That special kind of attention the mind pays when it’s half-distracted: what is it called?
I can’t say I know what it’s called when the poet stares at a sculpture an enters another world. Ekphrasis is an obvious choice, but sometimes description is not what results.
This evening I went to the Rice Gallery to hear a poetry reading of works inspired by the latest installation by Joel Shapiro. The gallery is quite special in that it installs site-specific works. Every show is a unique event never to be repeated. And Mary Wemple runs a wonderful programs called Words and Art, which offers a free workshop on writing poems in response to the installation and then sponsors a reading of selected poems in front of the gallery.
For this show, Shapiro suspended colored planks of wood from the ceiling with wire, creating a wonderfully strange swimming effect. It’s as if they could fall any second but won’t.
What does suspension evoke: a sense of safety or terror? Do you trust the wires and hooks? Are you lulled by the colors? Lulled, no. In fact, the whole environment felt shot through with risk. And as I stared and listened to the poets of Words and Art read their responses, my mind began to wander in this landscape of precarious sensation.
Here are fragments of a poem that resulted. I don’t know what, but I’m calling it, “Cry Havoc.” This is where my mind went. What would yours look like?
A gray plank will end your life,
split your foolish head in two.
Now you have two heads, as it
should always have been: live
and dead, reasonable and dumb.
You are no smarter than you were.
You told me love was a ship
and you wanted to vomit it out
of you. I saw the mast crashing
down on us, but I didn’t care.
Wood is as hollow as your head
as your greedy beast of a heart.
On the table your last supper
slides to its inevitable decline.
On the table I had you, you
were right where I wanted you.
I thought I had you at last.
A string through your eye.
Wire about your neck.
Some slash of blue knocking
the smile right off your face.