a poem for Max Beckmann

 

Max Beckmann, The Argonauts, 1949-50.

Max Beckmann, The Argonauts, 1949-50.

 

 

Chamber Music (after Max Beckmann’s The Argonauts)

 

1.

like the Argo

 

You’ve lived like the Argo,

always answering to the same name.

 

While others fell in love with arson

and going back to the drawing board,

you’ve lived like the Argo,

always answering to the same name

and continually replacing the world piece by piece.

 

“Life is difficult, as perhaps everyone knows by now,”

the gods may counsel.

While others fell in love with arson

and going back to the drawing board,

you’ve lived like the Argo,

always answering to the same name

and continually replacing the world piece by piece.

Now your hull scrapes the skirt of a new island,

a sound so slow to reach the young belles

rehearsing a new song in an old room.

 

 

2.

Model with Sword

 

He thinks this one is going to be titled

Model with Sword,

but she knows it’s called Medea 1950.

Is it with a smile or a subtle frown

that she sings a song of lap dogs, black stockings and daggers?

He thinks this one is going to be titled Model with Sword,

but she knows it’s called Medea 1950,

wiggling the mask’s cheek deeper between her own.

 

 

3.

half a decade in a freezing tobacco storeroom

 

Relishing a roomful of musical women

is one way to withstand half a decade

in a freezing tobacco storeroom.

Years later you might even encounter

their fragrant scales for real.

 

On Santa Monica beach you’ve overheard

a pair of proto-surfers rehearsing lines for a film by Maya Deren.

How can you tell them that relishing a roomful of musical women

is one way to withstand half a decade in a freezing tobacco storeroom?

Years later you might even encounter their fragrant scales for real.

They’ll be waiting for you to show them your favorite phallic symbol

and the quickest route to the house of Miss Anne Frank.

 

 

4.

an action open to misinterpretation

 

Who wants to be the first one to make an action open to misinterpretation?

What about you, the virile painter alone in a room

with a half-naked, well-armed woman?

Of course, we’re following a score written by ancient gods,

but let’s pretend we don’t know that.

Now, who wants to be the first one to make an action open to misinterpretation?

What about you, the virile painter alone in a room

with a half-naked, well-armed woman?

What about you, the young cellist

a little too early to try out for a film by Eric Rohmer?

 

Of course, one of us has to die tomorrow,

collapsed in a useless heap on Central Park West.

Of course, one of us will not turn up

on the list of survivors from the shipwreck of modernity.

Of course, we’re following a score written by ancient gods,

but let’s pretend we don’t know any of that.

Now, who wants to be the first one

to make an action open to misinterpretation?

What about you, the virile painter alone in a room

with a half-naked, well-armed woman?

What about you, the young cellist a little too early

to try out for a film by Eric Rohmer?

What about you, muscled lyricist?

You, relentless captain?

You, grizzled king?

A single gesture will suffice and, as a matter of fact,

it’s all there’s time for.

No more encores from those clangorous hotel orchestras.

Curtains, likewise, for all archaic pipers.

On this cold morning, chamber music hushes the wars

as a purple planet rises like candy in a lavender sky.

 

Max Beckmann in Central Park, 1950. Image copyright Max Beckmann Archive, Munich.

Max Beckmann in Central Park, 1950. Image copyright Max Beckmann Archive, Munich.