The first “Self-Portrait” (1964)
Four silkscreens, the background a sky blue,
With head held straight up, and to the side.
Already famous but not yet as a God:
Together brought him sixteen hundred bucks.
The glasses sit on the nose’s bridge,
Like two dark aughts – though a king, naked.
But the third – neck held in a tight-knot brace,
And the void of the tie strangling his neck.
Belatedly we’ve learned: not half a century
Past, the battlehost of zeros is limitless.
But long before that – a bullet in the gut.
And twenty years hence, immortality.
Otto Dix, “Portrait of the Journalist,
Silvie von Harden” (1926)
The pile of ash on the tip of the cigarette,
Attention to the right stocking, rolling down.
Jugendstil dominates beer hall and plein air.
That decadence, lips expelling a syllable.
With faith in Wehrmacht, Luftwaffe, Frau’s womb,
In perspective and peace, and victory at war!
The Third Reich – Soldaten’s meat for cannons.
It’s fraulein, whose duty is to give soldiers birth.
In the beclouded monocle no longer visible
Are Weimar, Mann, Spritzer, Jazz, and cabaret.
Pikes of right hands and thundering Deutsch
In which the oracle shrieks, like early rapping.
Grant Wood, “American Gothic” (1930)
The house – a fortress, white, redoubtable.The foundation solid, fences blinding bright
And, like a row of middle fingers, stuck upright.
The roofs peaked, in high-retro gothic style.
In the sober Midwest American provinces,
Among standard barns, the cattle, milking cows,
The rigid watchfulness of its stolid citizens,
Hearing sharpened, sense of smell perked up.
Their boots dug in deeper than bottomless wells,
Their views on life and wills are iron pronged,
They turn a deaf ear to all the slanderous rumors
Those outsiders, the rootless cosmopolites, brang.
Vincent Van Gogh,
“Night Café in Arles” (1888)
The clock ticks. The billiard table tilts. Nothing’s
at rest. Some rooms you can’t get drunk in:
In their mirrors, the light burns so brightly
Not even the thought of a reflection may stir.
Their occupants, even in other times,
All “Cote de Provence” suffused – sadness, gases –
And if someone here were thrown into hell,
They’d emerge immediately, centuries hence.
The floor brushed with ocher gives off no luster,
The oil lamps shed tears without nary a blink,
And the one who runs into this bistro for a drink
Will neither shudder nor leave. Nor ever escape.