I am in part calling the poems below collaborations, and I am also calling them in part Ekphrasis poems; each poem is written about a person, so they could be persona poems, but I don’t quite see them that way. Each subject is a visual artist; I have collaborated with Pauline Aubey with a painting/poem piece on Ophelia and Laura Palmer, and I am currently collaborating with Angelique Moselle on a painting/poem piece on Minnehaha; therefore, by extension, I see these poems below as collaborations. In thinking of them as collaborations, it also helps that I was required to get permission from them before publishing my work, and that they read their own pieces and “signed off” on them before publication.
(I am still waiting to get permission to post an image of Angelique.)
In terms of Ekphrasis, I used as my model not the two artists themselves so much as photographs of them. And so in using photographs of them as my guide, it is more ekphrasis. But I also used my own intuition and feelings from what I know of them as people and human beings, even though I have never formally met them, except through our mutual love for the publication of Poets and Artists.
And so, without further ado, here are my poems. I wrote one about each of them, and then a third about both of them. The third one is a sympoe, which is described here.
All three poems below were originally published in Poets and Artists, 2012. You can also listen to an audio of the first poem here.
OBSERVER WITH FIRED RED HAIR
My favorite hobby is to run
My fingers through her long hair, place my palm
At the small of her back, as if to rest
After breaking the ribbon, my aging skin refusing
To leave the fine smoothness of hers.
I let her blue eyes swallow me, leave her open lips alone,
Contaminate her left hip with a gentle peck.
She is a butcher when she begins,
Removing outer shells and exposing the wounds
Within us. She discovers our secrets in detail
With the perfect hue and a simple stroke.
Before we can fully exhale she becomes our surgeon,
Fitting pieces of ourselves together like a puzzle,
Solving our mysteries with oil and acrylic.
I watch this French portrait artist dote on her doll-like figures;
We are all subjects she scrutinizes even off
The canvas. Fine with me. Outline my flesh or no
I say from afar, across the ocean, unable to truly touch
This novel artist of human nature,
But the dream forgives my honesty, keeps me close
With skin on skin, palm to hip, fingertips through fire.
A woman of her times. Tattooed
In mystery, a history of art stunned
Into her smooth skin. She waits
On others, baits them with her beauty
And paints their auras and apparitions,
Bold portraits born in lush landscapes
of mountain tunnels and rock slides
Leading into Carolina’s bohemian trap.
(A man doesn’t have to have desperations
To see those butterflies in yellow hair
As she paints, lined impressions
Of a woman’s hand:
Loops and curls of scarlet on satin
As she bursts and crackles within,
Pauses her paint brush, peers
Out the window away from us,
So we steal a glance before she turns back,
Smelling the way a woman should.)
As our earth makes do through the labyrinth
Of the ordinary, she envelopes and recedes
From the flat land like the pulsating tail of a wave,
Melodious poses in model photos of her inner tributaries,
Portraits existentially placed
In the seductive second dimension right where
The dark back core of the surreal traps time
To make nature the way art intended.
SYMPOE FOR ART STUDENTS
This formal art instruction maddens her,
So she doodles down the margins of college rule.
This southern girl would rather see the school
Succumb to a rebel’s wish; she paints in hue
Of orange or blue where cheek and hair will do.
She thinks, There’s a rebel in everyone, behind
Polite facades of the non-creative mind —
The kind that only cares for logical art,
But she finds vibrancy beneath a faded heart.
This portrait artist will not cause a stir;
This formal art instruction maddens her.
This Portrait artist will not cause a stir:
She likes the doll-like skin she paints just fine!
But her college teacher faults her every time.
He wants to pull her off the Realism bench,
But he’s a Texan trying to teach the French.
She’s walked through Paris for years, and years again;
She’s never seen a man with scarlet skin.
But she paints them nonetheless, to please her grade,
And show the others the progress she has made.
Informal art instruction maddens her;
This portrait artist will not cause a stir.