Poets for Science
Global Gallery

The Double Life

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They were like the canvas and the paint
of a grand portrait. The two necessities.

The one, the daywork in the hospital,
stretched its linened fingers
with geometric grace.

Eyeless it felt the nubs and crevices of sick-wards.
Tensed them on a frame until they smoothed
in readiness for oil.

The other, the burden of poems,
coursed in many colors
the brown and pink smokes of a face.
It slaked the chapped canvas,

which kept stretching, surviving,
encarboned by its dim roots in plant life
its origin as part of nature,

which wounds and heals and is heaping
with victorious white scar
that end to end would circle every planet.

More poems came knifethick
decked upon the work.

For a while, the brushstrokes
lapped placable in their pigments, slept, almost
against the linen sternum.
Made the unisoned life.

The doctor spun pneumonias out of the body,
poured elixirs,
measured the liver in centimeters,
belayed the pressure of the blood.

The poet drank the blood.
The dark paint lodged in the canvas’s pale fibers.

Hung, the coupled gravity –
the rowing brushwork,
the bleached wattle of a canvas like a tide-rim –

like all ornaments, finally unendured.

The paint split wrongsized in its varnished coat.
Like a cigarette, just where it was brightest
it ashed off. It had to.

Flaking, it was most itself:
isolations of apricot, gamboge, topaz, scarlet.
No longer part of any picture. Fugitive, it entered

the room warm with bodies. The floor, the rug.
Entered as dust the bodies’ blood.
Its leaden chaff stirred madness.
Wove itself in bone.

High on the wall denuded chinks of canvas
glistened, newly undisguised
in milky pennants.
The war of work, the taut battalion going onwards
with its retinue, with its sick.

Is this to be regretted, the unlastingness?
Tell me, how else can union end
between color and its harbor?
Between color and its canvas bondage?

Aren’t we tired of our pictures?

The surface always peeling from its own radiance.
And the canvas suffers too.
Suffers where its pallor has been dyed.

Unfaced again, the canvas whitens into splendor.
Bright flakes of poems litter the floor.
Unflocked they unhoard their unreality.