Friday, September 30, 2016
Monday, September 19, 2016
A woman confronts a photo
of another woman with wings.
The winged woman poses before
a tower crane that poses in turn
before a distant cityscape.
Although the burnished tangerine
gown that drapes her geometry
features elegant corrugations
that would surely trip her in flight,
her wings look too feathery
to brace all that fashion aloft.
The woman observing may think
these doubtful appendages fail
to justify so much wall space
in this worldly, pricey museum.
Without creeping closer and spoiling
the tableau, I can’t determine
if those wings have grown fresh
from the subject’s sexual ethos
or whether from early childhood
she enjoyed deep alar passions
that have fruited in this display.
Maybe she hasn’t actually flown
on those flimsy accessories
but will launch herself as soon
as the photographer has finished.
Maybe the woman onlooker
would like to have wings of her own
and will go home determined
to grow them despite the fear
this ambition stirs in her partner
and friends. I want to tell her
to go ahead and will her wings
to sprout from her naked back,
maybe after a strenuous bout
of routine lovemaking. Maybe,
though, she just wants to drape
herself in tangerine and pose
before a distant smiling city
where tower cranes peck at
the landscape like blue herons
pecking meat from minor species.
A cow skull painted fine-grained on canvas stares me down. Georgia O’Keeffe preferred the bones of cattle, skeletons of landscape, desert raw as the average nude. Her first kiss with Alfred Stieglitz must have chilled and grilled them both to the core. As I try to focus on paint rather than picture, museum visitors buff me with great expectations. “Making Modern,” an exhibit that deigns to impress, inhales but refutes or refuses my taste. Although I respect O’Keeffe’s grasp of her arid silence, I prefer the rougher strokes of Arthur Dove, the corrugations of Marsden Hartley, and the tough white factories of Charles Sheeler. Losing face to face, photography recedes from painting, yet retains a grip. Despite the triumph of the imagination, more skulls lurk in the desert to snap at the bare feet of pilgrims determined to meet their animal spirit guides.
A woman folds onto on the bench beside me. She scans a map of the museum and frowns in several shades of violet. She’s making herself modern. I think we’re both in a painting by Stuart Davis, one that will wrestle us to the floor in a tangle of competing forms and clashing hues. I wish O’Keeffe’s derisive skull could masticate Davis’s plastic forms and spit out neat squares of Rothko. Two shades of crimson glowing in a frame of burnt orange. Or electric blue and yellow framed in navy. I lean into my notebook to hide my face from the agony of the new. Stieglitz and O’Keeffe have filtered their sex lives through me, and I may not weather the toxic glow.