You’ve got sadness in you, I’ve got sadness in me—an
my works of art are places where the two sadnesses can
meet . . .
I. Underground Fantasy, 1940
Did you see the people in this painting as iron bars
of some hellish cell of your own making?
Did you believe that if you kept stretching them
they would break free of your canvas prison?
Did you see everyone around you
as nothing more than unstruck matchsticks?
Did you conjure these wick-thin
underworld wraiths from nightmares?
How could you know in 1940
what the dead of Buchenwald would look like?
II. Untitled, 1948
After the war destroyed the human form,
your paintings began to transform
into some new life-form
conjured from your own imagination.
As Creator, you could have titled this painting
“Zygote” or “Embryo” or “Fetus.”
"Overture” could have worked, too,
which suggests something
bolder yet to come.
As you grew older, you may have surrendered
to the palette and designated the painting
“Blue over Orange and Yellow.”
By the end of your life,
you may have only been able to assign
a number, maybe “3.”
But in the way that you made
the multiform colours reach toward
one another as if trying—but failing—
to touch, to connect, to combine,
perhaps the best title is
no title at all.
III. Yellow, Blue, Orange, 1955
You attempt to suppress
your darkness beneath
a block of sunlight
that is both bright
You attempt to leach out
all traces of despair
and leave a cool lake
whose waters, you hope,
will calm your fevered mind.
IV. Four Darks in Red, 1958
You have created a world
where gravity is unchained.
What was once darkest and heaviest now floats
an incandescent landscape
illuminated by a wholly unnatural light.
V. Rothko’s Dinner at the Four Seasons, Autumn 1959
It was meant to be nothing more
than a scouting expedition,
for a prospective new commission,
an opportunity to examine the space
where unsuspecting patrons
would guzzle champagne
surrounded by the portals
of your monolithic paintings.
There was no better place,
you believed, to wage war
against a class of people
who needed to face the abstract
reality of a damaged world.
You slowly scanned the swanky room
formulating a plan of attack:
your paintings—your weapons--
would hang low, no higher
than five feet from the floor,
so that their detonations would devour
everyone, consume the consumers,
deposit their remains into some private void
only to be reconstituted back
into something close to human.
You saw this as your last chance
to become God-like, to become Creator,
Destroyer, and Redeemer.
But with each new bombastic course
(Caviar on Ice, followed by
Watercress Vichyssoise, followed by
Lobster Thermidor, followed by…
followed by…followed by…)
your appetite waned
and your resolve disintegrated.
When they ignited the Crêpes Suzette,
you stood suddenly, your immaculate
white serviette falling silently
to the floor like a flag of surrender.
Staring into the dancing blue flames,
you realized for the first time that winning
this war meant sacrificing yourself
to the ravages of friendly fire.
VI. Black on Maroon, 1959
A banner of blood
necrotic at the edges:
your sigil for a world
VII. No. 4, 1964
Even you knew that sometimes
there is safety in numbers.
Even you, having lived so long
moving from one dark space to another,
you who made a habit of inhabiting emptiness,
you who saw your paintings
not as windows but as mirrors,
you who buoyed yourself on the back of blackness
the way a dying star relies on the night
to prove that it still has some light to give,
even you found those moments
when you could not—or would not--
name the darkness.
Kip Knott teaches composition and literature at Columbus State Community College in Columbus, Ohio. His first full-length collection of poetry--Tragedy, Ecstasy, Doom, and so on--is forthcoming later this year from Kelsay Books. In his spare time, he is an art dealer who travels throughout the Midwest and Appalachia in search of lost treasures that can still be found in small town flea markets and antique shops.
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