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A The Physical Imposiibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living Conversation


—After Damien Hirst

This is old news by now, you sd, but at the very least I’m still scared,
by the open maw, it’s diabolical yawn, as if death is a rotting shark
and as boring, so let’s skip it all together and see the Kusama show
though it seems indelicate, this being England, she being Japanese.
But, I sd, how could we miss the diamond skull, the pill vial, the cow!
This is my conceptual hymn, about how we ran in the rain straight
from Tower to Tate, the beefeater’s story of a rescued raven’s blood-
soaked bread still in our brains, that clotted cream cluster of buildings
and the Tower green where subject after subject lost their heads, some
soft as milk and some hard, a first botched stroke, a second, a cannon
blast and the hysterical way, you sd, he halved a calf then displayed it
with its halved mother, winning a Turner Award for what he’d shown,
that’s the murderous thing, I sd, the thing that riveted us to our pew
in the little church where Anne Boylen is buried, for example, beneath
the floor, and while we couldn’t see her, we tried to hold a picture
in our minds of her figure suspended, always as if in a tank of water,
redheaded daughter at her breast, mouth open to suck but no milk,
I sd. Yes, you sd, His art is like a slice of blood bread cut from its loaf.



A Infinity Mirror Room Series Conversation


—After Yayoi Kusama

Across the road from the contagious hospital, if by contagion
you mean emotion, Kusama keeps her art studio in polka dots,
a steady supply of them, you sd. Don’t be funny, I sd. I’ve never
been to Japan, you sd, so I can imagine her leaving her room
in ward number—, walking down steps that smell of paste
then she’s outside, dappled by March, a month so like a door
she enters the plain, low building opposite her sanatorium,
flicks a switch and finds, around a corner, she’s been welcomed
to the vast undoing of her ego. Dots, you sd, dots everywhere,
inside the refrigerator: dotted Diet Coke, dotted and half-eaten
doughnut wrapped in cellophane. Once in her studio she begins,
on any given day, to cast her lunacy like a net on any clean body
that will accept it. At least that’s how we felt Tuesday in London
entering her Mirrored Infinity Room where the pulse of lights
reflected in glass reflected our faces, turning us blue, white,
yellow, red. Blue, white, yellow, red, and where in monotone
a guard sd and sd, “Welcome to the Mirrored Infinity Room—
Filled with the Brilliance of Life” but we were filled with light
instead. And once we were outside on the balcony, the city
like a stack of mottled driftwood, you wanted to be forgiven.
But why? I sd, It’s nothing you did. Because, you sd, I see now
it’s a freckled grenade and I’ve got my freckled hand around it.



A Pregnant Woman with Swan Conversation (schwangere und Schwan)


—After Joseph Beuys

Felt the fat of your stomach between thumb and forefinger and thought,
something’s growing in there. It’s silly to go immediately, I sd, to Zeus
and his great ornithological rape, as legitimate as they come. Poor Leda
had no mechanism for “shutting that whole thing down,” so what was made
was all mixed-up inside her. We are born of regret, which is as beautiful
as a swan, and the body of the mother is black and heavy as a lake and is
eternally, presently, with child, carrying from work to home to bed
an idea that is a signet cygnet to seal her closed and make her expectant.
Since when do you want a baby, you askd, and I swatted your hand away.
To change the subject I sd, Beuys was one of Hitler’s youth and his plane
crashed in Crimea where, he claimed, Tartars covered him in fat and felt
and bore him off to heal in a village of tents on a tundra. Snow like a wing
folded against the earth’s back and in his feverish dream he flew with a drift
of swans to Cleves, remembering how as a boy he’d follow the Lower Rhine
along Königsgarten, veer off to Schwanenburg, and stare up at the tower
whose very pinnacle was a golden swan that caught the light and oh!
to see it was to see inside the pupil of his mother’s left eye and the swan
she hid there, its neck a drooping tulip stem but white, white as the bank
he careened into after the crash and oh the felt and the fat that saved him!



A How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare Conversation


—After Joseph Beuys

The hare has waived her right to question death
in lieu of being held and whispered to,
you sd. Every explanation given 
by the man with the honey-gold face
is just jargon, so the hare is more dead
than Picasso at a marriage counseling
convention. Well, I said, Well, in stories
the poorer peoples of the world pass down,
a “hare” is a stand-in for the woman
whose long-eared scheming risks death by hound
and gun. She blends in with heather and bracken
and is raised up again when the chase ends
and the huntsmen ride home empty-handed.
It’s like Mary’s Assumption, but back to loam
instead of to Heaven, death arriving
in old age when she wills it—not at  the point
of a tooth or the slam of a bullet,
and when she succumbs at last, her afterlife
is a museum in the old Beaux Arts style:
on every wall is a landscape, a portrait,
a history and abstraction, but without
the usual, partitioned galleries
organized according to place or time
or style. There must be a docent
to show the hare. Someone must be there
constantly to explain, since she who’s caught
by the fur and bone of her frame
in the now-ness of the meadow can’t know
what we impenetrable humans mean.


Dororthy's Migraine


“I slept in Wm’s bed, and I slept badly, for my thoughts were full of William.”

A night of reading, of moon, then bed.
My head bad, I lay long, sheaves of letters
bundled for the hard walk, but when I rose,
he rose too, and together we started out.
It was March and skeletal—the trees, the air—
my inner season turning while he talked
at length about the red hawk that mistook
a ledge over Central Park for a cliff
and built its jagged nest there. I cried for it.
Nervous blubbering,” said Wm. More like
a belfry’s pang of wings, god-awful twinge
before all is burnished in gold—the aura,
the areola, the aurora crown
you pull drapes to dampen, still coming
in succession, round like Japanese koi
in a little pond, the gold-flecked haze
of our arboretum, the small square of dirt
where he tossed egg shells to grow a better crop.
My mind is like a cathedral fresco:
first a woman draped in blue—all blue—
but for a burst of gold round her skull.
Maybe she lived in this neighborhood too:
electric mowers and babies riding
young fathers’ chests to the grocery store,
a path leading under the train trestle
where someone spray painted in script: Glitter,
wires bowed in rain to snake their current,
a serpent through a marsh of air,
our neighbor, shirtless, in his van—stillness
before the engine. The lake is everywhere.
“Nervous blubbering,” he calls it. I can’t
help, Wm, what I feel. The throbbing is
the seeing and the seeing what I feel.


Bio: Lesley Jenike is Assistant Professor of English at the Columbus College of Art and Design and where she is currently serving as Head of the English and Philosophy Department. She's the author of Ghost of Fashion (CW Books, 2009) and (W)HOL(L)Y ISLAND (Gold Wake Press, 2014). New poems of hers have appeared or will appear soon in The Southern Review, Birmingham Poetry Review, Smartish Pace, Tampa Review, and other journals.

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