Pure signal.

Seattle Art Museum Reading

Marmareos (reading mss 3/13/08)


In sun dappled pools within pools draped between

the Eurasian and African plates

prehistoric animalcules

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

almost sterile

until collisions,

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”

Before cameras

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!

How unctious!

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

a dwarf

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.

How unsatisfactory,

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

stolen mostly

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.


March 14, 2008 - Posted by | Poems

1 Comment »

  1. I did wonder what style of poetry you wrote. You can paint pictures with words in a very free form fashion… but it still glides along in a lovely sing song fashion.


    Comment by Jill | March 14, 2008 | Reply

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