Saturday, March 3, 2007

Wisp: Ink and Paper, 1992

This poem, with the dedication "to the artist, 1995," is a response to an original artwork that my stepfather gave me as a gift, ten years before his death. He already seemed to be dying at the time. We were never particularly close, partly because his substance abuse problems built a wall between us, but we also disagreed with each other on practically everything.

We should have been closer. We had so many things in common. He was the only other musician in my family besides me, but we couldn't share that because he played the blues by ear and I played classical music by sight. He was an artist who created disturbing images in ink and paper, and when he was the first to recognize signs of poetic talent in me, he challenged me to make my first efforts at writing sonnets. He even commissioned poems from me to go with each of his drawings. I destroyed all those poems, along with everything else I had written up to that time, in a fit of self-criticism when I was about 14 years old. So the only verses connected with one of my stepfather's drawings is the following, dating from my college years when we were trying to improve our relationship. I wish I could report that it worked.

Moving of itself his pen describes
The nightmare. Out of unskilled forging
Hidden worlds arise; with each wild stroke
He bends his back toward death.

In my iciness I watch him murmur incantations
Over the charred pit of art, prattling
Impotent venom with soiled lips and filthy brow.
Is there no pity for beauty lost?

Artless architecture unfolds itself,
Impossibly standing, an insult to life
And virtue. Dare I despise these secrets?
His grappling with angels found its chance
In these tortured glyphs, acid-etched demons
Stand unveiled, even where he felt sure
Of safe nonsense.

I never moved to cup my hands,
To foil the wind, though his fractured soul
Guttered as on a spent taper. Is there
No remorse for beauty spoiled?

Broken wastes, slithering black shadows
Curling at the feet of crumbled columns,
Flattened against chalkwhite nothing.
He is abomination, savage and negligent,
Cussed-ignorant, selfish, mad.

I shudder, shrink off the oily sheen of
Unlearned genius, tortured innocence,
Perverted manias, promise unfulfilled.
I will let you die before I pause to consider
What I have lost. Is there no prayer
For beauty restored?

Forgetting is peace. So the ugly scar,
Hid under gauzy folds, seems healed.
Rest, forget and perish.

IMAGE: All I know about this picture is that it is supposedly titled "The Death of Don Quixote." I'd be grateful if anyone can tell me more about it.

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