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Pictures At An Exhibition

Pam's portraits (of me, her, friends, her mom, known
and unknown models) watch us from the bedroom walls,
many of them meeting my eyes or close enough
to be unsure if they know I'm looking back.

Hundreds of times they've seen us have sex
(if they see anything), probably taking
a dim view of it, most of them (on the front
wall) getting an ass-end view, like a porno
flick shot, but slightly from above,
putting them at the disapproving-or-facilitating-
angel angle.

One — the redhead (no name, a paid model,
just 17 at the time, that other time, when she became
this, at this time; a gypsy, says Pam) — that one
is nude, so is in no position to scorn us,
though her small, taut tits mock
our baggy baggage.

Old Louie, mouth hung agape
(no, he was talking as she painted, says Pam),
stares at us from both left and right.
A jazz drummer once, he holds the sticks
in one. Pam paid him to pose because
she knew he needed cash, and here he is,
bright-eyed and bushy-browed and about
to speak, explain, at garrulous length,
his decaying breath challenging politeness.

He died years ago. He's still talking about
himself, his opinions, who he knew.
Our having sex drifts through and about his opinions
like cigarette smoke about tables, like
his own memories. Pam painted him as charity,
but got the best of it, these portraits.

Mid-right is another talker, grizzled, eager,
amused by his own anticipated cleverness
and outrageousness, our wild-man (less so
than he likes to think) poet friend, Bill,
one arm stretched out along the back
of a couch we used to have.

Our sex amuses him endlessly, making him think
of what someone (Neruda? Traven?) says about how
bourgeois sex microcosmically replicates
the decay and dissolution of a culture. I just made
that up, but you're thinking something as slashing
and obscure, aren't you, picture of Bill?

Also he thinks he's glad he isn't in a house
that owns him, responsible for a wife, but
he wishes he could have, if not that,
something other than what he has,
it's all Bullshit; he'll go to Mexico, Cuba,
Costa Rica, Ireland, Prague, somewhere
where they haven't forgotten how to live
and where he can afford to get his teeth fixed.

But he's not bitter, he insists; see, he's almost
smiling, eyebrows raised in strong interest
in his own thoughts and the oddnesses he sees.
No, no, he insists, he doesn't care
about our having sex. Fine. Fine.
It's good for you. Have more — MORE!

Pam's Mom, Olivia, doesn't seem to mind
our sex (in the bed where she died). In one painting,
she's reading a newspaper. Our sex is nothing new.
In another portrait she looks good, young
for an emphysemic, cancerous old lady,
pretty, alert. You'd think Pam flattered her.
Not much. And almost over our heads, behind us,
a late picture, omitting the cannula on her upper lip
that fed her oxygen from a small wheeled tank
that followed her everywhere, nagging her
about a lifetime of smoking. She looks
tough, hanging in there. She sees us,
no doubt, rather likes our liking each other,
just wishes we weren't so fat. She wants us
to be beautiful.

The Southwestern girl leans, supported by one hand
on her blanket that's not really Indian and by her
long, straight crow-black hair, barefoot
in her endless blue skirt (it seems to head
for the painting's horizon) — she looks lonely,
but only because a gallery has the larger painting

of the same model as a demure, doe-eyed cellist.
Her southwestern self is too serene to be distracted
by our flurries of sex (as natural as her, after all),
though she observes them as omens of
mythical presences, dust and water becoming
adobe figures to be animated by water and fire,
one to seed the other, Gods setting earth on earth
to play life, a contagion of life stirring us
to feverish convulsions, after which we dabble
in one another, Gods making mud pies.

Or maybe she hasn't noticed us.
She seems abstracted. Foreground,
not quite spilling out onto us,
is a black bowl of garlic bunches, green
and orange peppers, potatoes and purple onions,
sunny, spicy stuff in a sunny painting.
She must think us a dark dream
like rain.

There's Monroe, another poet who posed,
gruff fellow, didn't much like me (I thought).
(Last seen/heard of a decade ago.)
He squints; his big red (enamel?) and brass
belt buckle crossed at an angle by an unreadable logo
(probably his precious "Harley Davidson")
is more with us than he is, lost in old
protective attitudes and scar tissue.
Why, having duly noted our activity,
should he give a damn? It's only
what he'd expect of us. And if it weren't,
what he'd expect is what he'd see.

There's one of me. but in profile, writing.
No one watches a writer while he writes, so
why should a writer notice lovers making love,
especially two old farts, for that writer
is 20 years younger than I am. Respect
your elders, you punk! (Does that mean
look or don't look? It means Behold
with awe!)

From a side wall, another, later, me, full frontal
(my face, that is) misses nothing — is saying
something about us, being amused and amusing —

or maybe it's not about us. It's my portrait —
I ought to know what I was thinking.
Mainly amazed at how quickly you (who were she) captured me,
how eye-ishly eyes (mine) emerged
from that painterly face. But that's cheating.
The portrait deserves its own thoughts.
We've gone our separate ways. THIS me
is as amazed at what fierceness
your fingers, working busily a-night,
make of what was, seconds ago,
flaccid and nearly insensate.

There's our dog, on the other side,
sleeping on his rug (gone, with him, years ago) —
who paid as little attention to our sex
when he was alive, probably out of politeness.
If he weren't a portrait, our noises
might make a leg twitch, part of
a dream gallop.

Nearby, a baby (and grand-niece) is happy for us,
wide-eyed, mouth a voracious screech of interest.

Two of your self-portraits are not impressed.
The early one (where you look like young Elvis)
looks slightly disdainful, as if she'd imagined
you'd find a tall, slender prince for her.
The more recent one is gauging contrasting
values and tones, wishing we'd fuck
in stronger light, to bring out rich fleshy ochers,
varicose blue and variegated moles.
Does your portrait-you know she's been
betrayed by her later self, who insists
on keeping the lights as low as our intentions?

And there are others. It's our way
of sharing our love with the world
by proxy. We are surgeons in the operating theater,
showing off our techniques to avid students.
Or we are a blip on the portraits' endless contemplation
of an empty bed alternated with a bed rumpled
by sleeping lumps, our sex flitting past
like an old-time movie or the zigzag of a fly
crossing the room.


When we make love, I don't notice them;
I assume that, having nothing else to do,
they notice us, but that's wrong:
They have tons to do. Being a portrait
is hard work — having to sit still,
hold one's arm just so, maintain
that expression, yet look natural, relaxed,
be there to be captured, stay there
forever (well, for years, centuries, a
human forever).

Being a portrait (what we're posed to be)
is a lot like being me-or-you-being-
what-we're-supposed-to-be.
Making love is, in a way, a supposed-to thing,
connubial duty, but it's also more naked
than naked (naked, not nude), a kicking up
of one's feet, a squirming, wiggling freedom
from supposed-to, from the privacy of one's
leak-proof, immaculate, dignified body, the one
with the shoes. The indignities lovers visit
upon these holy vessels of supposed-to's,
of brushed teeth, sound nutrition, zipped zippers,
buttoned buttons and clean underwear, of
please and thank you so much and secretly scratching
and handkerchiefs and containment of fluids
and wariness of rapture or doing nothing
for a long time, of don't touch, much less
stroke, squeeze, yank (gently! gently!), rub,
lick, suck on, penetrate, hug, press, work
with a light circular motion, just grazing
the moist flower-petal-silken surface of....

Such indignities we visit on these bodies
(magnified by our doing it in public
before dozens of painted eyes)
that we cannot help but know
they are not we, we Gods of mud-pie making,
so perhaps the portraits (if they can spare
enough attention from being forever
what they worked a lifetime or many lifetimes
to become, to notice us busily
unbeing) — perhaps they envy us our play.

Odd, since they are products of similar play --

though we call them work — works of art, of play,
prolifically spawned emblems of beingness,
oily droplets flung from a dancing brush,
pictures, not of bodies, but of life being bodies,
reassembled semblances (I suppose you wonder
why I've called you all together here) that tell us
we are not what can be seen, but what sees.

If they see us at play, I think they know
they look through eyes made of our play,
mud pies facing mud pies, deducing mud pie makers
unseen, only the making and what's made, visible.

Our creations admire our creations,
a lesson to us:
Let us admire each other's creations.

 

Last updated: February 14, 2006