Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Promise and Memory (Poem)

What follows is a found poem drawn from Michael Kimmelman's The Accidental Masterpiece: On the Life of Art and Vice Versa. Some words are his; some are mine. I find the intersection, the collage of texts that found poetry presents extremely interesting. Maybe I'll actually work up an essay on it an post it later in the week. For now, click on the link above to find out a little more about the history and use of the found poem and to read some other examples. Any comments or suggestions (i.e. what works, what doesn't work) are welcome. Feel free to share your thoughts.


Promise and Memory: A Found Poem

Everything is as it should be, nothing will ever change,
nobody will ever die.

-Vladimir Nabakov

It isn’t likely that he set out that morning to
find a partner, a muse to endlessly draw and paint;
but in eighteen ninety-three, by an accident of fate,
Pierre Bonnard was walking down

a Paris street (or so the story goes)
when he spied an elfin woman dropping from a tram.
She was maybe five feet tall, was thin and fragile
as a bird, a resemblance, they say, she never lost—

the startled look, the liking for water and for taking baths,
the weightless walk that comes from wings, her
slender high heels as spindly as birds’ feet; she even had
something of the bird’s gaudy plumage. But she croaked,

she didn’t sing, and was often hoarse and breathless,
a woman condemned by slight and delicate health
for an early death (though she outlived this
misdiagnosis by half a century). Reclusive and suspicious,

she’d told him she was sixteen, named
Marthe de Méligny. He followed her to work.
But it was years before he learned her real name and age:
Maria Boursin, not sixteen, but nearly twenty-six.

For the next fifty years she became
the defining figure of his life and ecstatic, inward-
looking work, a world built on the promise and memory
of handling her flesh, of bringing his body to hers.

And yet he holds back: she
is too dear, too brittle to hold so he leaves the flesh
to be caressed by the light that plays over it, invades it,
infuses it as it infuses the surrounding space. Maybe

at first sight he’d sensed this something in Marthe
and was drawn into her skin as a child is drawn from the womb.
Had he walked down another street that day or looked the other way
when she’d stepped off the tram; had he not pursued her

but turned into a café or to find a friend or just stopped
to tie his shoelaces, he might have met another woman,
discovered a different life, put on a different skin, painted
a completely different though, perhaps, no less enormous

memory of her.