Lisa Beskin

Two Poems

A Natural History

On some planets, a species can study itself. It can act, then take notes, act and take notes, until it realizes that acting class is called for. The species rolls its head so it can relax. When a species doesn‘t want to behave like itself, it runs across the street to painting class. But no species takes painting class before it has mastered charcoal drawing. If a species can’t handle charcoal drawing and come to terms with its chilly geometries, all evolutionary privileges are suspended. The species is sent to budget poetry school, which is a cover operation for the sorrow mines. Year after year the species is made to dredge up precious resources that are later fashioned into items such as “Where Have All the Flowers Gone.” The species sees none of the profits, and after centuries of abuse rises up, destroying the mines, the foremen, the great rusted tools. A better poetry school is established, and eventually the species develops a variable foot. Better poetry school’s motto: My planet suffers new feelings. My planet thinks the moon might not be the sea.


My Interest in Art History: How rare that someone of my temperament makes the journey from cave painting to Sphinx to acropolis, from belle époque to Pollockian spatter. It seems miraculous that I had the patience, for I had no patience, only a history in seamy taverns where I nurtured an exquisite temper. It was a buoyant belligerence, years spent plucking bloody tissue from the caves of my nostrils, pausing now and again to admire a concave dent in my head or stomp the neighbors’ impatiens. Then one day in the village, the ugly bell-ringer—you know his story—showed me some paintings he’d made, egg-tempera on kleenex. (It seems he’d taken a class.) Well, I came apart at the seams. Something caved in, and a fiery sense of the temporal had me praying for patience. My histrionics were not unanswered, and a long seated bellyache was soothed: The bell-ringer, seeming to understand, offered an art history course. It’ll be hell, he mumbled in caveat. I was his patient, a Philistine in hospital, temporarily untempered by the bellissimo. Or so it seems now, as I patiently squat in my cave, finger-painting an historical mural. I recall the bell-ringer’s patient ministrations …O the rising temperature in the cave, that split each seam of my own certain history!

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