"Five Tableaux Vivants," Robert Kelly's response to five paintings by Brian Wood (published by "The Doris")



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.

--Robert Kelly