We know, again from the experts, that Jovellanos, when Goya painted his portrait, had just been appointed the king’s “minister of grace and justice.” This was as much of a liberal, Enlightenment moment—a few months in late 1797 and early 1798—as Spain ever had.
So, then, where is our
Minister of Grace and Justice,
for the end of ignorance under the law?
The law’s vulgate. Zap zap
you’re dead. Zap for good measure.
Goya’s interior spreads
cartoon stain, red
into the black garb of sabotage.
And there, in that city, light
debris — glass, coin,
shoe, book. Book?
Look! Look! Can you see the book?
The pages are wet. Can you turn them?
Place your thumb in oil. Blot the spiral out.
blurs into running crowds,
pitched waves, mobile boundaries
not sanctioned by law. History’s
contracts into small boats
traversing rough waters.
Scan the sky’s evening,
golds and greens
more brilliant than a reliquary chalice,
a saint’s crescent. Paint that. Scan
the turbulence for cinders,
white hot dots. Matrix
of illusion, spurred on by desire and
reason’s catastrophic carrier
pregnant with a god. Sappho’s moon
crossed by the wing of an owl. Dear gray-eyed
Athena, please allow
safely across the waters. Film that.
Trapped by a ghost, many ghosts, a host
of ghosts. They
do not sing
but stare into a shade
lowered over coins
that mimic sun.
The young man
on the screen is timeless.
He speaks into the unknown
from a blackened room. We cannot
see his interlocutors nor hear their exhaled
breath. Meanwhile, in the stadium, thousands
stand to sing in unison
o say can you see by the dawn’s
bombs bursting air. Record that.
The agenda has a requiem —
brass, percussion, solo baritone
rising over the choral bloom.
Look up and up, the cascade rises!
But the leaves are fallen
and the familial roost divided:
the plural of I is not we.
And in the not we, we
into the hedge while the machines
routine their killer noise.
Let’s improvise a story. Let’s begin
with a journey out
onto paths, into meadows, glades,
forests, brackish ponds, scented
lilies on ponds, bees.
Let’s end with a prayer for the bees.
Or these words: Cyber, black,
blessings to spell forth
gifts. Good luck with that and with picking
shards from the pavement oil.
Pilgrim or migrant or
exile traversing the calendar’s stage
with spidery precision. Speak
into the megaphone: cyber, black.
Now join the ensemble as it
wanders from what it was taught
by a preacher, a cop, saved
from the whispering echo:
I want, I want.
How to quantify a rupture? Sit in its midst
like a bad child in mud. Discipline
and punish. Good luck with that.
The global ruse is insupportable
by the local client, she
wants the garden stone
lowered so her child can reach
parsley, sage, rosemary
and thyme, lyrics
from the melting pot. Let’s poll the pot
and see how it intends to vote.
Zap. Let’s take a bite from the apple.
Whim over the doorframe, tears in the sink.
Lady natters on about intimacy. She’s a bore
but she’s cornered the market
She tells us we
need to speak face to face, into
the ensemble of relations that faces are. She
warns against the mirror at our fingertips.
Are you tired of these homilies, these
warnings, these studies that say
we have lost touch? We
know we have lost touch. We
know we are the remnant organs of a bodiless hum.
So an unnamed subject bequeaths
golds, greens, all its auras
into our show. Don’t look now.
Turn away as the hero
walks across a bridge with his
murderer mistress. He walks
with a side to side motion, his great shoulders
tipping. The water below carries his coat
on sorrow’s bloodied current.
It’s an affecting image of the unendurable
endurance of duration, phenomenal
and cruel. The thing disintegrates, or melts,
like paper in a flood, becoming illegible
as it falls over the embankment.
The hero Luther is named for the hero Luther.
Pick a card, any card.
What did you get? A nine? A queen?
Which? One with black spades or
one with red hearts? Place your bets.
Let’s get a slice of pizza.
Let’s pick up some eggs, some chard.
Let’s go down to the river
and watch the sun set.
Let’s hope for the best.
The clock is imaginative,
it has time or we imagine it has time.
I’m not sure how to measure
this gift, sanctioned by the stars. They
stay constant although they are dead.
They send what came before what
came last: light, aftermath.
Poet and essayist Ann Lauterbach is the author of nine books of poetry, most recently Under the Sign (Penguin, 2013) and three books of essays, including The Night Sky and The Given & The Chosen; her 2009 poetry collection Or to Begin Again was nominated for a National Book Award. Her tenth collection, Spell, is forthcoming from Penguin in fall 2018. A native of New York City, she lives in Germantown, New York.