By LEA GRAHAM.
Genius, (n.) a quasi-mythological personification of something immaterial (as a virtue, custom, institution, etc.), esp. as portrayed in painting or sculpture.
—For Bob Archambeau
Warhol . . . took considerable pride in financing his nephew’s studies for the priesthood. And he regularly helped out at a shelter serving meals to the homeless and hungry… The knowledge of this secret piety inevitably changes our perception of an artist who fooled the world into believing that his only obsessions were money, fame, glamour….
It’s a fact that Andy Warhol
went to mass every Sunday.
Don’t believe me. Look it up.
Refer to his 60 Last Suppers
near the end of his life.
One might think
there is meaning to be found
if you look deeply into the color
and shadow of Jesus, Marilyn’s lips,
Campbell Soup’s near-Café Aroma.
But blankness was the quality
he most loved: Plastic. White on white.
He yearned for vacuity
in others, himself.
The more you look
at the same exact thing,
the more the meaning
goes away, the better
and emptier you feel.
Repetition has a religious element too.
In Madonna of the Book
baby Jesus extends his sticky little mitt towards the page about to smudge it up for fun. In the other, he holds three golden nails
and a crown of thorns,
a birthright. Our Lady’s gaze into the Book of Hours: resignation for what’s to come; a young mother’s glazed look of up all night.
In Madonna of the Goldfinch Jesus, the toddler, reaches for the bird like a benevolent old man. Will he gentle this symbol of redemption? Or snap its neck at the last second—a momentary pleasure to squeeze and because
In Botticelli’s Madonna of the Pomegranate the blue eyes, forlorn as they look forward; but the fruit ponies up blooded arils, nesting incisors, a heart’s trunk packed with 613 mitzvahs, fertility or contraception, garnet
In Madonna of the Chair
his chubby knees
and the fabric’s folds
create them human.
Their expression, a retraction—
moment’s safety, caution.
That young punk,
John the B. leans in,
just back from walking
the tracks, slugging home
brew from a skin.
It’s the irreverent cherubs bored with Jesus,
Jesus, Jesus at the bottom of the Sistine Madonna
who camp it up. Mary has just blown in
from warmer climes. The baby,
a handsome pragmatist,
will, in time, hike mountains, sum up a desert, parlay
with that old cat, Lucifer.
In Caravaggio’s Madonna with Saint Anne,
we see the looping serpent and her red dress, the breasts
pushed up fashionably, her foot extended to kill the snake.
Uncircumcised Jesus follows suit as if to learn
to dance. Anne, a quiet
grandmother wrapped in darkness, observes this
foolishness. The women wear their halos
above their heads like inverted
with the Long Neck
suggests a swan—has she put on his knowledge
with his power? The child,
gangly and splayed,
almost floating across
her Modernist lap.
The Pietá played out
In Madonna of the Pinks
it’s their cheeks, his penis and scrotum lighter than
the flowers themselves that bathe us in
comfort. Dianthus, “flower of god” said to have
sprung from her tears at his death.
The ruins out the window,
that same old landscape—
Rome, Aleppo, Mariupol.
Jesus clutches the cross
like a stake in
the Alba Madonna.
He’s fierce, eyeing the
young John in a wolf pelt
while his mother
relaxes in the grass.
Years later, they will be
to Asheville by train,
hidden behind steel doors,
barred windows in
an unfinished music room, waiting out the war.
Despite the nickname
of Madonna Casini,
it’s the flatness of her
analysis of the child, his
near-grin that presents
a picture of the way
we know this will all
end. Her two fingers
in blessing and tickle,
the baby’s swaddle.
They say that Masaccio
was so talented that
he was poisoned at 26
by a jealous painter.
Welter (n.), a state of confusion, upheaval or turmoil
Bowling Green KY, July 22, 2020
Tonight, the music
is your voice
through this phone
and the rests
between laughter and banter
from parents gathered
down patio, their children
dripping and toweled
surround them, waiting.
My feet magnified in this pool,
these rippling caustics,
the press of chlorine, humidity;
horizon’s towering signs lit by night—
but detached from
We talk last year’s
dinner, those afternoons
walking to class:
patting your coat pockets
for phantom cigarettes,
a habit long gone, declare
we should all be in Paris—it’s April!
rush hour hum hemming
us in that place—isolated
here, now in this night’s thrum.
Stories like objects
on a table: gun, rosary,
scapular, a souvenir
coin from the Trans-Mississippi
of who, when and where,
what holds worlds together.
Word (v.) To bring (a thing or person) into or out of a specified condition or circumstances by the use of words. Now rare.
—After the painting Word by Tom Sarrantonio
A word, that’s the poem.
—James Schuyler’s “The Morning of the Poem”
If I stare into this swarm
long enough will it split clean,
ripple as a chorus line, release
pomegranates and elephants,
lilac or petrichor,
a leatherback’s other-worldly swim,
that night on Three Marys Cay, between
Southern Cross and sea-surge—here
within this dark stand in a gray
field on a canvas hanging
whirred into cloud,
spun up as if out
of water that is field—
a stand as backdrop,
a forest in the tree
Close to work
and god or sword,
an ord, what’s left
when there’s nothing
else to say: a door
to row, a war
and ward by fiat,
the street’s gospel
Swamp Pop, (n.) a musical genre indigenous to southwest Louisiana and southeast Texas, combining New Orleans-style rhythm and blues, country and western, and traditional French Louisiana musical influences.
I’m listening to Freddy Fender’s “Wasted Days & Wasted Nights” on loop.
Mostly a memory of K-Tel from after-school afternoons, the big hair and emotive gestures seemed comical at ten.
I learn that Fender’s real name was Baldemar Garza Huerta and he spent three years on a prison farm for drinking.
Garza means “heron.” A word I learned on an island one year but had to keep looking up.
I think of herons winging Lake Conway, the ghosting trotlines, a story of you lost in that storm, hanging on to cyprus knees, barefoot in blackberry bushes.
He renamed himself Fender after the guitar; Freddy for the alliteration and because it would “get the white folks.”
Now listening to Warren Storm’s “Seven Letters,” I wonder how long it takes to write anyone anything you really want to say.
Then Johnnie Allan’s “You Got Me Whistling Again” and “Today I Started Loving You Again.”
I found Fender years later when I read a Canadian poet, writing from the Lipton Hotel’s beer hall in the Qu’Appelle Valley, Saskatchewan: My four summers in the place of this place…. How he and the other poets drank, talked poetry, dipped and swayed to “Wasted Days and Wasted Nights” on the juke box. It was their song.
Again is an important word when it comes to love and songs. In the archaic,
it means “back to the place of starting” and “in the opposite direction.”
Now here’s Rufus Jagneaux’ “Back Door” and Richie Moreland’s “Bells in My Heart.”
If I wrote a pop song I’d call it “My Fear Is a Door, My Love Is a Bell.”
Remember the back route home we took last January? No swamps, but drive-in daiquiris and a night in Shreveport, the Boggy Creek Monster of Fouke?
Play me Cookie & the Cupcakes’ “Mathilda” or some Jivin’ Gene & the Jokers.
Ring the doorbell, love. Like we did as kids on May Day—
again and again and again and again
LEA GRAHAM is the editor of an anthology of critical essays, From the Word to the Place: The Work of Michael Anania (MadHat Press, 2022) the author of two poetry collections, From the Hotel Vernon (Salmon Press, 2019) and Hough & Helix & Where & Here & You, You, You (No Tell Books, 2011) and four chapbooks. She won the Michelle Boisseau Poetry Prize in 2022. Graham is an associate professor at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, NY.