by Stephen Gibson


It was a sperm whale in the center
of the piazza being hauled up by a boy
pulling a rope over his shoulder,

a kid in shorts and polo, and nearby
hung three narwhales from a gallows
erected just for them. The hanging narwhales

and the boy in blue shorts and striped polo,
and the huge, black whale behind him
that was tethered to him by a thick cable

of hemp, were only illusions—
life-size figures made out of fiberglass
by some artist in Pietrasanta, where I’d gone

to see a decommissioned church
I’d heard about, which had been converted
into a meeting space for social protests,
but I hadn’t heard about this.

But that’s what I saw turning the corner;
no hint of anything earlier at the train station
I’d just walked from, not even a poster,

which, for a public art exhibition
like this, you would have expected
some flyer or brochure, some mention

of it somewhere, to attract tourists; instead,
nothing. When I got out at the train station
a girl was lying on the hill, arm behind her head,

sunning herself on the grass, as a dozen
men, like me, looked up her skirt (not hard
since one leg formed a T over the other one

with her sandal foot tapping). An ear bud
was held in place by an orange-polished
fingernail.  She was listening to her iPod

as men filed past looking up her dress.

I found out some protest was going on,
some Earth-Day-Global-Warming-Climate-
Change event, all about extinction

and doing something before it’s too late.
That sort of thing—boy hauling a sperm whale,
narwhales hanging from gallows—while people ate

pizza and drank Peroni at the outside tables.
The restaurants were packed. I ate at one later,
and by then the narwhales’ shadows, like a sun-dial’s,

had moved across to the other side of the piazza.

I followed the corpse of the sperm whale
up the piazza, staring at its massiveness
as if the thing were real, as if the brown cable

tied around its bulk was nothing less
than real hemp and that the kid bent ahead of me
was really straining to haul that corpse

up to where the church was.  Why he
wanted to haul that corpse to the other end
of the piazza to the church was a mystery

to me, like my first seeing that grandstand
of narwhales after seeing that girl as she
was listening to her iPod, her hand

holding the ear bud in place, showing everyone her panties.

Everything must be protected—it is a duty—
even though nothing lasts
that’s the translation an Italian woman gave me

when I looked at the banner over the church’s
entrance and asked her. The woman was feeding
her toddler some yogurt and fruit mix

on the steps, but she didn’t miss a thing,
wiping the excess off of her kid’s lip,
looking back at the banner hanging

over the church entrance, holding the cup
under the kid’s chin, and answering
some stranger who stood at the bottom step

and who had asked her something
while her kid tried to get out of the stroller
to retrieve a set of plastic key rings

that he dropped. I thanked her.   

Inside, all of the murals were defaced—
methodically—like you’d score adhesive
on the back of a tile to stick it to a surface;

every human figure was vandalized; beehives
of chisel marks sat on human shoulders; no faces—
no more graphic novels of saints’ lives

for the medieval illiterate;  no altar, just space—
but space that clearly left evidence
of something removed not to be replaced—

like the pews: all over the marble floor were dents.

That’s what the decommissioned church
looked like; it was also dark and smelly like a stable;
at least, this church was, and my hunch is

that was intentional because of the exhibit: multiple
environmental concerns symbolically addressed
through papier-mâché gorillas, elephants and other animals

with future extinction dates—and a petition to sign in protest.

8.  Coda
For the girl on the hillside showing
her panties, listening to her iPod;
for the waiter who went back to bring

me my check; for the courtyard
I passed where this old man sat at a table
by himself; for the god

who no longer exists in the receptacle
built for him eight centuries ago;
for the fiberglass boy and whale

and especially the artist; for the faces in the windows
of the gift shops, and the faces of those waiting in line
at the restaurants; for the woman feeding her kid yogurt—

for all of our extinctions—this protest is mine.

Rossetti’s Preliminary Sketch of Elizabeth Siddal as Beata Beatrix

by Stephen Gibson

When she posed as Beatrice, she probably
wasn’t thinking he would use this sketch of her
posthumously for the painting because she’d
have overdosed, so much drugs in her future
she’d be taking a hundred drops from the dropper

at a time—that’s what he’d testify at the inquiry
into her death the night he wasn’t with her
and came home and found her; she probably
wasn’t thinking too much about the future
when she posed,

that she’d blame the opium in laudanum for her daughter’s
stillbirth or that her husband would be with a younger her
that night; nothing was final in a sketch—no certainty
when she posed.

The Piano

by Stephen Gibson

in the lesbian bar (inked onto the photograph)
is to the viewer’s left, but is not being played;
against the booth seatback, crenelated like a half-
shell circling the small table, two femmes laugh
up at two Germans standing, hoping to get laid.

I’m in a hallway of the museum. The photograph
is part of a Paris During the Occupation display.
What got me, at first, was how both women laugh
at the soldiers, ignorant (I think) to being played
(unlike the piano in the bar)—

and then the whole moment hit me with a delayed
reaction: we’ve seen the pie-charts and line-graphs
of what happens, but what happens after that laugh,
to them, to that piano, to the bar?


by Stephen Gibson

Richard Avedon

The real shocker is the celebrity and not the nude.
Natassja Kinski with the boa constrictor is a pose.
Warhol and that band is anyone without clothes
until you see that it’s Warhol there, and that goes
for Christy Turlington who’s just a model from Vogue
until you know, or Ginsberg giving Orlovsky tongue,
or the young Nureyev in Paris, so alive, and hung.


Diane Arbus, Germaine Greer

Believe that this woman tasted her menstrual blood.
Or believed that western society existed to suppress
women and knew the means: to separate their sex
from them, leaving them fearful to be understood,
and, without men, nothing—The Female Eunuch
from too much protein in urine in the preeclampsia
diagnosis, to Greer’s portrait in Australia on a stamp.


Annie Leibovitz

Celebrity feeds upon everything and itself is food
and is never exhausted and is never satisfied,
finds pregnant Demi, ready to drop, in the nude
perfect for this occasion and only for this time;
if repeated (other naked Johns with Yokos), deified
in the original (thou shalt have one, not a multitude):
our burden, to know their future: her divorce, how he died.


Man Ray

The Classicism of solarized women posed as caryatids
holding up the temple; the Postmodernist droplets
dropped onto thighs before there was Photoshop;
the Surrealism of a nude woman becoming a cello
with F-holes, tail spike, belly, bridge, and pegbox;
Europe’s exuberance after the Great War: batting eyelids,
fucking doggy-style, kewpie doll mouth sucking cock.


Edward Weston

The erotic is nowhere to be found in these tableaux.
There is nothing to suggest they eat, fuck, are capable
of birth, will die, be put into the ground and decompose.
Settings change: Hopi reservation, West as memorial
to some vanished myth that no one really has to know
(fake as a Wyeth Saturday Evening Post Thanksgiving table).
He did better showing erotic resemblances in vegetables.


Cindy Sherman

Disarticulated doll parts, like L.A.’s Black Dahlia
separated by several feet of grass in a vacant lot
(Elizabeth Short discarded like a mannequin in what
would become one of Hollywood’s musts for film noir);
female doll heads, at a hacked plastic female torso, watch
a tampon string at bottom, a cock with cock ring at top:
clearly, women objectified (and some men’s darker desire).


R. Crumb

Someone in my generation would’ve drawn Snatch Comics
if he hadn’t already, not only because of the weed shit
and LSD and free-love shit, but simply to see Crumb’s us
with our heads disappearing up a woman’s ass at a bus stop
(telling us to hurry because the bus is coming), or to catch
a hooker off-guard (saying “Excuse me” as we jiggle her clit)—
anything to keep away the jungle and napalm and the ditch.

Diego Rivera Posing with Giant Papier-mâché Devil and Girl

by Stephen Gibson

When the papier-mâché devil moves its arms

to fondle the breasts of the papier-mâché girl,

for Diego, it is like the peasant with his bedroll

when the papier-mâché devil moves its arms:

there is no difference, because each performs

what each is, just like figures in Diego’s murals

when the papier-mâché devil moves its arms

to fondle the breasts of the papier-mâché girl.

In Memoriam C. E. 1957 – 2014

by Stephen Gibson

                                                                  At the Egyptian Museum of the Vatican


I followed a woman from one room into the next.

With light ahead, her dress became transparent.

What was she wearing? Was she pantyless?

I followed the woman from one room into the next.

She stopped at the foot of a female-faced sarcophagus

with gold-leaf and lapis for its final garment—

she wasn’t its Ka appearing in this world from the next—

just a woman, with light ahead, her dress transparent.