The History of Art

These days our artifacts live in dormitories,
prisons, adopted homes; the world’s museums.
Fragments of stone and bone, white figurines,
sneering gargoyles, gods of politics,
panels coated with the juice of bugs
and grass, with the slime of egg and flakes of gold,
bronze monarchs arrayed in leprous patina.
Visiting them, we slow down, straighten up,
as if we were approaching an open coffin
or rows of newborns behind the hospital glass.

Set in the floor is their godfather, the mummy.
His fingernails still glow pink, his frozen face,
black and well-bred, records eternal shock
at a hundred incarnations of nervous children
dragging their feet past his spotlit tomb.

At the heart of a once-great symphonic city,
the little neolithic idol hangs
modestly on indigo velvet. All
terra-corta breasts and belly, her head
nothing but a dried raspberry, she is slowly
eating the nothingness of her glass case.

The paintings open on endless galleries
like dim courtyards, peering through a scrim
of varnish, dust, and lacy craquelure.
One day the wounds of the skinny medieval Christ
open like tiny eyes. Edged in green
—where the green essence of his body flows,
puddles, and concentrates—they face us with
alertness and passion, heralds and witnesses
now that his own dead lids have fallen shut.