(Gwen John, Painter, Rodin’s Model)
Cinnabar, Phoenician red, wild
geranium—to be played against
olive and smoky lime, a
mercury luster: quicksilver
the soul, most visible
in the empty room. Who saw
the wicker armchair open like Danae
to the cataract of citrus
light? Whose coat lies flung
across the frame? The Parisian garret
window gapes ajar, the bare
floor crackles, book
lies torqued along its spine,
splayed. “I don’t pretend
to know anybody well: people
are like shadows to me and I
am a shadow.” Her job: years
in an empty room, to wait.
The woman waits, the Master breaks his cloud-
then she stands torqued
along her spine, splayed, in plaster
rises, an immortal
armless Muse turning
from him who turns from her. “Oh what
adieu?” Raw sienna,
Payne’s gray, Naples yellow: she spins
her color wheel, grips
her brush. No adieu
but to twist in the Master’s ever-vanishing
embrace, to strike his poses,
plead, then lead
the long, fevered, scumbled hours alone.
“Make your harmonies, make
your harmonies.” Her brush
her own. And when the god, exhausted, dies,
she reigns already
in her vacancy:
has rendered from sunset, salmon, ashen-blue,
“Method: snowdrop in earth—
the road—the pink flower—“
“We must go on with our mysterious work.”
This poem originally appeared in American Poets, Spring-Summer 2016. Copyright © Rosanna Warren. Used with permission of the author.
It is not miraculous. Only a handful of silica, fire,
and then the blower twirls another knob of gold
on his metal pontil, dipping the tip into a pot
inlaid with spikes to make the burning globe
twist in upon itself as the man breathes out
and a thick neck bulges, wreathes into a spiral
like a unicorn horn; but we’re bored, he’s
bored, blowing and blowing the same shape over.
It takes no effort. He stares off through one
of the factory windows as he does it, beneath a sign,
No Flash, a red line drawn through a cartoon camera
to indicate the work is private, dangerous.
The man’s tongs pinch out a chest, a neck, the crowd
applauding each development though it has seen
the same thing around the corner.
We know what will come next. The man
reaches into the bright elastic to yank
a fat neck forward, to pinch out hair, a shovel-
shaped face; to pull out one thin, bent leg
and then another, the glass itself now tinged with ash
as the fire runs out of it, dimming to topaz,
caramel. He splashes water on the irons
to make them smoke. It must be dangerous, this
material, or why else would we watch?
The blower has a bald patch, earrings, scars.
He dips his tongs once more into the figure
and out come back legs, a tail. The neck twists
and now the little face has a mouth that’s open,
screaming. The tail’s curled filament starts to thread
as the pontil pulls away. You want to say
“like taffy,” but don’t. It is not sweet.
Only a spark of heat and then the inevitable
descending numbness. Someone laughs.
Someone takes a photo. For a moment, the room
fills with light behind which we hear
the scissor’s dulling snap.
Our senses return stretched thinner, fine.
We can almost feel the shattering of the glass.
From Imaginary Vessels. Copyright © 2016 by Paisley Rekdal. Used by permission of Copper Canyon Press, www.coppercanyonpress.org.
Disembark the Turners seem to say,
those starburst barges glowing in the dusk,
but I can’t read old Rembrandt,
his guarded eyes are jewels, like black men.
Even the loaned, marble busts
of kings and soldiers fail to arrest you.
It’s nearly closing time. The elderly linger,
rapt. Who has looked at either of you lately
with such tenderness?
Entering the narrow hall,
I ignore my favorite portraits, their ruffles
and bodices, carnations and powder puffs,
afraid to share my joy with you,
yet your bearing in this space—the procession
of your shoulders, the crowns of your heads—
makes them sing anew.
You are both good men.
Walk into the Fragonard Room. You both seem bored still.
It’s fine. Perhaps we can progress like these panels,
slowly and without words, here—the city
where I first knew men in the dark—
in this gold and feminine room.
Copyright © 2015 by Derrick Austin. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 23, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.
I am not a painter, I am a poet.
Why? I think I would rather be
a painter, but I am not. Well,
for instance, Mike Goldberg
is starting a painting. I drop in.
“Sit down and have a drink” he
says. I drink; we drink. I look
up. “You have SARDINES in it.”
“Yes, it needed something there.”
“Oh.” I go and the days go by
and I drop in again. The painting
is going on, and I go, and the days
go by. I drop in. The painting is
finished. “Where’s SARDINES?”
All that’s left is just
letters, “It was too much,” Mike says.
But me? One day I am thinking of
a color: orange. I write a line
about orange. Pretty soon it is a
whole page of words, not lines.
Then another page. There should be
so much more, not of orange, of
words, of how terrible orange is
and life. Days go by. It is even in
prose, I am a real poet. My poem
is finished and I haven’t mentioned
orange yet. It’s twelve poems, I call
it ORANGES. And one day in a gallery
I see Mike’s painting, called SARDINES.
“Why I Am Not a Painter,” copyright © 2008 by Maureen Granville-Smith, from Selected Poems by Frank O’Hara, edited by Mark Ford. Used by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved.
is even more fun than going to San Sebastian, Irún, Hendaye, Biarritz, Bayonne
or being sick to my stomach on the Travesera de Gracia in Barcelona
partly because in your orange shirt you look like a better happier St. Sebastian
partly because of my love for you, partly because of your love for yoghurt
partly because of the fluorescent orange tulips around the birches
partly because of the secrecy our smiles take on before people and statuary
it is hard to believe when I’m with you that there can be anything as still
as solemn as unpleasantly definitive as statuary when right in front of it
in the warm New York 4 o’clock light we are drifting back and forth
between each other like a tree breathing through its spectacles
and the portrait show seems to have no faces in it at all, just paint
you suddenly wonder why in the world anyone ever did them
at you and I would rather look at you than all the portraits in the world
except possibly for the Polish Rider occasionally and anyway it’s in the Frick
which thank heavens you haven’t gone to yet so we can go together for the first time
and the fact that you move so beautifully more or less takes care of Futurism
just as at home I never think of the Nude Descending a Staircase or
at a rehearsal a single drawing of Leonardo or Michelangelo that used to wow me
and what good does all the research of the Impressionists do them
when they never got the right person to stand near the tree when the sun sank
or for that matter Marino Marini when he didn’t pick the rider as carefully
as the horse
it seems they were all cheated of some marvelous experience
which is not going to go wasted on me which is why I’m telling you about it
From The Collected Poems of Frank O’Hara by Frank O’Hara, copyright © 1971 by Maureen Granville-Smith, Administratrix of the Estate of Frank O’Hara, copyright renewed 1999 by Maureen O’Hara Granville-Smith and Donald Allen. Used by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved.
Before the stepwork and the fretwork,
before the first wet spiral leaves the brush,
before the plucking of the geese’s quills,
before the breaking of a thousand leads,
before the curving limbs and wings
of hounds, cats, and cormorants
knot into letters, before the letters knot
into the Word, Eadfrith ventures from his cell,
reed basket on his arm, past Cuthbert’s grave,
past the stockyard where the calves’ cries bell,
and their blood illuminates the dirt as ink
on vellum, across the glens and woods
to gather woad and lichens, to the shores
to gather shells. The earth, not the cell,
is his scriptorium, where he might see
the interlace of branch and twig and leaf;
how green bleeds brown when fields are plowed;
how green banks blue where grass gives way to sea;
how blue twists into white in swirling lines
purling through the water and the sky.
Before the skinning of a hundred calves,
before the stretching and the scraping of their hides,
before the boiling vinegar, the toasting lead,
the bubbling orpiment and verdigris,
before the glair cracks from the egg,
before the monk perfects his recipe
(egg white, oak-gall, iron salt, mixed
in a tree-stump, some speculate)
to make the pigments glorious to the Lord,
before Eadfrith’s fingers are permanently stained
the colors of his world—crimson, emerald,
cerulean, gold—outside the monastery walls,
in the village, with its brown hounds
spooking yellow cats stalking green-black birds,
on the purple-bitten lips of peasants
his gospel’s corruption already sings forth
in vermilion ink, firebrands on a red calf’s hide—
though he’ll be dead before the Vikings sail,
and two centuries of men and wars
will pass before his successor Aldred
pierces Eadfrith’s text with thorn,
ash, and all the other angled letters
of his gloss. Laced between the lines of Latin,
the vernacular proclaims, in one dull tint,
a second illumination,
of which Eadfrith was not unaware:
this good news is for everyone,
like language, like color, like air.
Excerpted from Scriptorium: Poems by Melissa Range (Beacon Press, 2016). Reprinted with Permission from Beacon Press.