In the museum, a cavernous gallery
with floor to ceiling windows, white walls,
and a constellation of black paintings—
five opera singers weave their voices
to the fingers of young pianists
in gratitude to Art, the Healer.
The writers arrive, rubbing away crystals
of sleep with coffee-stained fingers,
inhale stale doughnuts to delay conversation.
Desire, moony faced, interrupts the banquet.
This rude guest meanders, a witness
to elation through a glazed window.
Insomniac Matilda frets about a date
with her publisher, an older man
whose longing—near visible spectre—perches
atop his sand-trap bald spot,
poised to leap into a nest
of hair more vital and luminous.
Supper: a picnic of rye bread,
salted black licorice in sardine shapes,
and salad carried between two bowls
into the old cemetery of Holavallagardur.
Will ghosts sweep our crumbs
into their lonesome maws at midnight?
The sky still glows at night
like aluminum reflecting lamplight or flame.
We all pause at the gate
to catch a strange bird’s call,
hearing now a choir of voices,
midnight mass? We follow the song
into a stranger’s garden, to find
dozens of art students, twenty-somethings,
singing in unison by candle and moonlight.
They welcome us in, and sing
three songs just for us—interlopers,
aliens in this city of music.
Who, then, played the piano—forte!
late into the night and morning?
Was it our hosts, the judge
and the historian, both retired, deaf,
windy in the head? Melodic trolls,
hidden people from this island’s sagas?
We escape, trace the dirt road
which slices into the lava cliff,
step quietly past a goat family,
squelch through the luminous moss bed,
and climb towards a grass mound
shaped like a mountaintop fisherman’s ship.
Why, then, are we here? Why
fill a notebook cover-to-cover
with the names of dead voyagers,
sketches of local flora and fauna,
esoteric quotes from professors and novelists—
do these notes prove me a poet?
We ask the grass ship why.
We ask the historian, the judge,
the poets, novelists, students, opera singers.
They tell us not to worry,
“You’re young! Go for a swim.
Go to the pool and soak.”
One dozen geriatric Reykjavikians bob, drift,
swirl their arms and blubber bellies
in the shallow, salted, geothermal pool.
Edith Piaf croons from the loudspeaker.
Wooden chess pieces—tall as vikings—
hold morning rain in their helmets.
I make accidental, unnerving eye-contact
with a withered swimmer-bobber woman
wearing a cap of plastic flowers—
licorice black and strawberry pink. Hush,
her eyes tell me, be still.
You possess all I desire: Time.
Six from Thrown
Poems by James Wagner to a Painting by Bracha L. Ettinger
Bracha L. Ettinger, NO TITLE YET, N. 3 (EURYDICE, ST. ANNE),oil on canvass, 54x29 cm. 2003-2009. © The Bracha L. Ettinger Studio
Swam and answered with innards:
the night’s inside.
By implication: remember him
red and waving,
her knees near the thieves,
her sex versus traces later
remembered. Is this the sky I know of?
Was it ever so spoken for?
What is this red man an omen of?
If we are mutating fragilities, always
askance, wallowing, then this
under of how come is breeding
without order. So one must
the legs lifted, the
No need to fake
or hide a sky away.
Here are the
Photograph of a corpuscle. The itinerants in us.
What white light on the albino giraffics,
where the childhood waited in red,
covering elders in specks even as they moved
seemingly out of reach of it. A nuance in the blue,
a fear of impersonating one’s self, a self absurd
or intermittently aghast at the hurt one can never
name. Mingling triplets in the middle?
Of roads in the mountains. There are nexuses
in the left threading, but not a one notices.
“As I was saying, as I was saying...” calls
into the spaces that separate these dreams—
In the sleep of beliefs,
in the misunderstandings
blur of the persons and the dabbling
vacuums on the margins
bracing fragments in
meanings //// the undigested
the formlessness pours from
these three winds finish in
the ars poetica of the ants...
These creatures seem lost in white trees.
A semblance of sayings supports them,
opening their loneliness outward, so
when the shadows cough their blacks
at them, they will maintain their shapes
in the deluge.
This trickery of winter welcomes in
the breezes of missing in the houses
they are leaving. A kind of kinky
electricity jaggedly and vibrantly
encases. A love, from the crimson
blue, absolves all
who might whisper and wait for a
meaning to remember. No
coding, no gateways, no findings
of unkindness in the hazefields.
One eye watches for sympathy, drifts
of it, in us.
And what of the kids, prim, faceless
at the knees, being led into a new
oblivion, unaware as the others?
One only knows the wordless glow
in lark sounds there, beyond the small
omens of men.
Bracha L.Ettinger is a visual artist, philosopher, and theoretician of French Feminist psychoanalysis. Recent solo exhibitions at: the Historical Museum of St. Petersburg, Peter and Paul Fortress (2013); Museum of Fine Arts (Beaux-arts), Angers (2011); Tapies Foundation, Barcelona (2011), Freud Museum, London (2009). Recent group exhibitions at: Museum of Modern Art, Warsaw (2013-2014); Pompidou Centre, Paris (2010-2011). She is the author of Matrix. Halal(a) -Lapsus, MOMA oxford (1993) and The Matrixial Borderspace, University of Minnesota Press (2006).
James Wagner is the author of Thrown (There Press, forthcoming),Work Book (Nothing Moments), Trilce (Calamari Press), the false sun recordings (3rd bed), and several chapbooks, including Geisttraum—Tales from the Germans and The Idiocy: Plays. His poetry, fiction, and reviews have appeared in The American Poetry Review, The Baffler, Boston Review, Fence, 6x6, Zoland Poetry and elsewhere. He lives in California.