Table of Contents - Vol. VII, No. 4
Here at my desk, where the walls walk
into the windows and the windows walk
into the world, you stepped years ago,
a woman still foreign to me,
not because you smelled of ginger then
or let me hear your quiet ululations
during sex, not because of something else
I failed to recognize as too American,
your knowledge of strip malls in Paramus
where we first bought furniture,
or why I should stand in the cold Boston wind
for half an hour to see the movie Z,
its leftist bent as delicate as your wrist,
its title one more end to an alphabet—
as I would be, also your alpha you always said,
but because your trust was foreign to that part
of me, a wildness still walking beside you
mile after mile, then and now, free and un-free.
—Madame Matisse, 1905
Don’t take the green stripe painted down the center
of her face as transcendent affirmation.
It’s merely the earliest sign he would get together later
with one of his models in a flat in Nice,
unable to divorce Madame Matisse for want of a papal decree
and their famous progeny further evidence
against pressing a case for annulment.
Her chignon appears trés formidable,
the eyes not especially cross or angry (as they well might be)
on either side of this rudely painted nose,
nor even a look of surprise at her new found difficulty
of going out in public
without everyone on the street staring at the green stripe
(acid green, not a polite or apple green)
each stranger enacting their own encounter with sublimity
as once interpreted by Kant
and now overthrown by a newly minted Fauve.
Rapture and transport are free of context but not of form;
the painting still shocks
despite its permanent display in Denmark
where it’s looked at by Danes.
Even if you’re fond of herring and beer served warm,
the conclusion’s obvious:
artists aren’t philosophers or shouldn’t be;
painting a vermilion stripe down your wife’s nose
isn’t just theory of art but revenge served cold.
The waiting room of the world’s like this:
a slack tide seeps through the slats
of old wooden boats tied up at posts,
we feel like horses asleep on our feet,
slapping at the somnolent flies.
It’s the festering crab meat, I tell them
that brings the flies out
biting at unintended targets:
our arms and legs swell with welts,
and burn with the roiling sweat.
“This is hell” my wife exclaims,
an intrepid sailor who rarely curses,
stranded in a steaming place
where nothing seems to happen
as slowly as possible
except for the crab races run once a year
on warm pavement and burned grass.
The stench of the processing plants
in Crisfield’s air makes the signs peel
on Main Street and the warm beer they serve
in every bar tastes like vomit
I almost can’t swallow.
Who would come here to celebrate
the Crab Capitol of the World except
someone as dumb as a crustacean?
We sidle back to the boat and leave.
My son takes out a blue plastic swatter
and by actual count kills 200 flies
in the cockpit by noon.
“Something worth putting in the log,” I say
before I get a look that says
“we’re outta here.”
But no one’s forgot the stop we made
for fuel and ice after we left Tangier.
© Michael Salcman