[lit-ideas] Re: SUNDAY'S poem

  • From: John Wager <johnwager@xxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Sat, 11 Dec 2004 09:52:28 -0600

Museums are indeed places to stumble over the smoke of those gone. 

Your Sunday poem prompts me to ask if you remember the Roy Lichtenstein 
tryptich, three views of Rouen Cathedral, after Monet. 

I was in the Vancouver museum a couple of years ago and noticed that, 
for me, there were only TWO views of the cathedral.  The central frame 
had no cathedral, only random dots.  I'm color-blind; the middle canvas 
had dots the exact shades of red and green that I can't see.  It was 
such a remarkable experience that I got permission to photograph the 
works; I thought I could help students realize what being "color-blind" 
meant by twiddling with the central canvas so that it was also random 
dots to the non-color blind. But when I looked through the viewfinder of 
my fancy expensive digital camera, the middle canvas suddenly became a 
cathedral, just as alive as the other two!  The camera's subtle 
alteration of colors, so subtle that  I had never noticed it before, and 
that nobody else had noticed either, was just enough to make the 
invisible visible. 

Museums are FULL of the smoke of ghosts; few of us has the eyesight to 
notice.  Someday, perhaps, all our color-blindness will be cured and we 
will all see everything that surrounds us.

(On another tangent, at least YOUR ghost was a friend.  Your description 
of eating expensive quiche reminds me of the snack bar at the 
Metropolitan Museum in NYC. The curators there have placed the snack bar 
in the sculpture court just under a huge sculptural piece of Count 
Ugolino and his sons.  The patrons there eat their expensive quiche 
under the gaze of the count, who is gnawing his fist and contemplating 
cannibalism to relieve his hunger. I stood at the statue for a couple of 
hours one afternoon and asked people if they knew what it was about; no 
one did. When I told them a bit about the story from Dante, they were 
horrified to think that this was overlooking the tables of the snack 
bar.  Just having a statue like that over the  snack bar doesn't seem to 
trouble me, but the fact that, historically, there was a real man who 
was  in that extraordinary circumstace and who died as a result does 
bother me.  It may only be my own personal ghost, but thinking that he 
is an insider's joke on New Yorker's ignorance haunts me; he was a real 
person who died horribly, not some curator's afectation.  I sent an 
image of the snack bar to the author of a website on Carpeaux; it's 
toward the bottom of the page here: 
http://www.studiolo.org/MMA-Ugolino/Ugolino.htm .)

David Ritchie wrote:

>At the counter of the Vancouver Art museum's hip trattoria and tea room,
>Mozart played merrily overhead, a relief from elsewhere's Xmas cheer.
>Putting in time before half past four
>and our college outing's re-gathering near the entrance door,
>I was tempted by an early glass of pinot grigio,
>("It's made right here in Canada, you know,")
>while I considered soup's ability to stave off rainy weather,
>and the near-north's unrelenting darkness.
>Scooting my tray along,
>I was reminded strangely of earlier,
>when, distributing papers at a committee meeting,
>I intoned cadavorously, (or at least in the key of C of E) "body of..."
>A colleague asked what I meant.
>"Communion." I said, "A blasphemer's memory.
>Greater love hath no man than the giver out of bumf."
>She hurrumphed.
>At the entr=E9es, I ran my tongue along my teeth
>and found a foul taste of old tobacco smoke.
>Overnighting in Darlene and the boys' house,
>I'd offered to sort stacks in Stephen's office:
>correspondence, TLS tearouts, parodies, debates, drafts of scholarship,
>university circulars, instructions on how exactly to de-bone a chicken.
>There was POGO on Kant, Hacking's latest,
>charts of marks with exemplary notes.
>As you know, smoke lingers longer than ghosts.
>It's in the walls, the books, the carpet, his chair.
>Since I tarried in there,
>I attracted particles that once Stephen had inhaled.
>They must have wiggled free microscopically,
>perceiving, somehow, in my mouth's virginity,
>a chance at post-mortem liberty.
>Thus at the museum's desserts,
>where sweetness should have been,
>I found vestiges of Stephen.
>My close friend had become an acquired taste,
>a plaque upon my teeth.
>Asked what sir desired,
>I inquired after the cleaning power of mussels in wine sauce,
>with maybe a small blob of toothpaste on the side.
>The sold me wine, salad, boneless chicken quiche.
>David Ritchie
>Portland, Oregon
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