Seattle Art Museum Reading
Marmareos (reading mss 3/13/08)
In sun dappled pools within pools draped between
the Eurasian and African plates
battled it out in legions
with microscopic carapace and scutes
armor helmet and spear in miniature
life against life
they fixed carbon, and calcium and oxygen
fed and fought and died and fell
through the blue water to the darker blue and finally black
and piled into a slurry which soured and sweetened
heated and cooled as layer after layer hardened.
Inside: accreting calcite slowly forming
exceptionally clean limestone.
Centuries of millenia inched past
and Africa crept closer
shrinking what would eventually become the Mediterranean sea
the limestone subducted under Eurasia
to a depth of about 5 Kilometers and was crushed under 100 Atmospheres of pressure
at 500 degrees
and it slowly, slowly reacted — recrystallizing into exquisite Carrara marble
as it pushed back up under Tuscany (200 million years later) to finally
burst out into the sun to be quarried and cut and known the world wide
as the definitive color and texture of Classical statuary.
Of course the Romans painted it, which strikes us as repulsive
because since the toddler days of English (the statues themselves
are far older than that — despite Shakespeare’s and Shelly’s conceit)
these pure white volumes with spare elegant lines
have been the epitome of beauty – subconsciously wed
to Plato’s forms and Euclid’s Elements to create
the spiritual-aesthetic ideal of pure abstraction
which didn’t work very well wherever it was tried
and certainly had never existed.
All the subtlety of Rome comes from its antecedent,
and telescoping history.
Rome was the first bloom of rot on the flower of Greece,
and would decay further into the Church, and finally crumble
becoming the dark ages to lay
some violent and some literary,
with Arabic, Indian and Asian brightness
fractured it’s myopia.
The Greeks and Romans painted and gilded their statues — they were
gaudy and garish. It was the hand of time which wiped clean the sluttish color
and suggested to us that the carnal cartoon Roman Gods were ever meant to be
pure, abstract, spiritual or ideal in any way.
They were merely inevitable — and even that insight
had been stolen from the Greeks.
Politicians like Rome more than artists or saints.
Before gunpowder and telecommunications,
they were able to kill everybody
and take their stuff.
They called it bringing order, like we do today.
We complain about terrorism, they had barbarians.
A lot of their barbarians were fair skinned blonds,
ours are mostly olive skinned brunettes — don’t get all hung up on that,
it’s always gonna be somebody.
There were people who made a whole lot of money on it.
It’s always gonna be somebody.
What they did with it:
“Livia as Ceres”
portraits involved the imagination.
The 50 people you meet over
and over again
you give them gods’ names.
On the wall high above the exhibition floor
a poet, praising his King!
He only got away with it
because words are so light.
Statue of a young girl
irony of delicacy in stone.
Next to the portraits of soldiers
is Herodes Atticus
his face described as “sensitive”
but it looks patient and sad to me
maybe he is pausing for effect.
The forges of Vulcan
assisted by satyrs and
In reality, Vulcan is a writer.
A sarcophagus with the myth of Actaeon
spread over the panels
Myth, and later science, educates the eye.
It is not so much something to store
in a hopper of knowledge
and dump forth on test days,
but a method of how to form impressions
from the wash of radiant energy and
the occasional diffuse molecule
which collides directly with the forest of tendrils we extend
into the darkness.
my poor dim brain
floating past these hundred-some treasures
each with a thousand-some discernible details
boxed and unboxed
lifted polished cataloged described and photographed
vomiting up a few vague impressions
Hesse on sculpture, Proust on memory
perception from David Bohm. Even this dissatisfaction
I have stolen from Nabokov.
First rate thefts all,
but theft nonetheless — I can string the contraband out
in 4! different ways
for 24 essays without actually having to see anything.
But standing back from it, what strikes me is
how heavy the statues are, and how light words.
Horace’s cheap praise
of Caesar and Order
floating above all that stone.
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