Issue 14

Poetry: David Wright

First of Several Manifestos in the Voices of the Dead

Van Gogh on the Possible and True

Even here there is no blue
          without yellow and orange,
                    and color must still do everything.

My bedroom (precisely as I have always seen it,
          flat tints and a thick impasto, lilac doors, the green-citron
                    pillow and scarlet coverlet,

the pale violet walls and floors of red,
          the basin blue which requires,
                    as I’ve said, other colors) is heaven.

I smoke my pipe in bed for days
          on end and live in paintings
                    I never have to make.

And there is nothing in my mirror.

Manifesto Two: Braque on Progress and Mimesis

You are making a pictorial fact, and no one cares
how many times the violin, in truth, has been played.

Do not imitate, Make the strings and the neck
and the small, hollow body of color. In this way,

Christ made loaves and fishes enough for thousands.
You must be more primitive, brother.

Paint with only one brush, and a smaller palette
you crush from the foods you have failed to eat.

Look, I am falling in love. See the black fish?
The birds I have improvised? The new

surface I have made for the world.

Manifesto Three: J. M. W. Turner on the Qualities and Causes of Things

O voi ch’avete l’intelletti sani,
mirate la dottrina che s’asconde
sotto il velame de li versi strani.

                    Inferno, IX, 11. 61-63

Blow into the gallery with a daub of red
lead, then trowel or skip it like a shilling

across the gray waves. Say nothing. They will
write and want to know why paint feels better

and less than the world of trees and seas.

Remind them to rub their pictures
with a very soft silk handkerchief

to remove the blue chill of new varnish.

No one living will love you as you need,
and I am talking about the sturdiest dead

minds you can recall. In this archival state
called heaven, I still insist that light is color

and the world a veil of fanacious poems.
I tell Ruskin every endless day how disappointed

I was to discover that the Sun was not God.
He tells me that the Dean of St. Paul’s refused

to bury me in Carthage, wrapped in a rotted canvas,
and we agree, together, that it is tragic

how the indistinct belongs to God and not to me.

Manifesto Four: Rembrandt Addresses the 1960s and 70s

You will turn to color, from the etched
pastoral to urban landscape of vivid oils

that stun everyone already known in gray
and blacks on paper. Line and outline:

here is a woman’s leg in fabric, her covered
curves still clear. You will also not look back

to the ink wash rather than ahead to the gloss:
magazine and Soup Can, the neon Dutch Masters

outside the Queens Tunnel. You will tumble
into photographs and acrylic, and will paint

so fiercely your wired arms go numb.

I have contracted to for a huge exhibit
in the brick and steel gallery

of your sleep, a series of performance pieces
all displayed above this whisper: die meeste ende

di naetuereelste beweechgelickheijt.
So you will believe until you wake

that I really did see Christ being lifted from the ground,
heavy as a plastic sack of seed, fallen from a truck,

that I really observed his guards (like the men
in the grainy video of Vietnam, Munich, Selma,

El Salvador, the Moon) confounded by the sudden
appearance of flesh and color, that I knew their desire

to return to a world of shades and shadow
rather than this one, its ridiculous deaths

and resurrections everywhere, colored
in a television light so harsh I cannot

begin to find it in a human eye.