Malevich, Kazimir. The Black Square.
Malevich’s Red Square was ours.
But you didn’t care for beautiful things.
The Black Square is hardly aesthetic. It is deeply conceptual. I was surprised to happen upon it in an almost empty room one day, walking through the General Staff building. The painting was hung next to a couple of Kandinsky’s works. I knew the Russian Museum had a large collection of his work, but I hadn't realized the Hermitage had a few pieces too. The Russian Museum has many of Malevich’s famous colour paintings: his geometric, faceless peasants, simple fields with red horses running across them, train-like, and the Red Square.
I remember the Red Square more than I remember the Black Square. But I like the red one less. The Red Square is like the blander sister: same shape, same size, same two-dimensional surface, but somehow flatter. That wasn’t my first impression of it.
The first time I saw that painting was on Valentines Day in 2015 and it felt important. It felt significant that an obscure red shape was what my then-boyfriend and I happened upon as we walked through the galleries. We were holding hands. He was wearing a dark green sweater I’d gotten him for Christmas. I was wearing a three-quarter sleeve grey dress I’d bought that morning. The Red Square was hung towards the end of the gallery. I pulled on his hand to signal a shift in our slow walk-through. We stopped in front of the painting. I took a picture.
I didn’t know what it meant, but I pretended to get it. He didn’t know what it meant, and he told me so. It was red, avant-garde, and the picture we photographed on Valentine’s day. That was enough then.
But what does it say about a memory, a memory full of sensual, aesthetic, and emotional pleasure, if it is attached to de-aestheticized art?
What has always been interesting to me about the Black Square is that at the original exhibit, Malevich famously hung the painting in the corner referred to as the krasniy ugol. In Modern Russian, krasniy means “red,” but the word used to have the connotation of “beautiful.” It was the place in a room in which a Orthodox icon was commonly placed.
There is something important for me in the relationship of the two squares, red and black. In hindsight, maybe I should have known that the subconscious association of that painting as a symbol of our love was an eerie foreshadowing. Won't red turn to black, and won't love leave?
Did I need to cover myself in the satin of colour to fall into the blackness and know something? To emerge from that blackness and be able to handle the silence? Is that what Malevich did?
Silence. I read that white represents the very limit of the expressible, the silence beyond language and blackness beyond the image. So then, is silence the border of emptiness? Is the way to be, the way to keep making sense, to furiously continue going forward to wherever we all seem to be rushing to? And when we come to that end, is the goal simply to be still? Is that what we should do with the black squares in our souls, paint them over with more white?
Maybe then, at the highest and lowest moments, the only appropriate thing to do is to be quiet. Quiet alone? Quiet with someone?
To be quiet and not alone. To listen to the vibration of one’s soul. And maybe when we get that close to the edge of all that we are the only logical next step is to embrace that this is the very edge or to hope that this is the edge of God, not the edge of life.
Have I been baptized in black? Have I learned my lessons yet? I don't know, but I will stand still on the edges of silence, looking into the blackness of the square, and continue to fall through nothingness into God.
Originally from St. Petersburg, Russia, Alisa Goz now lives in New York, NY, where she recently graduated from The King's College with a B.A. in Media, Culture, and the Arts.
Square Tower Dwindling
Dark pools of shadow, fish hooks on shallow craters.
That pale white beach by the inky black sea.
The full moon cast light on itself that night.
It wore the dusk clouds like a thick scarf
and watched, cold eyed, the master
of the house on his evening stroll.
In the estate which overshadowed that extinguished beach
(or would overshadow, if the sun was shining)
a solemn celebration was taking place.
To mark the end of another year
and the continued survival
of those in attendance.
Inside the house a lady sang old songs in French
and under those lights, for just a moment
the audience understood the words
she sang. She kept going and
going until those words
were swept away.
A young girl asked her mother about the flowers
that she had heard about on their journey there.
The stories were green, red, orange, brown
but the plants here were blue and grey.
Her mother gestured to the ballroom,
at all the white and gold.
A waiter overheard this conversation and frowned.
He had seen the garden staff's faces
when they were told the news
that cuts were being made.
“You know, this place
will be empty soon.”
The master of the house didn't mind any of that.
He sat near the window and craned his neck
and stared all night at the beach outside.
"That pale white. Sand? Salt? Sugar?"
The tide started to come in.
Brendan Kearon is a student of English Literature and Creative Writing at Cardiff University. He has never published a piece of writing before.
Jemmy Paints My Portrait
(monologue spoken by Anna McNeil Whistler)
I had other things to do. It’s not as if my life was empty. Meeting and managing and persuading patrons of Jemmy’s genius was my full time job. I’m not complaining. He is my life, all I have left after influenza took his father and his two brothers.
When Jemmy settled in London he needed me to manage his career. I enjoyed it. Enjoyed too his wild and sometimes disreputable friends, flamboyant, brilliant, dressed in their velvet waistcoats and yellow kid gloves. Jemmy followed their fashion and, oh, my, he was beautiful. He had the wild curly hair from the McNeil side of the family. Except for his moustache he looked like a cherub in a rococo painting.
He had an Idea with a capital I. Get rid of all the soft colours and billowy blue skies, the delicate young female flesh–it wasn’t women he was attracted to, after all–forget about the melon breasts and delicate pink nipples. He would paint a symphony of gray and black. No, I didn’t really have time to pose for him. But he was my darling Jemmy so I stood, straight and still and serious in that awful black dress and lace bonnet. It certainly wasn’t my most becoming gown, I only kept it for wakes and funerals. But he wanted black.
My feet hurt, my back hurt, I was a martyr for his art. I couldn’t stop the sighs, even a groan now and then, just to let him know what a burden and imposition it was to pose like a corpse in rigor mortise standing instead of lying in the comfort of a pillowed casket. Finally he went into the dining room and came back with a straight-backed chair. “All right, you can sit and be comfortable if you’ll stop the dramatics,” he said.
“A footstool would be a help,” I said.
“Oh, a footstool, too? I’ll get one. But no pillows. This is serious painting.”
“I know,” I said, “Gray and deep shadowless black. And white–my lace bonnet.”
So I sat and he painted. I turned my head away. Nothing is more boring than watching a painter dab and squint and chew his lips and wrinkle his brow, pick his nose. I closed my eyes to settle into my own thoughts, the gray and white and black of the Russian winter when I buried his father and his brothers and took this one beloved child back to Lowell, Massachusetts to make a life for us. My life a symphony in gray and black … and Jemmy’s sparkling blue eyes and his sweet smile and kiss on the forehead when he said, “Thank you, Mother. This painting will make us both famous.”
“God forbid,” I said. “I don’t want the world thinking that’s what I looked like.”
June Calender retired to Cape Cod after a 25+ year career in NYC as an off-off-Broadway playwright. Now she writes poetry, fiction, essays, and creative nonfiction. She teaches writing skills at the Academy for Lifelong Learning at Cape Cod Community College and edits their annual anthology.
Dreaming on Paper
Using a reed pen on large sheets of paper,
he translated sky, rocks, fields into dots,
jabs, scratches. They try to catch the wind
in olive branches, the gnarled trunks, the way
the light lay down. You can sense colour,
though it isn’t there: brown earth, yellow grain,
blue sky. In thousands of letters, drawings, diaries,
Van Gogh laboured with paper and ink.
He made peace with his own awkwardness, using
reeds from the Midi fields sharpened into pens.
Each could only hold a little bit of ink at a time,
so he devised his own notation, a kind of Morse code,
which he varied again and again. As he reinvented drawing,
he found himself. By the time he was in the asylum at St. Rémy,
he was drawing everything: nesting curls for the flickering flames
of the cypresses, a splash of black in a sunny landscape;
the farmyards of Auvers; clouds that billowed in staccato lines.
Right before he shot himself, he told Theo, I still love art
and life very much. Finally, he’d found how to make
the hardest thing he had ever tried look easy. And then,
the wheat field, with crows.
This poem was first published in Barbara Crooker's book, Les Fauves (C&R Press, 2017).
Barbara Crooker is the author of eight books of poetry; Les Fauves (C&R Press, 2017) is the most recent. Her work has appeared in many anthologies, including The Poetry of Presence and Nasty Women: An Unapologetic Anthology of Subversive Verse, and she has received a number of awards, including the WB Yeats Society of New York Award, the Thomas Merton Poetry of the Sacred Award, and three Pennsylvania Council on the Arts Creative Writing Fellowships. Her website is www.barbaracrooker.com
Honey, there is no honey. The sun sucked it
into a cloud. See that cataract
on our horizon, the scratch on the lens
I can't afford to replace?
An arm and a leg. An arm and a leg
and all my long, shining hair
for a new glass eye to see you through.
I could watch you snake fingers
through the sockets of a skull
all morning. Drives me wild
as a stripped stage and you
some new-wave Lancelot
waving your hot bone blade.
Who you gonna stab with that thing?
Is it me? Can it be me? Can it be
you, the one reclining
out of character, watching yourself undress?
I don't know who we're performing for
out here. We're always blowing ourselves
away with our personas. Our tornados trace
spirals in dust. I could do this forever.
The desert is a circle. The sound of opening.
The desert is a gong clanging your name
so what'll it be? One syllable
fast as a flash exposure
of peyote flowers and teeth?
A good fuck on the floor
where the stone is dry and cool?
Time shakes, a rattlesnake
on the doormat. Welcome,
baby, welcome home.
Clare Welsh is a writer, photographer, and illustrator based in New Orleans. Here words and images have appeared in McSweeney’s, Southern Glossary, Offbeat Magazine, and other places in print and online. Her Chapbook Chimeras is available through Finishing Line Press. Currently, she is currently working on a full-length poetry book about wild dogs. To keep up with her work, follow her Instagram @clarewelsh.
Mark Chain has lived most of his adult life in Northern New England and Europe. A former Community Organizer, Teacher, and Psychotherapist, he's given readings and guest lectures, made radio programs, and driven taxi in both the US and Germany, where he lived for 16 years. He has had a number of his writings and translations published or broadcast, was once simultaneous translator of a live presentation by Richard Baker-Roshi, Zen-Master, and once teaching assistant to Allen Ginsberg and Ted Berrigan. In 2016 he retired from cutting and splitting his firewood by hand, sold his log cabin, and moved into a nearby village -- though he still has his chain saw and axe.
Like a seaweed pod
bulbous, swollen, glistening –
the mother’s burnished head tenses
looking out to sea. She is heavy,
hard, at a glance, supple as a sea lion
flopping across the sand
like one big muscle, to bask
in the sun; her pup is close by.
The reclining woman is unafraid,
unpretentious, big, impossible
to move in the gravity of land,
solid but sleek in the briny
deep. The baby is inert
with intertidal weight. She
trusts the mother’s unconstructed
bulk, resting in the embryonic
hollow of her arm –
at high tide they will rise
and lumber over rocks
to heft and slide
polished bodies back again
into their aquatic origins.
Mary Torregrossa, originally from Rhode Island, lives in Southern California where she teaches ESL to adults from around the world. Her poems appear in the Los Angeles anthologies, Voices From Leimert Park Redux and Wide Awake: Poets of Los Angeles and Beyond, Dime Show Review, Poets Responding to the News and Remembered Arts Journal. A chapbook, My Zocalo Heart is published by FinishingLine Press, 2018.
Before the Mist
In Battersea Reach from Lindsey Houses,
Whistler takes us to the edge of the world
where the land gives out and the sea
goes on and on right into the sky.
Here, along this margin, the air
manifests itself as mist,
as the planet itself exhaling
its hot breath over the cold ocean,
as Emerson’s oversoul cloaking all,
colour, shape, and light. Whistler
lets us stand and look out past seeing,
past the almost hidden sailboats,
past the white railing, past the three women
in their long dresses and full skirts,
each solid, each definite—grey and blue
and mottled green and yellow--
each anchored on this side of eternity.
Two turn at something the third has said
beneath her parasol, divert
their eyes to her pale round face,
to her words which mingle
with the mist. Far to their left,
maybe fifteen feet down the rail,
alone, one more woman floats,
the white bars showing through her.
Less visible than the distant
sailboats, she has already
begun to transcend herself,
to become more aeriform
than human, to loose herself
to the infinite expanse
of sea and sky and longing,
to escape our earthly frame.
Cecil Morris retired after 37 years of teaching high school English in California, where he wrote numerous memos, lesson plans, and the occasional poem. He has had a few poems published, mostly in English teacher magazines (English Journal and California English) and small literary magazines (Poem and Hiram Review).
Portrait of (Monna) Lisa Gherardini, 1503-1506
Before it was stolen then found
four hundred content years of anonymity.
Louvre security couldn’t control lawless camera flashes.
So now the portrait’s hung behind light-shielding Plexiglas.
We pose next to it (click) to prove our visit.
Take two minutes to get the right shot (click).
We won’t recall the sfumato (click), the hands
one atop the other, or the road that leads away.
We skip home with our prized shots, pictures
of a painting, but no memory of the painting.
Janée J. Baugher
Baugher is the author of two ekphrastic poetry collections, The Body’s Physics (Tebot Bach, 2013) and Coördinates of Yes (Ahadada Books, 2010). Her nonfiction, fiction, and poetry have been published in The Writer’s Chronicle, Boulevard, NANO Fiction, Nimrod, and The Southern Review, among other places. Her essay “Art to Art: Ekphrastic Poetry” can be found at https://boulevardmagazine.org/jjbaugher/
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