Jean Arp in the Studio at Meudon
Full morning sunlight slants through the wide windows Of what looks to be a sort of fashionable warehouse. A bare beam cleaves the ceiling, and two big, heavy tables Occupy most of the clean-swept floor. Outside: A stone wall, and some dense, suburban trees. It’s nineteen sixty-two. Sophie Taeuber, whom Arp loved, Is twenty years dead, and the master himself is seventy-four. Upon the tables, a score of sculptures in white marble Exists in a veritable flood of sun: mainly mis- Shapen spheres, some of them resting on cylinders; But also two elongated, vaguely female figures, Which seem informed not so much by grief, nor by desire As by the unselfconscious intensity of pure being. It is both easy and difficult to imagine the pleasure Of running one’s hands over such sublime curvature, and yet The sensation would have nothing to do with the sunlit albescence Of the stone. Four years from now, the master will be dead, And twenty years from now, I, on a gray November day in a museum in Chicago, will stand transfixed before the very sculpture he is filing with such care. The piece of marble is about the size of a melon, and Arp steadies it on the table with one hand, as if slicing a melon. His work clothes are clean, what’s left of his hair is white, And his face is set in the serene love of labor as he leans, Surrounded by beautiful objects made entirely of light.
The First Summer Meditation
If the twentieth century doesn’t suit you, you can go screw yourself. It was the year you dreamed your one-sixteenth of Indian blood had surged inside you. It was deep summer. And then there’s the scene in Body Heat where Bill Hurt is gazing at the dripping Florida stars while Kathleen Turner goes down on him. Little Heather’s nightmare and the puzzling passage of the sad clown in the music wagon. If to fuck is to know, what is to fall back from fucking and feel the terrible emptiness of things? A boy whipping the curb with a whittled-down mimosa branch and chanting: “When I grow up I want to be dead.” You fell so far into the negative space of paintings you couldn’t find your way back out, so now you have to hang there, crucified, on the gallery wall. There was tea on the samovar. A sonata tiptoed through the rooms, timid as the ghost of a child. Still, the peasant blinking from sweat at the magnificent Russian sky smelled only the rye in rot all around him and heard absolutely nothing. And it is always Sunday afternoon, and no one ever comes to see us. She told me that, for nights after he left, she could still smell him on the pillow. Scent remembers. August. Daisies grow heavy with dust under the sky a bomber is slicing beyond repair.
The Rothko Chapel at Houston
We’ve circled inside the octagon, admired the way it contains itself, looked at the icons without referent, and walked back into the world. Now we loll in the iridescence of late afternoon under the live oaks, feeling somewhat abstracted from the chapel. Barnett Newman’s Broken Obelisk points at heaven. The lights turns green in the leaves. The reflecting fountain changes its mind with the sky’s. There is a drone of traffic from the street. There is, too, a longing after what we cannot say… —How easily it translates us into its own tongue, this new love of ours. We begin again with a wonder fresh as the world’s, speaking the strange language… And the light becomes us, who last as long as the light.
Written in Dark Glasses
for Beckie A Saturday in September, ten A.M. I’m sitting in the Café on the Alley, Wearing black sunglasses bought on sale. It’s nineteen eighty-four, if that matters. Everything here’s so arty it’s almost Embarrassing: the watercolors framed in chrome, The rickety tables, the curvaceous chairs, The philodendra trying to crawl away. I think Vermeer would have wept with joy at all this, Or disgust—as I could do, with a hangover In my left brain and salvation in my right. We’ve sweat out the summer together, and now The first cold night had rarefied the air And blown the sky a deep Venetian blue. Walking through the courtyard among the milky stautes, My leather jacket hugged me like a friend. For the moment it’s enough for me to love This pastrami and swiss on rye, this wedge Of pickle shaped like a ship, this coffee Sculpted by its heavy cup. But when the smoke Of my cigarette is rising toward the skylight In a shaft of sun, I’ll consider how you must Still be sleeping under the bright patchwork quilt, Or just stretching awake, reaching and finding no one. And then I’ll stare out at the ivy spread like a great Painting on the brick wall across the alley, And think to myself how much it resembles you— Its invisible growing, its inevitable withdrawal.
Small Crime in Chicago
1 I think it’s somewhere just north of Lafayette that I realize I’ll grow old. The three of us, headed for the Impressionist exhibition, are doing seventy-five in Dave’s Camaro, I sipping my faithful Scotch, Dee Dee from the back seat pressing her voice and scent and delicately French face forward to share a joint with Dave, who claims he can see just great in the torrential rain. I feel a little like the dying Somerset Maugham, not understanding these two: not Dave, with his new music and random speech; not Dee Dee, with her laughter that promises splendid rooms I’ll never find the doors to. We’ve got a full tank and five hundred dollars between us, and probably that much more in controlled substances, but all I can think of is the rain and the distancing dark and how, someday, and for some untold reason, I’ll have to die here, in desolate Indiana. 2 When Dee Dee touches the white marble sculpture by Jean Arp, setting off the alarms and getting us thrown out of the museum before we’d even seen the Impressionist show, we said nothing. Chicago in late November was cold, Lake Michigan freezing over and wind through the streets like the ghost of a Russian army. We got cheeseburgers and dark beers in the Underground. “Well, Dee Dee,” Dave said through half-clenched teeth as we sat smoking, “was it worth it?” She held up her mittened hand and closed her eyes to feel the Arp sculpture again, then whispered simply, “Yes.” 3 Dee Dee had found a punk drummer to make love with. Dave and I, feeling forlorn, played blackjack for shots of Cutty Sark till two in the morning, then went off looking for an open bar without success. Finally we asked this kid in a snowsuit, silver boots, and sunglasses, who said to follow him. The “bar” was one partitioned-off corner of an abandoned warehouse, and the patrons were big black guys dancing in pairs. We paid ten dollars for a pint of Jack Daniel’s and got out of there. “Do you know where the fuck we are, man?” Dave shook his head no. Tossing the bottle back and forth under the silent El, we set off in what we could only hope was the right direction. 4 Our last day in the city, I got up early and left the hotel looking for used bookstores—the chill air scraping at my hangover, hardly anyone on the streets that hour. A black man and I came around a corner at the same time, startling each other. “Hey,” he said in a gravelly tenor, “got a light?” I cupped a match to his pin joint, noticing that his face was more gray than brown. I asked him about bookstores. He said there was one two blocks down, but I knew we weren’t talking about the same thing. We thanked each other, then got on with our lives.
JOE BOLTON was born in 1961. He published three collections of poems, including Breckenridge Suite, Days of Summer Gone, and The Last Nostalgia, this last edited by Donald Justice. He died, a victim of suicide, in 1990. 42 Miles Press is publishing an uncollected poems of Joe Bolton in the near future.
Artwork by David Dodd Lee.
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