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Long After Duchamp
Down the elegance of this stairway flows an unseen nude. Don’t mistake her for the one in the Duchamp painting, a stutter of unkempt rhomboids. This one is a creature of fictive music, someone flowing into and out of herself with abandon and glee. She knows that we can’t see her, and guesses that we would rather not. She assumes that we admire the purity of the curved rail without a human hand marring it, and prefer that the pie-shaped treads and arc of white wall remain innocent of ghostly presence.
This invisible nude is the residue of an unresolved schism. It happened in our mutual youth: the ideal form, distraught with the actual person, went adrift. That actual person lives nearby. Like us she has stumbled backward into age, but retains her outline, still casts a shadow. We phone and ask her to come and identify this detached and brightly polished figure. But when she arrives she can’t see it, either. We all agree, though, that unlike Duchamp’s rickety cubist slur this nude self-enhances with opalescent transparency, critiquing flesh by its absence.
Shabby Old Truck
Although the lobsterman’s shabby old truck won’t take anyone anywhere, the surviving yellow paint goes well with the red-brown rust, and the aggressive grill looks eager as a shark trailing a trawler. The lobsterman doesn’t worry about sharks. He worries about the price of lobster in Boston and New York and the dwindling catch; he worries that his children will renounce their genders and that property tax will dismember him.
Encouraged by his despair, the rich move in, plowing through his property with pants on fire and bug-eyes bleeding golden tears. Although the wall of lobster traps can’t stop them, the rusty old truck roars to life, snapping its grill. The rich neither waver nor retreat. They stand firm, swinging their heavy jowls. The truck lurches forward. After the sneer of exhaust dissipates, only an empty checkbook remains, flapping in the driveway like a run-over squirrel.
Vapors Shaped like People
Vapors shaped like people smoke
from the earth after heavy rain.
They curlicue into the sunlight
and pose as if for photos.
Something musical in their stance,
something painterly in the slick
transparency they overlay
on trembling suburban gardens.
Nothing sculptural, nothing
solid enough to touch or embrace,
but a faint yellow keening
accompanies a violin
scratching in a neighbor’s house
where I swear I once saw ghosts
cruising in the shrubs at dusk.
The vapors aren’t ghosts, though,
only daydreams hatching
in the prepubescent residue
of the average working life.
Anyone could name those shapes
after the unrequited lust
that fringes one’s daily errands.
After work, a drink at the pub,
a tour of the supermarket,
a chat with a smiling pharmacist.
The vapors recall the moments
in school, church, playground, camp,
when flesh conspires with flesh
to arouse the sleeping gene pool
to what we hope is destiny.
I know better. The vapors curdle
like the last autumn bonfire
when the promise of snow
suggests I retreat to Mexico
and open my pores to a language
made of flowers that never fade.
Window Washer at Logan
Braced by a copper sunrise,
the man cleaning the windows
of the airport terminal splays
himself against the glass
with a ballet grace he learned
on the job. His poise reassures
the coach-class paying customers
the airlines themselves disdain.
Behind him, a parked airliner
sports a tail whose horizonal
stabilizer mocks his squeegee
by sharing its simple geometry.
Although not as glamorous
as piloting, window-washing
preserves a view of the world
we need for the sake of sanity.
The elegance of his effort
flatters the garish sunup
and suggests how the human figure
might unfold in natural flight.
Houses upholstered like coffins
sell for far more than they’re worth.
The sunlight creaking in their attics
aches like ancestral memories.
Text messages flirt in the ether,
settle in fluffy little bedrooms
where adults cheat on adults
and children fantasize in tones
not even the loudest music
can muffle. Walking the streets
with the simple rhythm I once
applied to New York, Paris, London,
I avoid the accusing glance
of these needy low-slung houses
with their picture windows winking.
If I could afford the mortgage
and taxes on one of these coffins
I’d move in forever, hunkering
under layers of plush, leaving
only fingers and toes showing
for the Welcome Wagon lady
to greet with her basket of trash.
The April day emblazons itself
in layers as rich as a cake’s.
Bulbs perk from half-thawed soil—
snowdrops, crocus, spring beauty.
I wish I could hide from these houses
in the slough and slur of cities,
but distance pouring from the sky
embalms me step by step, the street
ebbing underfoot, the small rooms
framing still-lives so impeccable
no one is sure who has died.