blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsFall 2010  Vol. 9  No. 2
print version

To Contain

     We know that all that we can see of the objective world, as human beings,
     never really exists as we see and understand it. Matter exists, of course,
     but has no intrinsic meaning of its own, such as the meanings that we
     attach to it. Only we can know that a cup is a cup, that a tree is a tree.
          Giorgio Morandi

Inarticulate, the open
of the cup, the space
we could call the cup’s mouth,
the hole the teacup creates.

It is the inner struggle
of the cartoon hero,
the blank face of the virgin
in the laminated prayer card,
how we equate the body
to the rhetoric of the body.

When you speak
about pain there is no pain,
only talking about pain
as the pain continues
like the tedium
of power lines.


I am holding two brass bowls in my hands.
I am holding three white vases in my hands.
We’ll pick up each thing that contains
& place them on a plane & say still life,
say catalog number.

After this we will say still life
& the people will say still life & repeat.
When we say world we can point
at the melody as it repeats.

Everything means less
than zero, which is one
starting point for understanding

how art responds to moral error with melody.


One can say X should never happen.
Torture should never happen.
But if it does happen, if it has always happened,
does it mean anything to say X should never happen?

There are three white bottles
in front of three boxes.
Or there is a shape of white paint
that means box to me
in front of a patch of darker paint
that means bottle to me.
And there is another & then another.

Things grow nocturnal on some nights
& on other nights the streetlights
have been on forever
like the strung-on melodies of pain.


The brushstroke is one record
of a life in the moment, the thumbprint
left on the glass vase waits
for an eye or a smudging cloth.

To the cloth it does not matter if the thumb
belonged to a murderer or a saint,
if the flowers that the vase once held
were well watered or forgotten into wither.
A single hair falls to the floor
beneath the easel & that is the body.

Protest is one way of hearing
one’s own voice. Just as complaint
is a way to remind oneself
that the individual fails
to contain more than the individual.

In this version the body simply blocks.
It is something to be pushed by or burned.

In the end, it’s just a white vase.


The morning after catastrophe
the people crawl out of their shelters
& find cups & bowls & fill them
& drink from them, or not.
There is wilderness & then there is pattern.

Two hands arise from the darkness
& pluck your earrings from your ears.

In one version there is no difference
between a face & a face-shaped block.
The water in the bathtub could be
unspooled tape from old cassettes.
Everything would be either
all-verse or all-chorus.

A man rises from his spot below the elm
& shakes out his blanket
& suddenly the twilight air
is thick with dust.
The red & blue candles on the metal shelf,
each labeled by a different virgin,

are only candles, truly, when lit.


Virgin of sorrows.
Virgin of quietude.
Virgin of unmarred blocks of marble.
Virgin of a boy fixing dinner
while mother lies awake in the bedroom.
Virgin of thickly felt.
Virgin of empty tabletops.
Virgin of horizons.
Virgin of the abscess in the marble.
Virgin of the abscess in the marble,
into which a teenager sticks
his green chewing gum.
Virgin of a white sheet of paper.
Virgin of the hole in the earlobe.
Virgin of cupped hands.
Virgin of the black bowl filled with still water.
Virgin of open spaces.
Virgin of holes.

Virgin of that which makes a hole.


You can open your mouth & presume
to become a teacup.
But when you open your mouth
you feel blank domino tile, tenderly.

What was the first thing
that looked like
what its word meant?

I think it was my name.
Rage. It fills the holes
that come into being
during a life lived
among the smeared ink & gore.

My name is rage
& you have always called
me education.

The visions come at unexpected times
if I do not continue to paint them.

Art cannot imitate the way networks of nature do.
Art is limited to experience, which happens
in one tense. Three white bottles

in front of three brown boxes.


But just as the white vase implies a space
the lines in the paint were made by horsehair brushes
which imply the existence of a horse
that ate things & stood with its feet on the ground.
This was a retrospective show,
to contain a story about the artist.

Brett & Cindy were there at the Met with me
stepping slowly from one painting to the next.
Daniella & Dan were there & Julia was there.
People I will never know were all there
& many more have been there since I was there.

Soon the building will be abandoned
& will fall into disrepair & the humans
will be gone & other animals & plants
will live among the marble ruins
that had once contained a building.

I cannot see through a person.
I can only see the space they occlude.
The space inside the smile is filled
with blood & other things I cannot understand.

Yet I could nick a thick vein
& collect their blood
in a brown hat, or a white teacup
& in the open air it would
eventually congeal into a solid red thing

or perhaps kind of red-brown.


These are some things that I think are true:
the face is a container; the space inside the skin is the self;
the body is a form in space; the self is unavailable beyond the form of the body.

Remove the skin, the flesh, the bone
& look for the self inside the body.

Every person lives for a specific amount of time.
When a person is dead you can finally understand them

as a plane, rather than a wilderness.


Morandi said, “I have never intended
to give the objects in my still life arrangements
any particular familiar meanings.”

When I look at the horizon
it does not mean in a familiar way.
It means inevitably. It means how drops of blood fall
toward the center of the earth. The way birds
don’t know that flying is terrible.

It is inarticulate, the space
that the cup creates.
The way three white vases on a plane

make the plane a horizon.


The red candle
with the label on which
the virgin is drawn
in brusque black lines
used to sit on the metal shelf
& now sits on my wooden table.

I want to light the wick.
And I want to keep the wick unlit.

The glass bottle holds
the red wax. The label holds
the virgin. The virgin holds
the meaning. And the white wick,
like a fetal finger, holds

the candle.


Some days I cannot see
because my eyes are closed.
When I move the books
that are stacked on the floor
back into the bookshelf
I am making space.

Place a teacup on a plane
& the wilderness shifts
into brushstrokes.

Dirt becomes earth, becomes form
& there are fingerprints
remaining on the skin of the clay
after the pitcher
is removed from the kiln.

A long blonde hair sticks
to the medieval tapestry.
The still water in the black bowl
contains my idea of myself.  end

return to top