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Common Knowledge 10.1 (2004) 164-169

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Ekphrastic poems

Mary Jo Bang

Three Men

Sigmar Polke, Drei Männer (Three Men), Poster paint on wrapping paper, 1962-63

Each a fresh copy of a future blank check and yet,
it seemed simple and it was—

one man was a ham, the other an arrow.
The middle one spoke,
It would be better if later

we could say, Look
how good we all were at being.
Each definitely

a bell or a ball. A transformation
of perception. A funnyface mask.
Can the individual experience [End Page 164]

tragic consequences? Yes and no. No
individual is as large as an island.
Tempest and shipwreck—a sea-tossed T,

an old Morse Code message that we
are all little monsters capable of becoming.
That hat becomes you. Me?

I thought the pillow spoke
and told me, Hell is empty
and all the devils are here

posing as men made of printed paper:
stamped arms, legs, please and thank you.
They were standing

on the edge waiting for a small word
of praise or found fault. Each one a chemical
bite of far-off fact, broken into bits.

Each appearing now
for the last time before the next
gray sky. The unseen palm

trees sinking in the green of the bay.
A woman with a red beret waving
away real doubt. [End Page 165]

Abstract Painting, Blue

Ad Reinhardt, Abstract Painting, Blue, Oil on canvas, 1952

Why are children jealous
of their fathers? Steps
run up against the stones
which gate tombs,
flagstone oratories
where the organ murmured,
where the dead posed face.
Nothing water bottles!

A youth carries out in leaves
a greyhound. Do they cry?
They cry I. I am not unaware.
The curious remain
a chorus. Time took a step
and said, who expired?
Some rich person,
another right hand.

And art?
I was occupied.
Exempt at the time.
One of the monstrous figures
that sculptors attach
by the shoulders to gutters
squeaked and twisted.
I encouraged a smile.

Art gave me the first
conditions of art,
which is idea. Isn't this the "here Me I exist"?
That positive orates the room.
In drama everywhere is seen,
as I see you. It is better
than the mirror. [End Page 166]

Scissors sound from the vault
and then ... And then? And then
the street woke up me.
I had a dream. It was Saturday.
What do you want?
Theory to be forced to answer the curious. [End Page 167]

Rock and Roll Is Dead, The Novel Is Dead, God Is Dead, Painting Is Dead

Bruce Pearson, Rock and Roll Is Dead, the Novel Is Dead, God Is Dead, Painting Is Dead, Acrylic on styrofoam, 2003

Ultimately, it's forensics.
Electric energy permanently turned
to a flat state.
A stainless steel basin
out of which the caged Eden weasel eats

what Eden weasels eat.
From the iceberg, you can see
any number of active disasters,
each with its own way of unraveling
into further catastrophe.

In the next scene,
the colored domino moments meet
in a clap-clap racket that meshes
with a lean hiss
from a deflating inflatable snake.

Chaos is a scream. This is all I know:
it's cold although not completely
covered in ice. People still exist.
Can we discuss the role of allegory
in private mythologies?

Mirage metamorphosis
advances unhampered.
We're at a distance looking down
or at the bottom listening up at the end.
Someone closes the book

on Miss Everything and the screen
fades to black. Who wants to believe
there's something? There's something
touching in the hint of harmony
the architecture breathes. [End Page 168]

The Tyranny of Everyday Life

Ken Warneke, The Tyranny of Everyday Life, Oil and acrylic on Masonite, 1990

The soft voice modulated to soothe.
The hair parted to studied
perfection. To see is to have a view;
a picture postcard lies
at the border of a brain.

To be, perhaps to seem.
Laughter brushes the anticubital fossa
of a bent arm a burnished head
is buried in. And...


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