Brooklyn Museum

by June Lei

The guards have ghost stories.
They stand at their posts for hours,
so if you greet them, they’ll keep you for conversation.
Their families are all rooted deep in the borough,
Ellis Island-deep: meet the last generation of a long line
protecting their city by walking circles around the galleries.

The fifth floor has the enormous Bierstadt and jewel-toned galleries,
salon-style portraits, wall-texts composed stories.
Two paintings of George Washington, his grimace pursed into a line
as if the time between his portraits were not years, but hours
and he knew that two of his oily faces would show in this borough,
as if it were not just a geographical mishap, a mention in conversation.

Brooklyn: as if her changing body didn’t come up in every conversation,
didn’t show in every visitor, every face in each gallery,
even in the silver waterside buildings rising on the edges of the borough.
Between the bricks of each old brownstone are histories and stories.
How the skyline rises and falls, by circular years, days, hours,
the changing colors fade on a gradient line.

And the colors of the museum change too. The admission line
stretches throughout the glass atrium. People taking pictures, people in conversation.
The picture takes a minute. The paintings take hours,
of perusing through the galleries
and feeling out the heart in artwork, the pieces’s stories:
Décontractée by Louise Bourgeois deserves its own borough. 

Every piece that stands in this adjacent borough
has a weight so deep it would sink the poor city’s grid lines
should it cross the East River. I have heard stories
that there are bodies in the river: good for a conversation
had while walking through the spiraling galleries
of the Brooklyn Museum for days upon hours.

It is different on this side of the city, where the hours
spent widen out like the space of the borough.
They don’t press like fatigue of the artwork, of the galleries.
For this museum, no visitors in line
does not mean a stop in conversation:
the artwork keeps giving their endless stories.

And if you spend hours with a piece, noticing its details and lines,
then it won’t leave you after you leave the borough, end the conversation.
The ghosts of the galleries stay with you, whispering their stories.

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