Lessons from the Statuary

Karen Skolfield

The closer to the torso, the better.
Endangered: fingers in a point,

nosetips, every blooded sword,
the knife’s ricasso, the cupid’s bow of lips,

a Roman nose, the dog’s upturned gaze,
the placid expression, the fierce.

Toes hidden beneath sandals fare better:
Every mother knows this.

Somewhere, a breeze so strong
it stirs the stone robe’s folds.

Imperial porphyry: Understand
that of the most beautiful things, there is less.

Even the music of the lyre broken away.
Don’t touch goes without saying.

The gaze of the guard is never returned.
Out in the courtyard, another wedding ends.

A boy shies from a hand to the shoulder
but will pose by the lion mauling the horse.

Once there were angel wings,
a baby held aloft. If halos, what halos.

A statue may give up a head so the rest survives.
Even the satyrs must have a rest.

More by Karen Skolfield

Epiphenomenon

I spend a long time considering pillowcases.
Which pillowcase does my head want for rest? 
A lace edge so that the cheek does not grow bored? 
 
All night the face turns on its pillow, 
bridging the day gone with its divination of tomorrow. 
The brain sleeps but the body twitches and kicks, 
 
lashes out, steals the sheets, twists the blankets 
into thick, furred knots. Thomas Huxley believed 
the mind’s shrill whistle contributed nothing 
 
to the locomotive body; Plato, that the mind 
knows great truths while the body lives in shadows.
What I know is how sleep releases the body 
 
from me telling it where to put its feet, its fingers, 
how the tongue should roll its Rs, when the teeth 
may bite or gnash. I give it my consideration 
 
of pillowcases, of lotions and textures it may like, 
or farther afield—an actual field—clover against 
the skin. The sound of insects rising as the sun sets, 
 
the head leaned back into a cradle of hands, 
how the head adores the hands though they 
are separated by so much and the jealousy of arms. 
 
Body, I will lay you down beside 
another body you have grown to love. 
I will bid you still in the moments before sleep 
 
and then I will hand you the keys to the house 
and let you spend the night plying all the locks. 
In the morning I will wash you with care 
 
and lead you around and treat you kindly 
and if there is sobbing it is not my sobbing 
and we will both pretend not to hear it.

At the Mall, There’s a Machine That Tells You If You Are Racist

It's right next to a Polariod booth.
The instructions say the needles are small
and barely felt. The pictures, it explains,
have nudity, but no gratuitous nudity.
Special imaging equipment considers
the color value of your own skin
and calibrates your reactions
to words shouted in your headphones.   
You know what words. Reading the instructions
brings some of these words to mind. You wonder
if this is part of the evaluation, if people
who are not racist think only of beautiful flowers,
or are beautiful flowers the very basis of racism?
Does everyone love the violet equally?
Does everyone think the tulip's been overdone?
You try to think of a brown flower.
There are some. You've seen them in catalogs.
They're called "chocolate." Black flowers, too,
with varieties named Nightwatch,
Black Pearl, a lily named Naomi Campbell.
Thinking of this makes you hopeful
the machine will know you're not a racist.
Or does remembering a black flower was named
Naomi Campbell mean you're a racist?
The inside of the booth is dimly lit with walls
that look as if they could swiftly close together.
Like a grape, you'd pop right out of your skin.

Art Project: Earth

Balloon, then papier mâché.
Gray paint, blue and turquoise, green,
a clouded world with fishing line attached
to an old light, original to the house, faux brass
chipping, discolored, an ugly thing. What must
the people of this planet think, the ground
knobby and dry, the oceans blue powder,
the farmland stiff and carefully maintained.
Sometimes they spin one direction,
then back again. How the coyotes howl.
How the people learn to love, regardless.
The majesty of their own towering hearts.
The mountains, which they agree are beautiful.
And the turquoise—never has there been
such a color, breaking into precious
and semi-precious stones. They build houses
from them, grand places of worship,
and there is much to worship. Look up,
for instance. Six suns. The wonder of it.
First one, then the next, eclipsing
the possibility that their world hangs by a thread.