Here you are in front of mirrors
naked then clothed in suits of dead fathers.
Here you’ve painted a tree
Which is really you stepping over
fields and fences.
Here you’re a prisoner covered in red coats.
Jackdaws settle in trees outside your cell.
You write, “A single orange was the only light.”
As soldier you do not fight but guard prisoner,
as your uncle Leopold guarded you
with his mustache and cane.
Here your mistress kneels on all fours.
You position her according to large mirrors.
She buries her face, appears headless.
She might be a table.
It is 1914 there are whole towns of women
turned chairs, figurines, pieces of cloth.
The men are heads, hands, shirt fronts flashing.
Because her skin is paper you dab it with vermillion.
Its toxic mercury light breasts, heels, and ankles.
Mined in China, Sin door to Indians,
it is the mark of marriage, more expensive than gilding.
This woman will never wear your mark.
You intend to marry well, one of two sisters.
Their father is a master locksmith.
They walk in clean Protestant light.
Besides, marriage ruins good mistresses.
At news of your intentions she leaves you
in fields of rock with torsos and faces.
Now it is you that kneels, ankle lodged
between two stones.
Sharp toothed artists of Vienna,
you’ve given us men with green faces,
eyes rimmed in red, afraid of losing
their right hand.
They observe it severed in dreams.
They treat it with electro shock.
It jumps and jumps.
Like you we open and close windows,
piece meal pay checks, walk doorway
to doorway dirtying floors.
Like you we wait for catastrophe
and know it has already happened.
open to a blank page just in case
just in case this document is ready to become a documentation
a documentation of that which is already happening, in progress
a contemporaneous convergence, if you will.
crude, and yet we all agree: Beautiful
though beautiful hardly fits the bill as an attempt at describing
describing but just scratching the surface, grazing the veneer
these are the words. this is the phrasing.
each line is a happening in it self
itself taking shape as the words spill out and spill onto
spill onto and across in the form of a poem, fashion a verse
make from nothing but the words in my head: Something.
there’s a catbird in the Xylosma
not nesting, exactly, but living
or hiding from the rain that’s recently returned
after just one day to drain
assess the damage and be thankful for none
the catbird flits about
and I can’t decide if
it is doing so nervously
or in a rather cavalier fashion
either to herself or at me
she’s peeking through the cool dark of her dense shelter
from branch to branch hopping
getting up to eye level
maybe to assess the threat
and be thankful for none
I, perhaps nervously, step away
from the bulging hedge
begging to be pruned
pack a bowl
and smoke it
as the catbird looks on
Ralph Gibson, capturing a certain classical chiaroscuro, wading in the stark, yet puzzling enigmas of a fleeting glance, summoning calculus-inducing curves –