Sunday, January 13, 2008

Greatest Hits Gallery--Rachel A.

A summer experience in Houston gave Rachel A. the subject(s) of her poems. In the same day, she visited the Rothko Chapel and the nearby Byzantine Fresco Chapel/Museum. The contrasts and connections between the two museums give her poems a wonderful energy. In the first poem, she asks a key question about our response to art. What is it that keeps us from touching the works, the brush strokes so inviting?

at the Rothko Chapel

No velvet roping
restrains us from the brush-strokes.
So why don't we touch?

Many-sided room,
gray sunlight filtering down—
and very quiet.

Diamond-cut faiths
jostle here, come to embrace
a universal.

The walls—paintings—all
fade eventually to black.
Blue-gray at their tops,

or purple (Magist-
erial yet bishop-less),
but below, soft dark.

Nothing for the mind
but itself given itself,
a changeless turning.

The eye finds no rest;
roving sleepiness perhaps—
yes, suspension, but...

(Outside, the Broken
Obelisk remembers, mute:
Christs, big “C”-ed and small.)

In the second poem, a series of five smaller parts, Rachel considers the paradox of a sacred space deconstructed and imported from Cyprus, then turned into a museum, a "relic-box."

in the Byzantine Fresco Chapel Museum

This space is built to be a relic-box:
the fragments of a chapel sleeping here
in a perpetual twilight of gray sun,
benches of silk stone laid for worshipers.
Here, I could sit forever, hour on hour,
but twenty minutes from now it will close.
This chapel, after all, is a museum.

Oh God, where have you been for all these days?
You linger just beyond my whirring brain.
A thousand conversations never cease,
but those are spoken with myself, not you.
And if at last I lose myself in sleep,
your hands don't come to heal me even there.
Only your mother's face, half-turned away.

This summer's been all iconography.
I know what the lean, stern, bronze faces mean;
the strange angular hands; the color scheme.
Hodegetria—“she who shows the way”—
I love, but as a scholar loves a book.
I've never painted anything, and I
have never prayed except with words and words.

In Cyprus, once, the bandits cut Christ down
and packed his body secretly in crates,
and raped his mother while she stood at prayers.
The plaster wounds of both are bandaged now,
and they may calmly rule and intercede.
But only during listed viewing hours.
And no one dares to kiss the face of God.

The janitor—a kind black gentleman—
quietly sweeps the floor. I wonder how
these ancient frescoes touch his inner life.
“Don't y'all step on the altar now,” he says.
“This museum is a chapel, after all.”

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