Escape Artist

This entry is part 9 of 19 in the series Une Semaine de Bonté

 

Page 9 from Max Ernst’s Une Semaine de Bonté

Every wall is a sea wall, built to keep out
something that is already inside,
running through our veins.

My ship has come in, hold full
of the Jesus fish I’m returning
to their native parables.

We’ve all forgotten how to migrate,
though our ancestors the trees
were clearly transhumant,

and even now have a yearly
jubilee for their leaves.
This leave-taking is my gospel

and there are undersea forests of kelp
that have yet to hear it. They rock
and roll—it is said—all night long.

Their every surface is a tongue
free of Pentecost. They are precious
in the eyespots of echinoderms,

who have cultivated great detachment
and learned how to regrow themselves
from a single, severed limb.

With this kind of movable feast,
who needs the state and its miserable
no-fly lists! Are we not birds?

Lilium martagon

This entry is part 7 of 19 in the series Une Semaine de Bonté

 

Page 7 from Une Semaine de Bonté by Max Ernst

The Turk’s cap lily is one of summer’s
most exotic blooms. How sumptuous
they can be as dark varieties, springing open
to curl back on themselves and reveal why
they are called the Turk’s caps.
All have a flash of orange pollen
which is lethal to cats.
As little as two leaves or part of a single
flower have resulted in deaths.
Clinical signs of lily intoxication
include salivation, vomiting, anorexia and depression.
Polyuric renal failure leads to dehydration
and anuric renal failure and death results.
The public must be made aware—
the majority cannot correctly identify
the plants in their own homes.
I first saw this European Turk’s cap
running wild among the bright Astrantia.
The scent of a lily is an incredible thing.


Lines repurposed from Dan Pearson, “Turk’s cap lily is pure delight“. The Guardian (21 July 2013) and Kevin T. Fitzgerald, “Lily toxicity in the cat“. Topics in Companion Animal Medicine 25: 213–7 (2010).

Lord of Misrule

This entry is part 6 of 19 in the series Une Semaine de Bonté

 

Page 6 from Une Semaine de Bonté by Max Ernst

In her image the sun made me
round and ornately petaled,

burning and erupting
in feathery plumes. Don’t stare!

I was the Sun King.
Shadows radiated away from me

like the teeth of my enemies
strung on a reckless necklace.

That’s not a mugger’s knife
but a prisoner of earth’s desperate attempt

to pick my lock. I was, after all,
the state. Why must I now perform

for the forgotten and forgettable?
Why have I not limped like a blimp

into the humped clouds? I can’t seem
to shake this legacy of lead,

asteroids roaring in the vacuum
of my farcical heart.

Breast Man

This entry is part 4 of 19 in the series Une Semaine de Bonté

 

Une Semaine de Bonté, page 4

They have never stopped watching me
or reminding me of my own,
inferior pair that cannot shoot
sweetness at the world’s
avid mouths. They lurk
in mirrors and behind drapes,
disguise themselves as crockery,
solar flares, or bells that ring
backwards: wholly holy.
If they were ever to blink,
we would all disappear—
let’s keep them under wraps
and over underwires where
they’ll be safe. Only then can men
preserve our immense dignity
and not tremble like virgins
at the sight of them,
for the truth is they are the most
human thing.

Crushed

Une Semaine de Bonté: page 3 collage
This entry is part 3 of 19 in the series Une Semaine de Bonté

 

Une Semaine de Bonté: page 3 collage
Une Semaine de Bonté: page 3

My first crush was a statue:
strong and silent, noble
to a fault. Realer

than the dead general
he memorialized, for his triumph
was far less fleeting.

He kept his chin up
no matter what, weathering
every pigeon. His head

was like a moon, blotchy
with seas. As for me,
I didn’t want to be seen

with my head of a beast
like an ass-backwards sphynx.
Small dogs assaulted

the space I’d left
intentionally absurd,
uniformed like a unisex fireplug,

gruff as a gryphon. I huffed
glue till my syntax collapsed
and I came unglued.

A war blew in and they drafted
my soldier, melted him down
and cast him into shot.

Herbaceous

This entry is part 2 of 19 in the series Une Semaine de Bonté

 

Une Semaine de Bonté: illustration from the cardboard slipcase of the 1934 edition

Goatweed goatweed how you brighten
my waste places with your yellow stars

blossoming in the deep space between
my shoulder blades, where the sun’s

too weak to rise. Like any lover
you make me dizzy and anxious, I can’t

get it up any more and you play
badly with other medicines, such as

dust and pillbugs. Call me a shaman
fundamentalist, but my dry bones

have never felt more possessed of life.
In the otherworld I’m growing a green husk.

A Week of Kindness

cover of Une Semaine de Bonté by Max Ernst
This entry is part 1 of 19 in the series Une Semaine de Bonté

 

cover of Une Semaine de Bonté by Max Ernst
cover of Une Semaine de Bonté by Max Ernst (Dover edition, 1976)

The seven deadly elements fight
like nestlings for our worms.
Death is without end

and therefore never as shapely
as my morning eggs.
Don’t misconstrue the ouroboros:

it’s not consuming but giving birth,
having just crawled out of
its own mouth.

I wake every day of the week thinking
it’s enough to follow
the warm curves of the earth

wherever they lead, though I know
it’s nowhere good.
And each day I dress

as if to the funeral of a blackbird
seizing every kindness by the hair.

Vanessa Bell in Winter

The Tub 1917 by Vanessa Bell 1879-1961

The Tub 1917 by Vanessa Bell 1879-1961

Today’s word is raw, said the weather forecaster,
and you flinched, soft skin flayed by wind and sleet,
soft heart by unremitting news of inhumanity.
So embrace this respite, stuff your stiff winter coat
into a locker, stretch and let your sore soul touch
the curves and colours of the pictures, slow-dance
with the fading shapes and figures frescoed on every wall.
You know the artist too was flayed, continued painting
through the worst of times, death and betrayal, two long wars…
Her work outlasted all of it, is here to wrap your fear,
your sorrow in warm flesh, bathe you in earth-green light.

 

Vanessa Bell at Dulwich Picture Gallery
The Tub, 1917 (Tate Modern)

Louise Labé – Sonnets VIII & IX

Painting by André Minaux 2
This entry is part 2 of 7 in the series Louise Labé

 

VIII

Painting by André Minaux 1

I’m living, dying, drowning, burning up –
extremes of heat and then I’m cold again.
Life is too soft on me and then too hard –
my trials are great, but intertwined with joys.

I burst out laughing and then into tears,
smile through the torment of my many wounds.
My happiness dissolves and yet endures:
I wither and I flourish, both at once.

So Love’s inconstant but remains my guide
and when the pain seems at its very worst
I rise above it unexpectedly.

Then just when I think joy has really come,
that peak experience is mine at last,
I find myself back where I started from.


Je vis, je meurs: je me brule & me noye.
J’ay chaut estreme en endurant froidure:
La vie m’est & trop molle et trop dure.
J’ay grans ennuis entremeslez de joye:

Tout à un coup je ris & je larmoye,
Et en plaisir maint grief tourment j’endure:
Mon bien s’en va, & à jamais il dure:
Tout en un coup je seiche & je verdoye.

Ainsi Amour inconstamment me meine:
Et quand je pense avoir plus de douleur,
Sans y penser je me treuve hors de peine.

Puis quand je croy ma joye estre certaine,
Et estre en haut de mon desire heur,
Il remet en mon premier malheur.

IX

Painting by André Minaux 2

As soon as I allow myself to rest,
safely tucked up in my own comfy bed,
my stupid, sorrowing mind can’t help itself –
it leaves my body, flies straight back to you.

It strikes me then: within this tender breast
I harbour still the very thing I’ve craved,
the object of my deepest sighs, of sobs
I’ve often felt would break my heart in two.

Oh sweetest sleep, oh night of happiness!
May joyful, calming rest bring me this fond
illusion every time I close my eyes.

If my poor lovesick soul is destined now
to never really know such love again,
at least let me have dreams and fantasies.


Tout aussi tot que je commence à prendre
Dens le mol lit le repos desiré,
Mon triste esprit hors de moy retiré
S’en va vers toy incontinent se rendre.

Lors m’est avis que dedens mon sein tendre
Je tiens le bien, où j’ay tant aspiré,
Et pour lequel j’ay si haut souspiré,
Que de sanglots ay souvent cuidé fendre.

O dous sommeil, o nuit à moy heureuse!
Plaisant repos, plein de tranquilité,
Continuez toutes les nuiz mon songe:

Et si ma pauvre ame amoureuse
Ne doit avoir de bien en verité,
Faites au moins qu’elle en ait en mensonge.

 

Louise Labé in Wikipedia.

Paintings by André Minaux (1923-86) – I came across his work by chance for the first time this week and the sharp, stylized imagery, often of women alone in interiors, somehow resonated with the sonnets; also an exquisite concert on the radio of short pieces by J S Bach and Jörg Widmann made me think about how mutually enhancing old and new(er) works can be.

Escher: Metamorphosis

Escher's "Metamorphosis II"

I am a loner drawn to multiplicity.
I like it when things change but stay the same,
as a village in Italy creeps around and around a hill.
In reflections I see another world – or is it this one?
Over and over, bees and birds in flight and swimming fish –
patterns repeat, both infinite and contained,
shapes tumble into creatures, houses, streets and shapes again.
When each thing separates and all things coalesce I am complete.
Shapes tumble into creatures, houses, streets and shapes again,
patterns repeat, both infinite and contained –
over and over, bees and birds in flight and swimming fish.
In reflections I see another world – or is it this one?
As a village in Italy creeps around and around a hill,
I like it when things change but stay the same.
I am a loner drawn to multiplicity.

 

Escher's "Metamorphosis II"
Maurits Escher: Metamorphosis II


Inspired by Via Negativa: In the beginning and Fractal (this time the shape).