The Docents

In a courtyard lit by the sun,

Greco-Roman body parts

Are pedestaled around a tiled pool.

Here, the coiffed head of a woman,

There, a lithe leg or muscled arm,

And everywhere, torsos of either sex.

Beneath a severed wing,

We stand at the entrance facing them,

As if before dismemberment

Our bodies too were part of the exhibit.

From the shadow of a balcony above,

A docent stops to scrutinize.

I cringe.

 

We dart to a darkened gallery,

Our feet circling a square

To the Monet,

Where our gaze becomes rapt,

Where our posture stiffens to rigor mortis

As we succumb to the beauty

Of a lily in its pool.

From the corner of my eye,

I espy another docent watching.

Rouse yourself!

Shake each limb awake!

If I move to close the circle,

What more am I looking for?  Why?

 

These docents are everywhere,

Standing sentinel in corners,

Or processing through hallways.

Servants of art?

They look like wraiths in blazers,

Ushers in a charnel house.

Once innocent like you or I,

In limning art’s history,

In scavenging its anecdotes,

They failed an epiphany.

Now silencers,

Enforcers of an etiquette,

They serve without parole.

 

We flee on a lift to the loft.

The opening door discloses

Ruined artifacts of Asia:

The belly of Buddha;

Fingers that insinuate a lotus;

Myriad bodhisvattas

Of exalted countenance,

Re-enshrined in a temple of death.

In their midst,

One small statue on its plinth,

A wanderer,

Scraped, chiseled, sanded,

By a carver’s telling hand.

 

His gauntness is covered

With a cloak rippled by wind.

It is open, exposing the wings

Of his chest bones.

Beneath its hem,

The delicate bones of his feet.

This carving is the skeletal key to a secret:

Witness how rapt is his face in repose,

And his hands, how they are hidden

In the cloak, too holy to view.

I circle an evocation of a vocation.

What I divine shall uplift and uphold,

Just as a wing takes the wind.

 

Let us look to ourselves and be gone.

No longer will we linger here,

Gazing after beauty,

Loving these fragments

From dreams already dreamt.

May my own art be a stave

That guides and protects,

For a journey

Worthy of the telling

On the final day of breath.

We descend the marble stair;

See the door and the light,

A stone’s throw away.

 

Let us go quickly–not a docents in sight.

 

March – September, 2008

 

(Alternative Ending.  This was my initial attempt to end the poem.  I was dissatisfied and tried again.)

 

He carved this fetish

For the few

Who can intuit what it is:

An evocation of a vocation.

These are the ones

Who wish that they could touch

The wooden skin where it is rough,

Fitting the imprint of his tips

With their own, knowing

They are his son,

His daughter,

Cursed to live likewise,

But beloved by the Father.

 

Let us look to ourselves and be gone.

No longer will we linger here,

Gazing after beauty,

Loving these fragments

From dreams already dreamt.

May my own art

Be a compass and sextant

That guides and protects,

For a journey worthy of the telling

On the final day of breath.

We descend the marble stair;

See the door and the light,

A stone throw away.

 

Let us go quickly–not a docent’s in sight.

 

(Excised between stanzas III and IV)

 

I pause before a supplicant,

The painting of a vigilant woman

Who holds a lighted taper.

An unseen Divinity

Commands her attention

From its secret place of power,

So that her gaze is forever averted.

What miracle or horror will be worked?

Two centuries hence,

Visitors stand before her image

Feeling uneasy,

As if this were the portrait of a docent

On the verge of her novitiate.

 

(Excised between stanzas IV and V)

 

A wanderer woke in the jungle

By a pool teeming with lilies.

Cleansing himself,

He discovered a gourd.

Climbing to his mountain retreat,

He placed it on an altar.

There it remained,

This seed of his art,

For years of his life,

Until a season for carving

Reached its zenith,

And a bud in his soul

Began its burst.

 

 

 

 


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