"My Dear Udnie" is one of what I call my "voices poems." Each stanza is a separate voice, though not necessarily a separate person. It was written in 1986 after a number of visits to great museums, including the Hirshorn Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Toledo Museum of Art, and the National Gallery. I bought postcards of great paintings I'd seen at each museum and these stacked up on my writing desk. Eventually, I composed this poem with each stanza prompted by a single painting. The poem was published in 1987, but this is the first time it has appeared with the artwork that inspired it. (Part Two is here , Part Three is here .)
MY DEAR UDNIE
Your face is energy beauty expends
in the gilded bust green in blue lamplight.
Molded by thumbs, the lumpish moon ascends
to fright the sky and hush the dream of night.
Steeple, cornice, dome, gable, pyramid—
today I must speak to you in flat roofs,
simple boxes, as to a crown amid
capitals, monumental and aloof.
Who did these paintings in my studio?
I’ve kissed that flesh, rubbed it raw as roses.
Who did these paintings? Do you know?
You’ve sat for me in similar poses?
It’s one thirty. We should go to our homes.
Maybe next time we won’t just walk these streets,
adding to the shadows. We’ll talk in poems,
let them distinguish the truth from deceit.
Lovers stare at themselves through a window—
faces motionless behind glass and frame.
Blinking unseen, they’re bored by what they know.
Either might break a smile and nothing change.
You are my private demon in this hell,
my love. A lady who carries a fan,
soothingly forever saying farewell.
Give the fan to me and wave your hand.
All thought of you is memory in abstract—
congeries of blades and thudding saps.
A nice nose, long-licking tongue: discrete facts
hold harmless stupid phrases, futile haps.
You are like to god as stones multiplying arcs.
I don’t say this to anger you, but explain
the hard singularity of your remarks,
which leave me faithless on a pebbled plain.
We all dreamt deserts in rainbow clothes,
wanderers following mirages of love.
A lioness breathed on me, whispering oaths—
the moon’s kiss a slap of a limp glove.
You see a candle in the mirror, cry
tears of a skull couched in a maiden’s lap.
Her breasts grow white and rigid, calcify—
orgasms crack in the cranial gap.
The life inside my soul is a black crow
kissed and stroked by flesh I can’t control.
No old boy, no new man is not my foe.
I give myself to each to char his soul.