Thursday, July 16, 2009

Triptych for My Twenty-Third Year (Poem)

Today our oldest turns six. Not only has she lost her first two teeth in the past week, but she's made a significant difference in the course of my life and mind. (Random connection, that, isn't it?) I've tried to capture something of that course in this poem, which I hope is just personal and particular enough to be universal. You'll have to let me know if it works and, if it doesn't, why.

So, first, even though I know she doesn't read my blog, happy birthday, Sid.

And second, here's the poem (part of my meditations on J. Kirk Richards; though there's nothing really grand about the painting, for some reason, perhaps the connections I made because of the title, it inspired this longish response):

Triptych for My Twenty-Third Year: Three Views of Self-portrait at 23

     View I (After Eliot)

He’s all oil and pigment lies,
truth washed from his flesh
into shallow blue iris pools,
brimful basins
that crest the infant slit of his face
into a garden he’s never tended
near the house he’ll never own
down a passage he’s never walked
into a room he’ll never leave. I
wait for him at the water’s parting heads
as Adam may have waited
for the serpent to cool its tongue
in Eden’s quartered stream, wait
for the lies to add up some truth
about oil and pigment, brushstrokes,
me, and my twenty-third year when,
holding my minutes-old daughter, I
fell into the basin of her soul, tripped,
face first, into an afterbirth lined font,
heard, from the crimson milieu of the womb:
Quick, said the serpent, find him, find him.
Around the corner. Through the first gate.
Into our first world. Follow
the deception of the thrush.

     View II: Four Variations on View I

Waterfowl ripple the artist’s eyes like cherubim folding the earth,
restraining the torrent of God’s tears until Noah’s vessel was tight
as a womb, ready to break water, bear an Infant suckled eons on
the serpent’s cured ribs.
                              Or like the dove’s pulse unfolding peace
as it pierced the channeled firmament, bearing Adam’s unearthed
rib with marrow enough still to help Noah and Co. revise
God’s genome for posterity.

God bathes in the light streaming down the right side of the artist’s
face, rides it like a family on innertubes coasting down the Snake’s
backside, the river’s skin tight across ribs that ripple as the moon
eddies sky, as wind plays through the corridor, ruffling scales
of light across the eddied plane. I watch them glide to the bank,
help them ashore, offer a towel to wipe the brazen oil from their

Silence throbs through the artist’s half-pictured brush: an umbilical
snipped when he stepped from himself, rinsed the body’s afterbirth,
stretched it on rosewood ribs, hung it to dry before he primed
the surface, started painting again. His strokes sear the womb like
sound unearthing bone beneath my oil and pigment skin: an I cradling
a six-pound newborn girl suckled for eons on God’s teat, her and I face-
to-wave with an amniotic eternity.

               iv. Sidney at Two Months
Her legs’ cadence draws me from dream. I slip into dawn’s chill to
warm her back to sleep, slicing shadow with the hallway’s
incandescent light. I crack her door, carve a sliver through her room,
bathe in the infant slit of her deep blue iris pools like when I stood
at her mother’s feet, saw the sliver of her crimson crown push through
before her first breath pierced my ribs and set my pulse to the rhythms
of her life.

     View III: Logan, Utah, 2003

The year God yanked me from
sculpture class with a hand-scribbled
note with no signature:

          Dear Sir/Madam:
          Tyler is indefinitely excused
          from the plastic arts.

Not quite like days off for 9/11
or snow, my oldest sister’s wedding
or Grandma’s brother’s funeral

(where we sang “The Beer Barrel Polka”
over his freshly coffered flesh),
but a revelation still

once I recognized desire in the space
where God’s autograph should have been
and signed the emptiness myself,

looping my ‘T’ like the mid-air flip
of rose hips knocked loose by a breeze.
Like the serpent’s perpetual tongue.

Like a robin’s breast proud against
dawn. Like the sonorous curve
of Sidney’s mouth pressed for the first time

against her mother’s breast. Like
this eddied composition, paint waves
furrowing language and memory,

gray matter set ablaze in the flame
of these ten thousand strokes
set in motion as I walk Eden’s corridors

in the cool of day trying to remember the song
Adam sang to Eve the night she broke water,
pressed a world from her womb, and, as she slept

a mother’s fitful sleep, left
swirling canyons of words through
the crimson silhouette of my dreams.