ERSKINE J. PRIZE contest winner

An American Exodus


It is the forty-first day of this rain.
Something answerable to the form
of the earth, a rounded glass of liquid
bowed out by steel-ribbed lines of longitude.
The water marks a point twenty-two feet
and counting above the mountaintops
from Thebes to the shadow of the New World.
A raven rests on carrion and floats
past the first day of the tenth month. The dove,
too delicate to feel the breath of death,
becomes a good measure of the level
of weather that should have ended yesterday.
Even the Morton Salt girl seeks shelter
beyond the thin shell of her umbrella.

 Beyond the thin shell of her umbrella:
Oklahoma, North Dakota. The west
wouldn’t have been settled without salt,
without a cure for meat—also cuts rust
from farm equipment, pocket knives. Fire
follows months of dry, hot weather, destroys
six hundred blocks in Chicago. This is
the middle of a seven-year drought. Dust
bowls replace sugar bowls. Nothing’s as sweet
as Exodus, the call from a burning bush
changes shepherd’s rod to serpent: more smoke
and in the mirror, she counts the lines time
engraved. Across the Depression she walks
since umbrellas are cheaper than taxis.

 Since umbrellas are cheaper than taxis
cabbies fear they’ll be out of business when
the seven trumpets of judgment are blown.
A third of the earth gone, mountains collapsed.
Taste the star of bitterness as the sun
is blighted. Here’s the key to the furnace.
The four horsemen mean no harm. Say yes
if they ask. She gathers her petticoats,
her small boots. She is unsure: should she walk
or run? Is the world a container or
does it repel? A glass of water sits
atop an umbrella. She is sweating
the end of the age and the age to come.
It is the forty-first day of this rain.

ERSKINE J. PRIZE contest finalist

Art Fundamentals: Theory and Practice


Plate 33.
The Dead Toreador by Manet
Here is a toreador beaten
by the bull.  His blood is black,
his cape torn.  Or, is that a she? 
You expect me to say yes,
but instead I say mausoleum.
Can you hear your reflection
in the difference between man
and woman?  As round
is to highway, concrete
to transparent, apples : orchids
in still life.  Flat areas of color
meet abruptly to edges
becoming one of the basic
technical advances
in nineteenth-century art.

Fig. 85.
Ma Jolie by Picasso
Here is a woman with a zither
or a guitar.  No, that is a gun
she is pointing at you, as you
wade through the shallow space
of Do you come here often? 
Bartender, I’ll have another
you can’t see forms as whole.
Flat planes are broken.  You think:
Kansas, your mother, and paintings
by Edward Hopper.  A smile
covers half your face as you
get ahead of yourself.  You picture
this woman naked — all angle and
semi-illusionistically rendered
in metaphor to represent your reality.

Plate 71.
Woman at Desk by Sandra Whitney
A woman sits in a black chair
with a black cat at her feet.
A blue clock ticks away clichés,
in a moment where anything
that happens twice is a pattern —
which she now breaks to enhance
the three-dimensional beauty
of the curved and flat-shaped-
relationships.  This thought may
cause toxic shock syndrome:
this painting does not exist,
neither does this artist.  But
this woman continues to sit,
and tries to think beyond
Georgia O’Keefe, beyond
Mary Cassatt, beyond.