Francis Bacon, Study After Velásquez’s Portrait of Pope
That papal scream, mute, horror-shadowed.
Prisoner of infallible goodness.
The unheard urge to desecration, foulness.
Innocence? Hardly, rather the howl of flesh.
Go back to Velásquez, to his Pope’s giver of writ.
Knowing of office, ceremony, decree.
Document to hand, trim of beard, alert.
Due etiquette of power, Vatican red and white.
Compare Bacon, the iconoclast’s purple.
Caged, fist-curled, venting mouth.
Hidden eyes, exposed teeth, the ghost of himself.
A Dorian, ecclesiastical Hyde, the Opera’s phantom.
And those vertical paint-lines, tunneled bars.
They hold their pontiff inside his cylinder.
Cowl, collar, mitre, white robe, the parodies of command.
Peter’s heir a shouting inmate, a hidden masquerader.
Look to Bacon’s other popes, other heads.
Their Eisenstein scream, their Picasso deliquescence.
And Innocent’s utterance, to be seen as heard.
Convex, dysmorphic, the painting eye’s distortion.
A. Robert Lee
This poem first appeared in Imaginarium: Sightings, Galleries, Sightlines, 2Leaf Press, 2013.
A. Robert Lee was Professor in the English department at Nihon University Tokyo, 1997-2011. British-born, he previously taught at the University of Kent, UK. His creative work includes Japan Textures: Sight and Word, with Mark Gresham (2007), Tokyo Commute: Japanese Customs and Way of Life Viewed from the Odakyu Line (2011), and the collections Ars Geographica: Maps and Compasses (2012), Portrait and Landscape: Further Geographies (2013), Imaginarium: Sightings, Galleries, Sightlines (2013), Off Course: Roundabouts and Deviations (2016), Passsword: A Book of Locks and Keys (2016), Written Eye: Visuals/Verse (2017), Alunizaje/Lunar Landings, with Blas Miras (2019), Writer Directory: A Book of Encounters (2019) and Suspicious Circumstances. What? (2020). Among his academic publications are Multicultural American Literature: Comparative Black, Native, Latino/a and Asian American Fictions (2003), which won the American Book Award in 2004, Modern American Counter Writing: Beats Outriders, Ethnics (2010) and The Beats: Authorships, Legacies (2019). Currently he lives in Murcia, Spain.
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