We do not see her but she pours
diverse waters into one small bowl.
Skull craft of Byzantine alchemy
remembered by a drunk Venetian
whose box of chalks ran out of sidewalks
and he sleeps, dreaming of her again
as he always has. Marco Nolo, ‘I do not
want,’ Carlo Crivelli, most secret of all
painters, I set foot in that lagoon
at my peril. Alchemy, not art, he said
and I said tauromachy, as in Krete,
slim girl swings over bull horns
by natural dexterity. Alchemy is water,
art is wine. O stop trying to sway me,
memory is propaganda enough. She
has heard this stuff for years, likes it
a little, sound the rippling water says
echoing from the cave behind. Strange
how few birds there are in alchemy,
mummy of a crocodile hung in the roof.
The magpie and the robin and the eagle,
they came along with her and flew away
so now they are ours. And we are hers.
Moses was able to do what he did
because he was Egyptian and still is.
They know such tricks, water
is just another word for them, sounds
like mmmm, looks like an owl,
the Reed Sea parts before his logic
and the soon-to-be Jews slosh across.
Year after year they try the same trick
to no avail. Moses was Egypt was magic
and still is. There can only be one
Egypt at a time, and ours got lost.
Oil wells yes, and lakes of naphtha,
and blue lessive that whites our sheets.
Because we sleep, and sleep compels
sacramental dreams and new hi-tech,
tongues of plenty, arrows that come home.
Moses shouts with his trumpet, sings
with his shoulders, it’s clear the painter
here spent time with him, a long time,
a Merovingian time, shared water with
a ghostly white man near Trois-Frères—
now else could he know and show all this?
How can we help?
From the magician’s tall steep hat
a green mamba remembers
the lean lianas of his jungle.
No. That’s no help at all.
Once in Staten Island
where the Italians, and the zoo
specialized in reptiles cheap
to buy and cheap to keep. Stop.
That’s the same road, the same
venomous streak across the path—
resemblances are the death of art,
bring wars, divorces, coronaries.
No hat no snake. The magician
has vanished himself the way
smoke drifts through the trees.
Not smoke, mist. Not mist either,
light taking on body from the air.
Ah, she spread herself just this way
for Monsieur Matisse, was pissed
when he was more into his white doves
than her pink expanses, but that’s art.
She remembered childhood, the farm
in Picardy, flat, flat as a painting,
the umber fields of winter, a cabbage leaf
dried in the cellar, still green. Steeples
here and there but church was not for her.
This was: the propagation of iconic
beauty, the crusade against the colorless,
the enemy the all-invasive line. And line
is what that whiskery old painter had,
line that confutes the poor colors every time.
It resembles us to life again
after the black hole of seeing
not with the eye it rises
from what is seen until
it veers into invisibility
to hover at our right shoulders
(see its golden thread
its hollow needle ( eye
of the needle ) it sews
our wings on, connects
by way of vegetative matter
the heart to the wing and both
to the wind, the wind
is what you hear when a hand
pours water into a glass,
the truth of human identity
hiding behind the human face.
O hand with no face
erase the mistakes of vision
so I can actually see.