May 02 [Home]

Poems on Paintings, Specialists

Pico Reinoso (2001)

Ernest Hilbert
Saint Michael Casting Satan into Hell
Andromeda Chained to the Rock
La main de Dieu (The Hand of God)

Tom McCarthy

Jamie McNeelly
Woman in Rickshaw, Benares
Woman in Textile Factory, Kerala
River Woman

Evelyn Posamentier
Portrait of the Dinner Table
Woman with Orange Umbrella
Woman Sitting in an Armchair, 4 October 1941

Terri Witek
The Pose
Portrait of a Woman Reading
The Tempesta
Portrait of a Man with a Palm and a Paintbox

Xue Di
From Flames (Poems Dedicated to Vincent Van Gogh)
Field Covered With Crows
Starry Night
White Chinese Roses

Contributor Notes

~ . ~ . ~

Ernest Hilbert

Saint Michael Casting Satan into Hell

circle of Domenico Antonio Vaccaro, 1705-1725

Strewn alleys beneath city shadow:
Compost drifts burning seaward
On empty waters. Everything seems to grow strange
As one draws nearer the river.

They dozed one day lost
On muddy sand in Queens below
Rotting planks of piers, rusted
Spikes framing towers of Manhattan.

Passing the city's last beer garden they
Stepped in. Twelve hours later
The sun rose again and his light dropped,
Woke to find her in the garden reading

His Elysium Britannicum—to his horror,
She sat in full view of the neighbors
Wearing nothing but his white cotton shirt:
He exclaimed "For this, the triumph of civilization

In the wars of Hellas and Persia?"
She asked for more tea,
Angling her face to the kind sun.
The first Emperor of China raised the Great Wall

Against not only horsemen but ghosts,
Burned all books to keep out the past.
What more can an emperor do?
She tells him that all these coffee shops are

A manifestation of Divine Will.
Who are mere sinners to question such Love?
In the dream he drained summer days with her,
Now forfeited to years; swimming,

Enwrapped on long grass hearing music;
And it hurt when he remembered how
Much he once loved her but could no
Longer recall her face, only her voice.

Orbit of dominion, what little we are, and terrible.
When Alexander crossed
The Hellespont to Asia, he brought a copy
Of The Iliad annotated by Aristotle,

Slept with it beneath his pillow.
His mother, besieged, ate the flesh of first
Her elephants and then
Serving girls before dying herself.

~ .

Andromeda Chained to the Rock

Anthony van Dyck 1637-1638

Unstemmed, drain of rivers with light granted,
Even if quickened, by a pace to extinction:
Bright core and throw of ocean,
Lions choked dead by smog in plaster caves at London Zoo—

Mayakovsky, so impressed by harnessed electricity,
Was afraid he would grow bored with nature.
A man forced pieces of cardboard into his shoes
And strolled in drizzle to diner as rain echoed

Down an avenue, surveyed steam fracture over coffee.
Leaving once his sweltering summer interiors, Charles I
Visited Van Dyck by barge, and Reynolds raised obelisks
Outside his house. "Do you mind if I smoke? Of course not."

And of the blonde countess whose estate stranded him
In prism of leaves spindling through light on palace lawn,
That they once advanced the gravel towpath of the Isis
Watching the stony chasm of English sunset

Over ice-soaked meadow, past the empty boathouse, lit
Cigarettes as one or another hummed Wagner; that she
Now floats dreaming with turtles off an Aegean isle
With no phone or e-mail; what of it—

Fearing that dawn would otherwise fail the world,
She arrived in the wet breeze as Concert Master,
Rachmaninov that morning, and the announcer remarked
That she also raced wolves on her Westchester compound.

When introduced, she commented
"I think I've already slept with you," turned away—
To kiss the Swedish cultural attaché on three cheeks.
Seizing a red wine from the garnished table beneath the Picasso,

Sidonius climbed the fire escape to the roof in Brooklyn
As Manhattan brightened into dusk, toasted:
"Orbis Roma tui." When a soldier returned from
The wars, only one woman sobbed openly in the dusty square.

Nasser called his monstrous Soviet dam at Aswan
"A pyramid for the people":
He remembered
Her, a girl, reading alone at the tangled crown
Of an apple tree swayed to valley wind

"Voyaging through strange seas of Thought alone."
Some wept seeing stars, lights falling in a TV Studio,
Hushed imagining death had been made
Merely tumult. A black-skirted waitress

Leaned over with pitcher, an inverted silver cross
Aimed between her breasts. He drank coffee until rain
Let up over the park, curtains blowing in and apart.
He dreamed of a flood, a darkened café.

He never completed
A poem once begun, up through
The night type-setting obituaries. He imagined himself
A French officer on the eve of the Marne,

Reassured himself of his waitress: "She has
The magnificent blonde plaits, the pale skin,
And O the full strong thighs of
The conquering daughters of Germania."


~ .

La main de Dieu (The Hand of God)

Auguste Rodin, 1896, marble carved by Soudbinine in 1902, 94 x 82.5 x 54.9 cm

Appeared as conqueror flanked by spirits
Drawing light down Avenue of the Americas—

Tomb of harpies, Theseus emerging
From shadow dust of urinal

With cocaine haloed under his nose,
Hailing barmaid for more cold vodka

To blank sight of abandonment
And smoke going up from shelled villages

When Persians encircled his surrendering men
Outside Krakow, machine-gunned his officers,

When T-34s slipped down streets on ice
Over the steaming mass of bodies

Collected like sacks of manure in dead wind
[Item temporarily removed for cleaning]

Lost twenty-four ranking generals to the enemy
So were issued with cyanide capsules,

Only ever used them to avoid capture
By their own spies—

Ephesus, Stalingrad, target of pilgrimage,
Minotaur in NorthFace puff jacket

Surveying the gate, dealing pills
And hosting an escort service on the side,

With satyrs reveling on psykter and molding,
Procession of horse soldiers in black herding shoppers—

Clever Helen, horny even in dotage, stirring
Pernod and Pelegrino in a calyx-krater

Decorated with Herakles and Apollo hugging
For death over the Delphic Tripod—

In his last pillowed moments in Chelsea, Turner panted
"God… is…light," sea-goddess

Painted over by the time German heavy artillery
Pounded its siege forward,

As Satan dragged unwilling damned
Into war with heaven, Nereids windblown

Now headless above podium frieze,
Blockade by sea and cavalry on the plain:

The leading horseman glances over his shoulder
Like a Panzer commander across the steppes—

"All my goddesses are wingèd, my warriors naked."
Two miniature men carved in whale's bone,

Seated under arches, one with nimbus,
The other leaning aside as if just comprehending

What he has been told, about to weep
Or turn away completely into his enemy's shadow.

View 1View 2

~ . ~

Jamie McNeely

Woman in Rickshaw, Benares

photograph by Raghubir Singh

Her eyes are a tiger's through the brush;
her black burqa's gauze cannot contain
light. And there are her teeth, and glints
of silver near each shadowed ear. One
wrist escapes to clutch a bolt
of polka-dot pink cloth and
a lime-colored net shopping bag
also made to show its contents.
Time is kept
by a digital silver watch.

                     There are two
bare things: the bald baby on her other arm,
its white puff-sleeves like seed pods,
its ten clean toes. And the smile that comes
to me, for seeming hours, through a tiny
grid, like blinding sun through an old screen.

~ .

Woman in Textile Factory, Kerala

photograph by Raghubir Singh

Caught in a web
of white, lapis, bright
worm green, black, and
flesh pink, she turns

from spools stacked
in stripes against the
wall slats. Her red
checkered sari hangs

creaseless, hands bent
absently to pluck
invisible strings, tie or
untie, the great wooden looms

and threadewn floor
yawn, gaps you could
disappear in, hairlines
of stowaway light—

None of this, these colors,
have had success
in penetrating her
coke eyes. She is

educated, thinks nothing
all day but how
she'll have a better life
than her Jaipur housewife


~ .

River Woman

After a painting by Maldonado

Why is she so sad? Her whole world is pink
as melon, eyes blacker than seeds, all pupil
and drinking light from the room.

The way her head tilts, she's shrugging off
the night with burnished shoulders, as if her face
should slide into some dark corner;

she's about to wring herself dry like the white rag
wrapping her blue-black riverbed hair,
everything aligned and ready

in her rippling brown-bread face: The bow
wants to be a moth but is pinned to its lit perch.
Her mouth has four corners and a solid black center

as if it would never open again, boxes last words
of the dead. The white of her dress is a lie, it is slipping
out of notice. Nothing has ever been this clean,

she thinks, or else why the resigned torpor, sighs? And that pink—
It could be dusk or war, the thick black curls are vines
or smoke, or wrought iron pried back so she can pass through.

~ . ~

Evelyn Posamentier

Portrait of the Dinner Table

John Singer Sargent

the woman in the portrait of the dinner table
fidgets on the canvas, a suggestion
of purple permeates the evening.
the man she is with is cropped
at the right edge of the painting, only
a sliver of face remaining.
it is one of many evenings they must endure.
living in the portrait with limited air
adds to her dazed appearance.
she is asking something of the painter
something barely audible.


~ .

Woman with Orange Umbrella

Elmer Bischoff

the woman with the orange umbrella
has been standing there, posing
for the painter, since i was a child.
she is bored, or she is waiting
or posing as bored
to not raise suspicion, with her dark
eyes too muddled for detail.
she prefers wild & ambiguous brush
strokes, a blurring of the hand
which clutches the umbrella, lowered
for now it has stopped raining.
her history passes back & forth between
those eyes & the painterıs longing.
whether i like it or not, i am implicated.


~ .

Woman Seated in an Armchair, 4 October 1941


it doesn't even resemble you, grandmother.
a cubist calm; fingers, heads, heart
of indeterminable color, reserving
judgment, hands clasped, thatıs
for sure. the steel posts of the chair
sit erect. you are looking in the direction
of a visa. had it only worked out.
your sister-in-law signing over to you
her document, identities inherited.
or did she die just before. & when exactly.
& did little brother stay beside her, as always.
or was it starvation that gripped her shaken body, alone.
little brother, dear grandfather, what will happen to him?
grandmother seated in an armchair, one month before deportation.


~ . ~

Terri Witek

The Pose

Before you've shaken dusk from your head
And straightened in the dark strange sheets and pillows
And set all the things you own to wander
(You'll rest soon)
Find the pose. Hold still.

Before you've coaxed a book through the night, held
Its world in your palm like a tinny carousel
And let your own thoughts spin to wildness
(You'll rest soon)
Find the pose. Hold still.

Before the plumbless dreams begin
And you forget a language, bend a stairwell,
Persuade your shiftiest child to burn or drown
(You'll rest soon)
Find the pose. Hold still.

Before dawn has confetti'd every window
And even you become substantial,
As the clock rents sixty rooms to sorrow
(You'll rest soon)
Find the pose. Hold still.

~ .

Portrait of a Woman Reading

That a book propped open on her lap
opens her lap is a trope she counters
by choosing the page: Giorgione's Tempesta,

which seats nude, knee-propped Venus against
a storm of shrubbery while from another,
more brambly embankment someone makes her his compass,

a fellow so lost he also appears
on the opposite page in clean red and white stockings.
The sitter's shrugged out of her toga,

flipped one white corner back over her shoulder
for the infant draining her breast's last tears
as an unappeasable twilight plumes

into a giant tent sale of columns and saplings,
dim towns and flat-topped bridges, all fingering
the spine of a deeply scented river

over which the last wriggle of light climbs
away from its cloud toward the only singer
still braving a steep roof, beak gawped.

~ .

The Tempesta (Giorgione, oil on canvas)

Venus feeds her infant son Cupid with tears.

They've wandered off. He's hungry.
His mother's lost the last wisps of her clothes
to the bushes and clutches him to her chest

like a grubby hot water bottle. He's forgotten
home's sly repetitions of columns and steps.
The stubby arrows he'll tote like a cottage boy's kindling

are not yet invented, the hunt's not tallyhoed,
and a bird's tight treble beyond the last town
has riled him from sleep long before St. Francis

could gather him in like a fractious bear cub
or Sir Isaac learns to bend every quiver to rainbow.
Here he's still just a baby, Love's weepy by-blow

mouthing the skies until they prickle, deepen,
and in the last town but one the leaky headed dreamers
all take to their beds, briefly sadder and sweeter


~ .

Portrait of a Man with a Palm and a Paintbox

Portrait of a Man Holding a Palm (Antonio Palma)
Titian, 1561

Dubbed "Aretino" by an inauthentic inscription
(since rubbed out), or "doctor" for your box on the sill,
in you Titian has summoned a whole pharmikon of remedies
that could be poison or, because he has planted them here

between you and the sunset, a compendium of color.
You look like a man with the cure for what ails us:
a lush, patent palm frond has sprung from your hand
like an oversized paintbrush to suggest that whatever may come

between your room and the sky can be undone,
that there's a finer hue than this one chaffing the treetops:
the painter has used it to measure your features,
hanging his own brush in air like a tiny horizon.

Or maybe the sunset is painting you,
a portrait you've turned your back on. Thus we see what it takes
to work both sides of a canvas— for thrift, but also because
it's still impossible to see some things together

(sunset and morning, cure and fatality)
while your kit of colors razes every room down to window.
Shadow-box-of-all-trades, we might call it,
the way some have called you more artist than doctor,

though because you've left no self-portrait turned to the wall
(unless it's already balancing the sill as light sashays into landscape),
we have only the work of a more famous practitioner
whose dates match yours, a friend who's found something in your eyes

that's not quite a challenge, not quite affection,
who's strained the fine dark hair back from your forehead
and draped your mouth as if anything you might say
(a roll call of blue? a gold prognosis?)

should be kept safer than thought or at least more hidden.
Yet even the trees have begun to move closer
since we last considered them, are following their seedlings
across the stubbled fields of the day toward an old division,
a spectrum of possibilities freighting the trees with orange and indigo
or fanning the whole forest out in reverse, each branch
a wick to the conflagration or the swab that can stanch it.
as your paintbox divides into ten twinned piazzas of color.

Does this construction continue beyond the sill of our wills forever,
pairing hues until your room spills into window, our gaze into yours,
and we fall gaudily into each other's arms?
That others mate without this, that they grapple in dusk and conceive

in dusk and bear their weeping young into a place without color
is inarguable, though it's easier to picture their deaths there
and how we'll meet them again in some communal twilight,
creatures we've always loved but whose lives remain half-hidden

to those requiring sunsets of skin and passion's flare-up,
hands twinned and in motion, and the prize of an eye's exact, ancestral hazel.
That all this is a mixed blessing is suggested by the method
of its retrieval, here a spatula fallen diagonally across your box

like a little sword or tongue depressor, that which slides down
the throat of each day to a red-gold conundrum while,
near enough to tug, one of your hands half-shades itself in sleeve,
the other sutures the cut end of a palm frond with a hue so capable

we expect it to broom ceilings or cool the brows of convalescents
or simply to keep painting until it's too dark to see.
In this light (last dose from a painter you surely knew well—
he's caught that little weariness in your eyes that measures the year, MDLXI)

TITIANVS PICTOR ET has fallen from somewhere into the room.
Is it your hand we see in this inscription
wending its way into your portrait just as light works itself
into a brush that neither makes nor holds it?

As you hold us in the palm of your hand
which is always another's, and from which we'll be swept
into a fever of days no more nameless than you, friend,
dab-handed gazer, merciful poisoner, old pleasurer.


~ . ~ . ~