Nudes

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.

My Sister’s Last Gift

by Joe Benevento

Memories seem more fragile and so
authentic in black and white.  The photo
from 1957 Barbara framed for me
captures our Grandpa Frank's last
birthday: he sits all sides surrounded
rich only in grandchildren.
Among the fifteen present, the five
Beneventos born by then— Barbara, a favorite
at four on grandpa's lap— me, off to one side
crying, holding some little object I can't
now identify, hoisted up to camera range
by my smiling oldest sister Rose Anne.

Barbara herself never gave me the gift;
it was among the Christmas presents
in a padded envelope she still hadn't mailed
in February, that shortest month
when she died.

To receive a gift photo featuring
a man you never had time
to know, from a sister you will lack
for the rest of your loss-fueled life:
small wonder I'm caught a baby
crying forever in its small, dark
frame.

School Year

by Joe Benevento

When a child, I understood the season
of dying coinciding with the start
of school. I recall one early September
Sunday night when it became cold enough
for my mother to place blankets on us
after we were already in our beds,
as if to snug us away from escape
from the next morning's ordering bells.
At sixty, I prefer order so well
I profess it for a living at a U.
Summer so soon gone hardly bothers me.
Instead the beach, flowers, songbirds, short nights
almost annoy me: I embrace the start
of another ending with each class I teach.

One Way of Looking at Grace

by Elizabeth J. Coleman

For 150 million years birds saw
their reflections only in the sea,

but now the last typewriter repair
shop in New York is going out

of business, and monk parrots
nest in Sheepshead bay.  Still

that fire escape casts a lovely shadow,
the way the wheel of a slow-moving

bicycle seems to slow time,
gorillas stay up all night to groom
their dead, and a woman in Ohio

who’d been laid off gave every building
in her town a new coat  of paint. 

What’s your name?  I asked
the woman at the post office
who takes my packages
and tells me about her cruises
to the Bahamas with her mother
and sister, and how much they love
the all-you-can-eat buffet.

Grace, she said, I thought you knew.

Island

by Ernest Hilbert

1.

Coffee did little to wake us since we arrived
On the volcano. We only wanted to sleep.
A clear summer morning smeared and bruised

As we tore the tiny car along narrow
Mountain passes over a frothing, fanged coast.
At tight shadowed curves, headlamps lit warnings

Painted on the streaked mineral walls,
Some word the locals use that we didn’t know.
We spun down a tightly wound switchback

To a small white village tucked among boulders.

 

2.

The villagers scarcely noticed us.
One slowly swept dust from the porch of a red house
That seemed like it might slough into the water.

Another watched from a high window,
But it may have been a retreating flash
Of sun. Our sandals crunched down on shards,

Smashed aquatic armor of blue crabs.
We located a thin steep trail hacked out
Of stone over the water. We took it.

It worried its slender way along the caldera.

 

3.

At trail’s end, we came upon a jagged spit
Over the submerged rim where heavy green
Water went black and the bottom dropped

Quickly down into the bottomless throat.
Another couple, just dried, dressed themselves there.
We waved, and they greeted us in return.

The man gestured vaguely to the island
And said something we didn’t understand.
They lingered for a while, as we undressed,

Awkwardly. We leapt from the jagged sill.

 

4.

Under, we saw enormous ancient chains
Blur faintly link by link into the murk.
We swam, as thin light receded further, toward

The ferocious rocky mass that shot up
Like the top of a tower from small waves.
We floated around to the far side of the island,

Craned our necks, breathed, and treaded water,
Shocked to find a temple carved in its side.
A wet black chain snaked up the sheer face.

I hauled my air-chilled body to the ledge.

 

5.

Then I coaxed you, as you floated, unsure,
In the darkening water, until you pulled
Yourself up as well, took my hand. We appraised

The fierce faces of what felt like gods,
Or their champions, worn by endless rains.
We peered deeper in, listened, but heard nothing.

How long had it been here? Did anyone
Still visit, or was it something lived with
So long it was forgotten, once hidden from view?

The sun rapidly embered out on the edge.

 

6.

Then it pitched darker, and it was night
Sooner than we expected. Neither
Of us had the strength, or nerve,

To reenter the water and swim back.
We shivered and slowly dried in wind
That fluted through the massive gnarled figures.

We heard something, distinct from the waves
Splashing toward us around the island.
We looked out into the older dark as it neared.

We gripped our knees to our chests, and waited. 

What I Did Not See Driving from Swansea

by Sarah Kennedy

Not the grave of Henry Vaughan, tombed
              by the yew at the top of that

tourists’ churchyard,
                                      not the sheela
              on her half shell of museum

plinth in Llandrindod Wells.
                                            And not
              the ruined round foundation wall

of the tower at Dolforwyn
              (where I stumbled over lovers

in the grass—a mirror to my
              burning, illicit face [record

heat—my trespass]).
                                      Not Dinas Bran,
              where, from the top, the suicide

bridge that cuts through Llangollen was
              visible as highlighter marked

on the map-sized town.
                                            Nor was it
the “largest mill wheel in Wales,”
                                                          nor

the badger that slunk from the path,
              my car’s headlamps, one midnight.
                                                                 No.

Just you—
                      smile across a room or
              a body moving over mine—

though my mind’s eye held you even
              as I watched the kites—
                                            they could not

be missed, wheeling outside my room—
              even as I studied the door

that opened and opened itself—
              though nothing (that I could see) came

through, and no one had stopped off there,
              at that roadside hotel, but me.

Pythagoras’s Broken Abacus

by Lee Slonimsky

To disentangle chaos is his task
this morning in deep woods.  Secluded glade,
where birdsong is intense.

                                                 But overlapping calls
can’t be identified,
nor numbered, nor remembered,
and he can’t
find logic in unhinged asymmetry–

a swirl of chirps, high flutes,
doves’ coos, caws’ taunts–

the congregation’s maniacal.  Sounds
that can’t be measured: no place for his math.

He shrugs, continues on his wandering path.

Sheb Wooley

by R. T. Smith

         Don’t try to understand them, just throw and rope and brand them.

The teenaged groom leading my long-toothed
rental mare has the lope of Pete Nolan,
a savvy scout with Gil Favor’s Rawhide herd
for several seasons and portrayed with witty grit
by Sheb Wooley, who blends easily
with the decency of Eastwood’s callow Rowdy,
wry drover Jim Quince and the ornery
cook Wishbone, as they drive the beeves over
desert, through Comanche and rustlers,
tick fever, stampede, the staggers,
to far-away Sidalia to feed the eastern swells
and spend their wages on rigged roulette wheels
and women called Dallas or Dolly.

I also recall Sheb as a country guitar
picker with  a novelty gift who hit it
almost rich in ’58 with “Purple People Eater,”
which as a boy I loved to caterwaul and yodel.
He also gave us Hee-Haw’s theme,
“White Lightning” and “Hoot Owl Boogie,”
but I liked him more as a wrangler, puncher,
scrappy cowpoke with tooled boots and kerchief,
the battered hat and a knack with a rifle,
just like the riders of the Purple Sage.  I admired
the way he sat the saddle and dismounted
at a gallop, a stunt he’d picked up riding rodeo
and managed without breaking a sweat.

Pete was lean and sideburned, quick with a quip
or pistol, the one I wanted to mimic
on Uncle Ike’s pasture nag Cinder, who walked
in her sleep and woke to buck me every time
I sneaked a halter on and scrambled aboard,
headed, I guess, to Dry Gulch or
some flooded gorge with swollen steers floating.

And while I’m drifting into rider’s reverie,
full of prime time fantasies – beans
and coffee, mouth harp whine, sidewinder or stars
wheeling to the growl of a famished panther –
the groom tilts back his Hokies cap, hands me
the reins and asks, “Need a leg up, mister?”
his superior grin fenced with braces
brighter than Mexican spurs.

In honor of Sheb and his cadre of savvy buckaroos,
the whole history I missed and yearned for,
not to mention sweaty Stetsons and home-plaited lariats,
I grab the horn, throw a leg over the cantle,
then point my Colt index finger to squeeze
the trigger, like any badlands jasper inclined
to keep his thoughts from strangers
but still mulish to have the last word.

Slapping the animal’s croup with braid-leather,
I hit the trail, growling, Head em up, move em out,
with two hours of freedom and a fistful
of Aleve ahead.  I can nearly hear Frankie Laine’s
raucous theme, its whip cracking percussion.

Now I don’t care who hears me laughing,
content for the moment to be a yodeling fool
on scout for water with old Pete Nolan, Sheb Wooley,
whatever alias will suffer my company,
the pair of us easy on spirited ponies
traipsing across the dusty prairie, happy, so happy,
to be galloping saddle trash again.

Sergeant John Ordway’s Journal, Last Entry

by R. T. Smith

Captain Lewis now dead by some assassin’s
hand, all the clouds blow ashen and black,
but I remember storming snow, wild artichokes,
prickley pear and how the lark woodpecker flew,
the black horn antelope and dog stew delicious
in the bleak times.  Gass, Shannon, the Fields
brothers all cussing some Mandan weather
god, our Captain Clark by turns taciturn or
shaken with laughter.  The undiscovered
country opened for us, but not without labor,
fevers worse than this, mutiny in the wilderness,
our need to learn quickly how to forgive.
We found time daily to praise our Maker.
Ghost weed grew on the shore, feathered
native men danced, and the keel boat foundered.
Venison or thin broth, I doled the rations daily.
Cruzet’s fiddle by the round fire warmed us
after the maps were almost lost.  The bird girl
saved us often.  Bratton, Labiche, York –
every soul equal at work and celebration.
Nightly I dreamed of my beloved betrothed
Gracy Walker and wished the ordeal over,
yet it was a thrill, despite the rattling snakes,
silver-tip bears like monsters.  Looking back,
I am satisfied I saw enough for one mortal,
man, especially the devilish mosquitoes.
Red sky at morning, currents like a whirling
dervish – the trials of Odysseus with no goddess
close at hand.  We survived by Clark’s dead
reckoning and chance, which Captain Lewis
insisted was just another word for providence.
Once was enough for me, cold faces of compass
and pocket watch – what’s time but a shiftier
form of distance?  There was no passageway
by water.  We had to settle for survival, science
and wonder.  Finally home, I married, savored
after lovemaking the taste of my wife’ shoulder.
Four years hence she was lost while with child.
Since then, phantoms and voices in the mist.
What best do I remember from the journey?

Taste of fresh meat after hunger, and high over
the swollen river a sky salt-white with herons.
Maybe they were angels going where Gracy
now abides and I hope to be bound very soon,
if our Maker will allow me this one last mercy.