March 26, 2023

“from: American and Other Wings”

The shapes a bright container can contain!
 —Theodore Roethke

Tiffany Fountain

Look inside the ceramic frame
—arabesques in blues and greens—
at the festive scene of Italian cypresses
climbing a hill against rosy clouds,
where a tall stone vase sits on the balustrade
overflowing with peonies
(you can almost smell their delicious
scent as they flutter in the breeze).
Peer into the mosaic pond
punctuated with swans,
twin reflections sailing beneath them
almost unseen, iridescent in the sun.
But plumbing the depths of rippling water—
you’ll never penetrate its skin,
and the only real things you’ll find
are at the foot of this scene:
a gurgling fountain clogged with rust
above a wishing pool
glinting with coins like a cup of dreams.

See those flashes far above the hills.

After Louis Comfort Tiffany, Garden Landscape, ca. 1905; favrile glass, mosaic.

The Vine I

Head thrown back
she stands on tippy-toes,
one hand stretched forward,
the other behind her,
lost in a profusion of curls.
The balls of her feet
thrust her upward
up and up like invisible high-heels,
against gravity, toward poetry,
from feet to calves
to the delicate globes
of the derrière.
The small of the back
her center of gravity as the vine
entwines and tangles around her,
head thrown back,
one hand thrust forward,
dangling a cluster of grapes.
She stands on tippy-toes
while all around her
handfuls of grapes lay scattered,
drops of pure
joy strewn on the ground.

After Harriet Whitney Frishmuth, The Vine, 1921, revised 1923, cast 1924, bronze.


haunches hugging his bronze rock
body clinging
as his tail provides ballast—

Motion in stasis, stasis in motion,

his bulk slides down
to its gray stone pedestal,

powerful shoulders in constant
rotation like
twin grinding gears,

gears that drive his molten
heart before
the leap.

His imposing head,
his little ears
turned toward danger or prey,

his forepaw extends
like an athlete’s forearm,

about to flip a fish out of rushing water,
make it flop on shore,
dance in the night,

all before gimlet yellow eyes
lying in wait, ready to pounce.

What makes him turn now
from stealth to flight?
(a whiff of fear—or imagination:

what feeds and deceives:)

Dense shadow sliding down
into jungle, some lonely canyon,

gone in an instant like
slipping between
my fingers

before another scene
grows in my mind.

After Anna Hyatt Huntington, Reaching Jaguar, 1906-07, cast 1926, bronze.

Three Bears

He looks so cute,
the one in the middle,
standing on hind legs
like a dancing bear,
towering over the she-bears
that flank him. Lifted paws
and little perked ears
more comic than threatening,
their stylized lines
and bronze double-chins
more art deco than real,
arranged there in a happy tableau.
He could reach out
and touch them,
the man writing this scene,
pat their heads
like Labrador puppies
bounding toward him
with sloppy kisses.
But what comes next
when the scene continues
(computer keys clicking,
cameras rolling in his mind),
when the one in the middle
barrels toward him,
defending his ground?
Run fast
as a galloping horse,
toward the nearest alder or pine,
climb and climb before
that he-bear shakes you down,
shakes you loose
like the choicest apple
now falling from the tree.

After Paul Manship, Group of Bears, 1932, cast 1963, bronze.

Handsome Perseus

striding forward
in winged sandals,
sword in hand,
from the other hangs Medusa’s head,
cape draped over his arm.
He’s defeated evil—
the blank stone eyes, the gorgon’s
black tongue lolled out—
And regally helmeted,
he’s posed as a hero, maker of
myths set in labyrinths and caves.
Nakedly arrayed:
Because what dominates
are his frank, boyish loins,
the dangling stub and its tender sac—
potential for life, desire, sheer creation—
crowned with curls
in a glorious package
encompassing Homer’s dream.
My thoughts take flight in my own
winged sandals, freed
of trappings, strapped and ready
for the leap.

After copy of Antonio Canova, Perseus with the Head of Medusa, 1804-06, marble.

Limestone Head

Little spit-curls
frame her features,
like a thirties’ chorus-
girl chewing gum—
And besides that,
she’s on the move,
at least her face is,
the arch of her eyes
and pillowy eye-brows
hold up the nose,
the razor-sharp nose,
it’s ever so looong,
plummeting downward,
a sheer narrow drop
from eyebrows to chin
like Coney Island’s
Parachute Jump
(from the boardwalk,
all these years later,
you can still hear
girls scream).
I’m now in free-fall
down her cheekbones
skidding past
shadows, hieroglyphics
scored into limestone,
slate-gray, blue.
My stomach drops
till I reach the bottom:
her safe prim lips
where the fun now ends
and secrets begin.

After Amedeo Modigliani, Woman’s Head, 1912, limestone.