Red Eye at the Art Museum, poem by James Grabill

    A rusted bolt flew off a metal-wheeled tractor before we were born,
    steaming to the ground with its old shade, a scalding meteor

    thundering down by a black ant. A silence followed it down
    and slowly fell absorbed, a communion wafer stuck in the throat.

    And here it was again, locked into a painting. From the thick wooden
    front doors of the museum, we could see the Rosenquist twenty-five yards

    long on the wall. Someone said, “I don’t think I’d want to live with that!”
    On the right was Rome, a ruined statue seen through a protoplasmic lens.

    In the middle canvas was the eye’s red iris, shot photographically crimson
    from having witnessed so much war. Through crystal rock and time matter,

    the painting swept to a jungle, hurtling from Rome to Korea, “Checkpoint
    Charlie,” and Vietnam, with stops in between, in jagged warp, organic

    half-seeing, the blood-red iris centered. We stood with others near the door,
    at the monument of the work. Nobody could get down to words

    as we stood in front of the iris: it was us being watched by those
    who had suffered. And there was the bolt, down there, half buried

    in the dirt by old lumber, the low coughs late in the spring, red-brown
    dust mixed in the barn’s blood-gray shade. For decades, the bolt fell

    against where it began. It buried itself in soils from Angus cattle
    walking back from a field, the tips of bristles on dried generational

    paintbrushes microscopically now flakes a short breeze carried.
    This was happening on all edges, the leaf tops and canvas awnings,

    the apple-scented arms, the ghost cloud falling in mineral shafts of light.
    Maybe the bolt wasn’t visible. Maybe it was locked in the red eye.


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