The Artist as Hero by Carter Ratcliff





They see you

as a tarnished god,

an undefended Lucifer.   

Drawn to you personally,


they felt their schedules grow skittish. 

From this quickening was born the capital of art.

You vanished into the glory of it,


and now you emerge

from the gloom you manufactured

with the machinery of everything else they felt about you. 


So they are sorry

that you were not able

to join them for dinner, this time

or again or for once or finally, now

that it turns out we never actually met,

despite our wondering all those years: how is

the work going?  We admire so much


what you’ve been able

to achieve so far,

or this time, or now

that our increasing importance

has reset the clock you watch, even as you speak to us.


Really, you speak very well about your work.


For wit is the tedious father of responsibility, 

and boredom the breath that scatters the mind,

the array of marble blocks on which these words are resting


like tourists in the place where the pyramid,

with its need for an apex,

used to stand.


The mystery was the point, and what wore it away

must have been the light by which we view

the newest art.  So you see


there is no more point.

Or nothing we’d want to call a mystery.

We don’t like the word.





Dear Diary,

The pavements are empty and slick.

Why must the rain make the sad metropolis

so beautiful?  I had planned to see the artworks

this weekend.  Now I am content to stay home, by the window,

Diary, and strum the Aeolian harp of your pages.





What is difficult is sight,


now that I have seen

what the artist-as-hero saw years ago,

before everything turned explanatory.     


I see the wet leaves

plastered imprecisely to the pavement.

I see the prism of unseeing that turns the words

back into light.  I see the light turned into art. 


I see that the prism is always enraged and that even

if I were as good as my words I could never manage

to comfort the artist for the darkness that makes his art so visible.

Table of Contents


Carter Ratcliff


© 2005-2008 Per Contra: The International Journal of the Arts, Literature and Ideas

The Artist as Hero by Carter Ratcliff