The Art in My Nerves, Not on My Tongue
She turns to face me but has no words
for the question she needs to ask
for me to tell her not what she’s staring at
but why we’re staring. Why is Cy Twombly
the only artist I love whose work I can’t explain?
His scribbles certain as de Kooning’s brute slashes,
more specific than most of Pollock’s gestures,
yet honest as a child’s. My body remembers
slipping into a new pair of small sneakers and
running fast and hard as possible to the horizon.
I can’t explain to a nonbeliever
why I can spot a Twombly across a gallery and
rush to it when the aesthetic atheist says,
“I could do that.” She can’t but how do I know?
I lean into the space in front of a Cezanne
and luxuriate in the way each small moment
on the canvas is complete in itself yet
crucial to the full reach of the surface.
She loves those moments I’m unleashed
by the way paintings look like everything
but their flat plane altered by strokes and whacks.
She loves that when I eat breakfast on the porch
the homes across the modest lake
compose a Monet in the last lingering fog,
the houses vivid angles over their wobbled reflections.
I could ride for hours the sensual curves
and fierce colors of Matisse and try not to jump
up and down because that makes the gallery guards
nervous. I hold none of these higher
than the little worlds completed
in Rembrandt etchings and sketches.
My first time in Montreal, newly off the bus
Into the twilight, hungry, my chest opened
to strangers who refused to recognize my questions
in English. They insisted on incomprehension
and I loved them without sharing their convictions,
their coarse local French a lunar landscape
I fumbled through, being their grateful alien intruder.
My love for craft beyond muscle discipline
has no apparent margins. Yet like Dubuffet,
Twombly revs my nerves into higher gear
the way mere scribbles don’t, the way I,
the least rebellious student, couldn’t bring myself
to do homework even if it was easy
though I dreaded the inevitable punishments.
And I love unthought scrawls for their eloquence
but Twombly writes letters from my home planet,
full of news I can’t interpret
in a script I recognize but forget how to read.
A poet, professor, and editor, Richard Ryal has worked in marketing and higher education. He stops for no obvious reason sometimes and no one can talk him out of that. His recent publications include Notre Dame Review, Sheila-Na-Gig, and The South Florida Poetry Journal.
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