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Gary L McDowell



Until last year, I’d spent the previous two years writing poems for my first manuscript which has as one of its main themes fatherhood, and those poems tended toward the autobiographical. Afterward I felt a great need to try something different, something less “I”-focused. Around the same time, I became obsessed with the art of Eric Fischl and the act of ekphrasis. “The Bed, the Chair…” is therefore modeled after Fischl’s same-titled series of paintings wherein he depicts a series of voyeuristic vignettes that, when cobbled together, create a fragmented narrative with no beginning and no end.  So the following sequence of poems enacts Fischl’s paintings on both a contextual and a parataxical level.  Bon voyage.








                        after Eric Fischl




… dancing, watching.



The savages, the leftovers:

Barrettes and tinsel, bras

And high school study-halls,

Fat men, lazy men, penises

And droll little landscapes

Where women aren’t yet women,

And men don’t know what men do.


Shadows don’t claim to own

Anything, don’t need to own

Anything, and yet she dances

In shadows, her body his body,

Her body longed after, and her hair,

Her hair: repetition is never

As necessary as when fucking.


Dance is gifted, never received:

Watching, so calm, so cold,

She’s smudged and he’s easy,

What’s underneath her clothes

Is without doubt exactly what men do,

And what men do is watch.







… turning.



Orchards: trees limbed,

Of course. Practice preaching.

Survival of the solvent swishes,

Apples pruning in the heat,

In the hear: a female figure

Half-turned, half-doored

And already forgotten.


                        Here’s the slip,

Outdoor workers see better

Than indoor workers—the sun

And its constituents: the moon

Or stars or grass or woodlands,

The first time you see color,

The first time you see

The every living thing—

Riding on her dusk-gliding

Skin is the stretch of patience

It takes to outgrow comfort.









… play.



Crossed-haired and driven, her

Body like an icicle where

Her teeth once were, where


Her hands now are, water-faithed,

Boarded, hand-culled:

A virgin if she ever slept.


A virgin if she ever woke:

Lamped and wetted (or whetted),

This landscape of windows


And rolled gardens of bushes.

How to pull a bed frame

Up a hill without crashing


through the countryside.








… the sitter.



Cavely lit from behind,

Trying to explain countertops

And cupboards, their lines.

A stiff neck, the bed

Framed in echoes.  The chairs,

And the meaning of life

Huddle in the foreground,

And she forgives him

His caravan.


                        The setting

Of the scene. What’s important

Here are legs, crossed

And lost in themselves.

Of all the possible reasons

Not to fuck, a broken mirror,

Or shattered hips—not in pieces,

But in fractions—are the only

Ones that make sense.









… waiting.



Band and trap, or vice versa.

Now, go get ‘em boy

The posturing of the hunt:

At rest, an endless oncoming

Of whistles.  At non-rest,

A cluster of fingers and bullets,


That dog from down the street,

His barking keeps

The neighborhood awake,

But when he swims after

The goose or the pheasant,

His master, gun propped on his shoulder,


Colliding through the reeds,

The cold pond water sloshes

Over the top of his waders,

My God that dog is beautiful,

My God, thank you God

For this meal we are about to eat.







… jetlag.



Having flown this far already,

It’s only fitting that half

Of everything is in profile:


The welder, the obsessed blonde,

And his shade-blinded ribs

Underneath a chest so large


She can’t pillow her face

Into him, can’t light-eye

Her way into hiding


Between his arms and her hair.

She’s lost now in blindfolds,

Hamstrings, and red chairs,


But she’s too tired to sit,

And those welds won’t hold forever.









… head to foot.



So often borders are blurred

And what’s in focus becomes armless,

Leathered. Patience: she hip-handles

Him, his face nuzzles at her neck,


And in this moment the names

For things outside their vision

Become shoeless, the axis on which they

Spin becomes discovered, or unisoned—


The past, verbed into being, is not

The same thing as shadow or a microcosmic

View of thighs or all things wet,

But a downspout, a mysterious rain.







… touched.



In the confusion of pleasure’s

Matrix, even arched and widened

Lamp-light can’t keep


The paintless walls

From staring at the blur

Between her legs.  The lift-off


Of sheets and hooves, the wood-

Beamed door in the corner:

Its circle, her bird-browed


Lips and the faith it takes

To accept flying as a natural

Occurrence, as a collarbone


Of teeth and cogs, as a clock.








… changing.



Balance resides in the chest.

Like Nijinsky’s chiseled stride,

                                                His jump-stop

Gapped and still his head rides high—


Redbirds or bluebirds: all light

Blocked from stage-left,

                                       And stage-right:

His knee lit surgically—foregrounded—


And all else is dark. A solo now,

Dancing, each rib a new note

                                                On a scale

Misnomered because weight,


Like birds on a chair, has nothing to do

With density or heft,

                                    But everything to do

With what’s immeasurable and balleted.









… crossing.



No more skin, nothing

To show these hands.


Over and turn, end, turn

Again: sleep comes slowly.


Things are named, sometimes

Twice.  Sure-footed, serened.


Bed-sheets have fingers

And snowfall is silent—


All the yodeling of insomnia.


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