A Study in Chiaroscuro
Sometimes what feels good is the most dangerous.
Remember uncle sun staring down your décolletage.
Think the daintiest little bright mushrooms.
Whose fault is it if you won’t listen, if you
indulge too easily the heart’s clamor?
Inside a small screen, brown Bakelite exterior,
a cathode ray soul screams at each scuffle
closer to the goal line. Beyond, schoolmates
in penny loafers and knee socks shuffle down leafy
sidewalks, pressing loose leaf binders to the chest.
From the pellucid moment of this autumn morning,
you still can’t change the channel. You want to turn
blind eyes to that escapade. And to the airport angel
with her well-worn harp—could you afford to give
her absolution, say, an E-for-effort blessing?
If there were a God, do you think He would be
the red-shouldered hawk sheltering the fledgling,
or the fierce raptor seizing the gopher, greedy and slow,
clambering to its burrow? Shouldn’t the gopher be
warned by the shadow of the wings overhead?
This is a novel about the bomb plot
narrowly averted. Don’t fret; it’s short.
Screenplay, you say?
but how portray the protagonist’s pangs,
the second thoughts? Flashback to his mother
and her labor, childhood taunts
for his stammer or his stature or
his second-hand shoes. Pan to his little girl
in the playground.
This is the script about the bomb
defused—not the fire, not the flames, blue
and brighter, not the metal molten,
not the screams, the shards, the lightning.
You can almost smell
burnt hair, blood’s tang, flesh roasting.
But this is not about the pyre. In this one,
your terrorist sleeps in.
The six-year old,
brow furrowed, concentrates on jacks,
her terrier licks his privates beside her.
She hums a tune she just made up.
Tonight her papa will cook their supper.
Her mama touches her brush tip to her lip,
then to her paints.
Because seven people sat in a bar,
agreeably disagreeing about Art,
she hovered, a spirit like vermouth
in a martini, in the purple light
some feet above the table.
But she was sick of being slave
(White Goddess, really!), commanded
to appear, breathe the right words in his ear
in the right order or resuscitate him
lip to lip until the susurrus evoked
the perfect pitch vibrato of his heart.
All those years chasing Enlightenment
and yet another saint or angel, charming
the hand scraping palettes, groping chiaroscuro
grottoes, pointing toward the vanishing point.
Didn’t they know without her they’d have
only their science and their cynicism? Arriving
at the moon, they’d forget why they ever went.
Descending to the ocean floor they’d
find it neither pearled nor profound.
She’d heard it all before: Neoclassic-impressionist-
fusion, expressionist, conceptual, rock,
imagist, modern, post-, hiphop —
she wanted very much to lie down.
THE STORY BEHIND THE POEMS
“A Study in Chiaroscuro” comes from an incident in my childhood that I don’t often talk about but have written about several times. If it’s got a bit of the victim blaming herself, that also comes from real life.
“Bomb” comes from the idea that history did not have to happen as it did, that there are alternatives, that terrorists are also human, and that maybe all humans have a bit of terrorist inside.
As for “Muse Rebellion”: My son was part of a serious jazz band when he was in college. One night, we went out with him and his fellow musicians, after a performance. They were joined by an educator from a famous music school, who had been a soloist that night. The students and the educator (older, my generation) got into a heated discussion about hiphop and sampling, whether it was real art. I was fascinated by the discussion and felt privileged to witness the dispute.
ABOUT DIANE KIRSTEN MARTIN
Diane Kirsten Martin’s essays have appeared in Hobble Creek Review and Connotation Press and her poetry has appeared in Field, B O D Y, ZYZZYVA, Harvard Review, Narrative, Plume, Rhino, and other journals and anthologies. She was included in Best New Poets, received a Pushcart Special Mention, and won the Ernest J. poetry prize from Smartish Pace. Her collection, Conjugated Visits, a National Poetry Series finalist, was published in 2010 by Dream Horse Press. Her poetry manuscript, Hue and Cry, is seeking a publisher.