud of midnight blue encircling the dazzling ultraviolet. Arcs of doorways reflect in the puddles below, their toothsome leers spangled with streetlight stars of paste diamond.

A breathless voyeur presses against the clouded glass. Grids of leaded lights dissecting my vision like a naturalist’s quadrat cataloguing the insentient life beyond. I open the latch and the feline east-west streetwinds curl around my feet. Far below, failed poets reel from Cassidy’s Bar reciting their high-lonesome mantras.

Then silence.

In Camden Street, silence is porphyry flecked with crimson and gold.

In a instant I am transported. The street below has ceased to be. There is no horizon here to bisect the diurnal blue; just the atrophied landscapes of brick and stone and the infinite rooftops. The redbrick chimneys are my battlements. The Bleeding Horse my outer ward. Number 75, Flat 3b: an impregnable barbican to the acropolis. Only ultramarine, mined in farthest Samarkand, is fit to adorn the robes of this Byzantine autocrat.

My envoys and pashas: stannates and cyanates, lapis and alum.

Wandering searchlights of the approaching dawn scythe away my vision and the sky lightens from its deep-sea dreams to an electrified Titianesque: a chromatic surge unfolding as much within me as without. They say that the sky is blue from dust-scattered light and this miasmic pigment, this roiling fog of pollution, billows up around me as the architecture of my crepuscular world collapses – slow, dreamlike, graceful – like the public demolition of some obsolete industrial ruin.

When empires fall, all that remains is the unsettled dust to stain the sky.

I am usurped and overthrown, my traitorous head spiked upon the city walls. I light another cigarette and cense the indifferent metropolis with a tarry blast from the thurible of my consumptive lung.

Camden Street 1965, tincture of cyanide — do not lick the brush.