Sunday, October 10, 2021

Georgia and her Painting

If I could have back that winter evening
In Madison, Wisconsin, near the Oscar Mayer plant,
At the respectable house of my then-sister-in-law
Along with her husband Steve. We had just flown in
And they wanted to show us some Badger hospitality
But there was no Hamm’s, there was no Tom & Jerry,
Only a simple glass of wine, they made a point of saying,
As they passed the leaded crystal, they would only serve us
This one. It was some family ritual to express what they’d
Kept inside, what they never felt safe in saying about the others,
Although I, never having met them, couldn’t possibly comprehend,
But my wife at the time did, seething, staring down her brother’s
Tightwad eyes, that he only had his carefully cleaned gun collection
To show for being a man. So it wasn’t the most hospitable
Night, or room, or karmic situation, but that suited those two
Just fine, as we sat in red velour wanna-be chairs, looking for
Something to say, when the occasion called
Our eyes abruptly away from their faces
So sad, to above the fireplace, as Georgia let us know
That this painting of hers was extremely valuable.
It had a museum-size gilt frame and even had a golden
Lamp affixed below it, low-keying the canvas like a horror flick.
The painter’s name was Thomas Kincaide, someone
We were supposed to have heard of, and she catalogued
Her acquisition’s complexities, as raw and as convolved
As the Fall of Rome, except that it all
Revolved around her, her pluck, her savvy, her open wounds,
The way she procured this limited, limited edition
And it would some day go like Van Gogh
Faster than we were sipping drips of wine
And more certainly than we were perusing
The winter scene of cottages and trees
And snow that glowed with a nauseous patina.
We looked from them to that, rat-a-tat-tat,
Eyeing the door and the fresh floating snow
To slip away into, forever undetected,
But it was not to be, for I sit there still
In the dark nights of my soul, wondering why
I chose bathos before the truth, how I
Acted then, to not offend, and left them
Nothing to be remembered by, instead of, say,
Helpfully pointing out that he would be dead
In disgrace in a decade, Kinkaide, his paintings
A giant ponzi scheme, and that she should sell
Her painting immediately while they still can,
For, soon, even in cruise ship art galleries,
Where all manner of out-of-date kitsch is served
As a panoply of every misconstrued style and
Whitewashed era of the arts, you will only see,
If you go to the back, a few Kincades turned to the wall,
That’s how embarrassing this whole thing will become,
Or I, lacking this foresight, should have been able
To answer when she asked my honest opinion
And say, “Looks like kidnapped children,” or at least
Challenge the equation of her perilous self-esteem
With the ancient art of painting by asking
How did this Kincaid make her feel?
                                                                   Even now I form
The words for her: It is cold and so crisp,
Yet it warms the winter with its glow.
Even the rabbit’s eyes glow, in the blue snow
And gleaming copper trees, and soft soft shadow,
A solitude that won’t ask any questions of you.
Who needed any other kind of art? It is the perfect
Hearth picture, for the fantasy projection
Of how middle-aged American women 
Crave the fake lost past and the smoke of its mawkish 
Chiaroscuro. You mention Van Gogh, who sold one 
Single painting in his life, and that out of pity,
And whose canvasses evoke a strange and disturbing
Excess of feeling, and the fire and cool needed to endure
The chaos that comfort is built upon. They risk sharing
What it means to be human, including what is rotten 
But not yet dead, the kinky bunny in my own back yard,
The bark of peeling trees and the funk of entropy,
As far away from Kinkaid as can be, for they carry
The flawed baroque pearl, the light underneath,
Pulled from the beyond by a shaman,
Some piece of felt experience utterly at odds
With what the viewer wants to see and feels ashamed
To understand. 
                               I now know why I could not say
Anything, it was to disguise what I knew, her and
My pity, which opened like a bud to such enmity for
Humanity, and I wanted to be not the critic but the bard
But needing to say something, for it’s part
Of the shaman’s job, to remind the others
And forget himself, in the Kinkade of his mind
Recalling, how everything was beautiful,
So transcendently beautiful, and wrong.