Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Rodin's Beaudelaire

In the late 80's, I visited the wonderful I. M. Pei-designed museum of art at Indiana University in Bloomington and wrote this poem a few days later.

Rodin's Baudelaire

The walls are bone white,
corners obtuse angles
leading the curious visitor
from the heart of the room.

Depicted atrocities hang
by wires on golden hooks.
A noseless black face
dreams its perfect teeth.

Metal faces bent
to bulge bone and eye
exaggerate anatomy
to misshape outworn words.

From the ceiling, red
thread-wound slinkies
suspend, sprung by a man's
time spent winding.

Naked plaster Venus
starts from her washstand
confusing me for a puzzled
god in her angled mirror.

acrylic globes float
in blood-flecked oil
slowly filling each tube.

A mounted knight droops
in despair counseled
by a thick-lipped goat
skittering on the butt of his lance.

Numbers and dismembered
limbs flung across
a rectangular blank answers
faith with intimation.

At the center of all this,
the upturned face of a man
seen, from the right side,
earnestly seeking

what he hasn't made up
his mind about already,
upper lip a smooth
half-smile of vision,

from the left side, a sinner's
mask, dimpled where
two lips meet
tenderly in half-kiss,

then, face on, its
conflicts less resolved
than invisible, its mouth
a poem of pursed silence.

Thus confronted, I
place cold hands
upon that cold upturned
seeker's ghost made

black metal, my
thumbs on its pitted irises,
fingers in its ears, press
our foreheads together.

You, Rodin, read
the gallery thoughts of one
who is also the imprint
of thumbs in clay warm

with vigorous kneading; is
this the last exhaustion,
chapel of tortured beauty
prefiguring death?

I look, the guard
still gone, rap
the skull with my knuckles.
Rap again that ringing.

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