Tag Archives: ekphrasis

ekphrasis again

here’s an ode to henri rousseau, the jungle painter who never left paris.


The Dream, Henri Rousseau 1910

Rousseau Relives the Jungle
You follow the soothsayer shadow with her lute
and cobra boa through the season of tiger lilies—
she is an anti-Eve hip-swaying down the black paths
of Paradise, fanned by murky hands of leaf-gloom.
These are the visions that haunt you:
apes among the tangerines, a reticulated sky
of palms and coral sun, the leer of alligator grass
and the blush of the lotus like each kiss-kernel of love
you left in her neck—Oh Henri, awake from your stupor,
your periwinkle daze. Come back to us from the gardens,
the Edens labyrinthine beneath your lids—your trance
is a planar place falling flat on the canvas, but we feel
the stir of teal and linseed on your palette, the rush
of flight you took over the hurricane’s eye. You are
a golden beast prowling indigo thickets, ambushing
the antelope and biting deep into the heavy humid
of flesh and blood, leaving scars nestled in the clavicle.
Your surprise blooms in the gesso wash unfurling
thick as a dream from your brush and lingers
like the drift of jasmine on an electric breeze.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under New Writing, Poetry, Summer work, Unedited, Unpublished

ekphrasis–my faaaave.

here are a couple of ekphrastic pieces for class. one is an ekphrastic piece based on henry ossawa tanner’s the banjo lesson, which is BEAUTIFUL.
the second is based on the life and work of david foster wallace. his 2006 commencement speech has been mentioned elsewhere as the inspiration for some of my recent work…i thought delving into his life a little would be interesting as well. i was not disappointed, but i hope my poem does him a little justice.

The Banjo
Inspired by the painting The Banjo Lesson by Henry Ossawa Tanner

In this body there is so much pain,
can you hear it? Carried over from far-off
sea-coasts, its name dreaming of a lost lingual
land, the banjo leans into your lap, remembering
its polyrhythmic history. Your fingers find
the long paths of gut and copper, learning
to clawhammer and dropthumb, to strum
the arpeggio notes of knock-down rag ditties,
to pluck tones of the cooleset blues.
What are words to you, what is this song
you stumble to pump through your young lungs?
Against me, you are so small—a warm, beating
body as alive as the too-big organ in your arms.
Steadying the neck like a tiller, my hands
are scuffed leather and weathered wood,
resolute granite nobly crumbling back
into the land that bore me. I will guide you
over heaving seas and rolling drones,
deliver you to the truest tunes. My baby,
open your ears to the yowl yawning
through the stretched-hide drum face,
an echo resonating beyond our circling
of elbows, wrists and thighs—
to that trembling note singing deeper
than the dull twang of age and land,
bowed faces and broken hearts.

Hibernation
For David Foster Wallace

A boy from Ithaca, you knew the white walls
of snow ridges and ranges, heavy quilts
of frozen water weighing you down
as you scissored angels into the drift sides.
You were the best of them, hurling hunks
of ice from rusted car bumpers in the farthest
arcs to the point of exhaustion—burning
deltoids, numb fingers, collapsed lungs.

You followed your father to his alma mater
and aced modal logic, philosophy, mathematics—
they worshipped you. Summa cum laude,
postmodern novelist, they diagnosed you
‘a brilliant ironist,’ ‘the voice of a generation,’
earnest, intelligent, clinically depressed.

Your brain enslaves you while drugs fight
to free you: Paxil, Zoloft, Prozac, Tofranil,
in combination with unilateral ECT
(during a two-week voluntary in-patient course),
Parnate both with and without lithium salts,
Nardil both with and without Xanax. What

goes on inside is too fast and huge
and all interconnected for words to do more
than sketch the outlines. You want to stop
moving through your rounds: booking tours
and deadlines, bills and banking—your default
setting of solitude in a sea of humans.

From your window in Claremont, severed
from the manic pull of verbal calisthenics
and the avant-garde—of topping your keystone
with another crown—you have a vision
of a blue hole in a northeastern snowbank
where your body can rest; sleep off the hardest part,
dream, awaken later to tackle reality.

In the sling of your homemade noose, you slipped off
every fear of failure like icepacks pressing
into your skull, hard, cold, too heavy to bear.
It was easier to drift into deeper sleep than
stay awake in the winter of a writer in demand.
In your chest, the language was so barren, so tired.
You saw so little left. You had to conserve.

1 Comment

Filed under for class, New Writing, Poetry, Unedited, Unpublished

THIS WAS SO HARD.

I tried really really hard.
The prompt was to stick to sonnet form, so I tried to be strict: iambic pentameter, 14 lines, the whole bit.
BUT IT WAS SO HARD.
I also couldn’t really pick a topic, so I tried an ekphrastic piece based on Matisse’s The Goldfish and also drew on experiences in my childhood when my brother pulled an entire fish tank down on himself and killed some unfortunate creature we won at the State Fair.
Betta fish are so overrated. That shitty carnival pet will always have a soft spot in my heart…

Goldfish
For Oscar.

The goldfish tick on silver water chains.
They loop their sleeve of glass and keep the beat:
finned pocket watches, gulping copper clocks.
They circle the bowl, their womb, and dream of amber
with flashing flanks wriggling in orange whorls.
All night, the goldfish spin on Shinto smooth
brushstrokes in my brain. A goldfish mind
forgets, but I don’t sleep, afraid of what
comes swimming up from deep inside of me.
A peach bubble, a cloud, a goldfish makes
another lazy turn in the depths of its tank,
and I draw their petal curves, their bodies
like knotted fists that open as easy
as a girl’s hand unfolding, floating in death.

Leave a comment

Filed under for class, New Writing, Poetry, Unedited, Unpublished