On suffering, which is real.
On the mouth that never closes,
the air that dries the mouth.
On the miraculous dying body,
its greens and purples.
On the beauty of hair itself.
On the dazzling toddler:
“Like eggplant,” he says,
when you say “Vegetable,”
“Chrysanthemum” to “Flower.”
On his grandmother’s suffering, larger
than vanished skyscrapers,
other things too big. For her glory
that goes along with it,
glory of grown children’s vigil,
communal fealty, glory
of the body that operates
even as it falls apart, the body
that can no longer even make fever
but nonetheless burns
florid and bright and magnificent
as it dims, as it shrinks,
as it turns to something else.
Islands Number Four
Agnes Martin, Islands Number Four,
Repeated ovals on a grid, what appears
To be perfect is handmade, disturbed.
Tobacco brown saturates canvas to burlap,
Clean form from a distance, up close, her hand.
All wrack and bramble to oval and grid.
Hollows in the body, containers for grief.
What looks to be perfect is not perfect.
Odd oval portholes that flood with light.
Description of a Slave Ship, 1789:
Same imperfect ovals, calligraphic hand.
At a distance, pattern. Up close, bodies
Doubled and doubled, serried and stacked
In the manner of galleries in a church,
In full ships on their sides or on each other.
Isle of woe, two-by-two, spoon-fashion,
Not unfrequently found dead in the morning.
Slave ships, the not pure, imperfect ovals,
Portholes through which they would never see home,
The flesh rubbed off their shoulders, elbows, hips.
Barracoon, sarcophagus, indestructible grief
Nesting in the hollows of the abdomen.
The slave ship empty, its cargo landed
And sold for twelve ounces of gold apiece
Or gone overboard. Islands. Aftermath.
Elizabeth Alexander (New York, 30 mei 1962)