Poetry for the Curious across the Religious Spectrum



{deconstructing the artist}


for Johanna 



“Maybe you have noticed two characteristics exist in my paintings; either their surfaces are expansive and push outward in all directions, or their surfaces contract and rush inward in all directions.  Between these two poles you can find everything I want to say.”


                                      ))))))))))))) Rothko in James E. B. Breslin




A fleck of paint on a canvas is the positing of a reality in the place of an infinitude of possibility;

   A second fleck is the positing of a reality in the place of an infinitude of possibility minus the first fleck;

    The two flecks exist as separately and compositely posited realities;

   The completed canvas, all flecks, no matter how realized, is both the total constriction of possibility for the space of a given canvas and a certain measure of achieved imprint;

   If the imprint is totally achieved, this utter constriction of possibility is a universe, for it is a context;

   It is both the utter constriction of possibility and possibility’s utter fruition;

   It is a death and a birth.




The work of art that could give us death even for an instant is an achievement of total necessity, so that none of the elements in the full range of the artist’s personal conflict remains withheld, so that none is not given its repose, so that the domain of the aesthetic product is itself complete for the given context from which it issues, and yet strains to explode in quiet fury, a fury dominated by the artist’s range of technique;

   Technique can, in fact, be nearly everything;

   It is the instrument of fury and the force of repose;

   Without the tensions implicit in the artist’s own context, however, without that larger tension of ultimate will forcing its way to speak through context itself, so effectively as to even here and there shatter it, there can be no great art, no necessity, no statement;

   The conditioned being who submits to art, permits himself to fully experience it, is, as it were, sucked totally into context and deliverance, the particular articulation of a conditioned being;

   We who approach art are given the opportunity to be pulled totally out of our being;

   We are given for some small lapse of time the death of context, for we participate in its transmutation, effectively in its absence;

   In the aesthetic moment we are apprised of the fact that without the very condition which entraps us there can be no statement, no release:

   We give ourselves over to the one of us who has humbled the very bonds of his conditioned being, for whom entrapment was, in the very act of his creation, merely the instrument of voice, yearning the instrument of a fictive melody drawn forth from yearning, his very own context;

   Only the artist with the greatest impediment to voice, whether crippled by the sheer range of his utterance or the personal context from which it issues, will speak to the will in us, the greater voice for all of us, should, even for the briefest period, those barriers become at last the vehicle of his expression;

   We submit and all barriers cease to exist;

   We are sucked into one man’s transformation of barrier;

   We are sucked into ultimate context;

   If even for the briefest instant, resolution effects.



                             ))))))))))))) BEYOND THE HUMAN PREDICAMENT








{ . . . as Motherwell saw, Rothko was stubbornly rejecting anyone

else’s judgment, so that no one could intervene, but

     leaving himself locked in an almost “metaphysical loneliness.” J.E.B.B.}




Wounds in his hands the quandary, painting the very subject,

Image moribund (albeit dazzling beauty) in the utter abstract.


Scars on the lips of fate (cankers with a radiance) are aloof

But comprehending—your sword has entered, blood-proof.


I have wished to conquer every facile heart and rend its soul,

Subdue all terror in their machinations of the sacrificial foal.


The thirsting of fierce Merisi, even an angst of Kierkegaard,

Reduces radiance to a defunct, sullen, myth of sweet regard.


To conjure space where space contends with space alone or

Shrieks awesome beauty filled with rancor—ah, the anchor.


Presence are at best a halting moment without real torment.

Suchness, to be, to be itself, is all, the Whit which mocks It.




{His body was failing; his marriage was failing; his affair was failing;

his artistic sanctuary was being opened to the agents

of commerce.  He felt trapped and helpless . . . doomed. . . .  J.E.B.B.}




To sever a brachial artery or two or some other twosome

Should give pause simply by the Flood, is that gruesome.


Where there are windows in the Chapel bricked and odd,

Will press the inhabitant with Satan’s curse, simply God.


Crushed Christ would leaven even drink, let alone Spirit.

I’d have His soul on ice itself and let Godless God stir it.


Mell’d outlive Rothko by her smallish quantity of Marks.

‘D decorate the whole of it with horizontals, subtle darks.


I fold my trousers over a starkly defined chair, a bench.

Wrench—carving forearms by the sink—ah, the stench!


Here these arms raised as even this last birth ubiquitous,

As free of faith as I might trust His Passion sick-with-us.






{Rothko thought of himself not as a mere painter but as

the messianic bearer of a new vision,

a sensual and spiritual fullness  that went “beyond painting.”  J.E.B.B.}




February 25, of the year itself?  Hardly lack confidence,

Even certain—this fact has precedence, a drawn curtain.


Auf Deutsch would be murder of the self, I presuppose

Supposition?  Suicide—this gentle a writ or deposition.


This cruciform color field?  Statement of a sort, in long

Or curt, message to Greenberg, to any other sanctioned


Critic, scholar, corporate functionary, cleric, odd Body.

I have carefully brushed a sanguine, tonal epos, liturgy.


To carve or breathe a plastic contour in my flesh, to air

The lovely stab of mortal blank, to cut there, or here, a


Prayer, for God’s outside this flesh, this final statement.

There is no shame within, and such abatement is no sin.





{It is as if . . . all the sensual pleasure and seductive command

had gone out of Rothko’s paintings . . . [his works]

now sternly declare there is no way but his way: inward.  J.E.B.B.}




In the beginning was image, struggle to overcome, in my

Paragraph some awesome? punctuation, fitful sensation.


But in the end were 2 blanks, absorbing their soul—gray

                 And black, acrylics to absorb my fillips—meanings stray.


Or a ponderous title, GETHSEMANE, trapped, bands of

Merciless colors, tapped by dolors, sapped—you holler?


Somewhere in that inscrutable multiform transition, burn,

Beauty, gone, swoon I had to overcome, earn, loathsome.


The signature style warmed with sheer presence so strong

I could market fully terror, where the latter scatters, error.


Colorist without field, reticent, tentative, stark.  Revealed.

Warmth envelops, cool sucks quarkly in, floats, shed skin.





{ . . . last and most severe renunciations, were made not to

remove obstacles between the observer

and the idea but in a gesture at personal withdrawal.  J.E.B.B.}




I am without emotion for my own spent soul, no affect, no

Ties to the coil of innards, inward, whole.  Water gurgling


In the sink, I test this blade just here, and it cuts, it cuts, in

Earnest.  Just over there some forty of my recent gestures,


Seethe, unnourished.  This is not a noble undertaking, here

Alone, and pity the soul that reads my final canvas, for I’m


Weak enough to finish on the floor.  They’ll enter through

That door.  Blood’s sweet odor; incarnadine there—more?


My body’s ready for the feast, and soon released, for Mark

Has ceased, is scarcely Rothko, Rothkowitz.  This Russian


You, this Jew is through.  God, seize me for their oven; or

Leaven victim.  Yahweh grants this final, silent holocaust.





{“The study of the Renaissance is the study of the succession

of death agonies by which the

myth is lost as the symbol of the artist’s notion of reality.”  T.A.R.}




Here, my humble beginnings are my endings.  Here, their

Marcus in his high black stockings.  Here, their Rothko’s


Sullen journey.  Here, the tourney.  Here would mourn he.

Here adjourn thee.  Here or born free.  Here are bourn pre.


Here, in my humble endings are my beginnings.  Quietly

My sinnings. Outstretch, or raise my limbs, for their nails.


Of such as this?  An old wive’s tales.  Simply as such, the

Story fails.  That Kleenex guard my fingers.  Who’d cut in


Earnest inches deep, slash in an old man’s arm. Now, the

Right.  This early morning on a quiet terrible night.  This,


Early AM.  This, ugly mayhem.  Mozart’s Giovanni, and

Would slay him.  This silence is larger than the very dark.





{“All primitive expression reveals the constant presence

of powerful forces, the immediate . . . brutality

of the natural world as well as the eternal insecurity of life.”  W.O.A.}




If Rothko is primitive, here dying, it is that he is primal.

And art is such; shriek merits attention, brute or formal.


We had hoped from Mell more than Mell delivered; she

Clung to Marcus more than shiver, shivered.  Onlookers


Judge that Rothko should return; am enough of this odd

Relationship, this strain, this marriage, would have God


Sever what no man put asunder; for an artist, marriage—

Is a cosmic blunder.  Weddings thrive on indecision; that


Feeds the synagogue, cathedral; even animals breed well.

My church would lurch to bring two souls together; I am


Shaman, without drum, without wail, or Braille, or even

Feather.  Return to Mell?  That Hell?  I could not bother.





 {[His paintings enact] the difficult boundary negotiations

worked out by a child who

desires love, fears possession, and needs autonomy.  J.E.B.B.}




You make much of my detachment from the boundary.  As

Wide as paints can breathe—divorce these colors from their


Foundry.  I have sought the “quickening gaze.”  Such souls

Have wept in fear of mortal consumption; they grieve and,


Likely, believe in some “awesome commanding.”  It is not

             That I’m demanding; the oils themselves conjure obedience.


We must shelve our grievance; we must marry canvas, oils,

For God has joined what souls command, portend—release.


Let swaths of color conjure what soul can’t secrete, let oil

Increase.  There is largeness Rothko cannot summon even


In the backyards of his spirit.  There is an awesome hint, a

Celebration, when  artists let slip their grip on cerebration.





{As Motherwell “recalled, [Rothko] did not attempt

to fill himself with material objects and

possessions.  [And yet] He had a ravenous appetite.”  J.E.B.B.}




These so little people fail to consider ever that the briefest

Distance, one point to another’s a straight line—J. Priest!


And I had my first dealer at 44, no one man show till ’45?

What exactly am I trying to say?  Of the strange way I had


With women-folk—Mell fairly well worshipped this odd

Old man, as if her “Rothko” was myth, Jehovah, hardly a


Man; and there WERE times, the manic occasions I truly

Thought I was messiah.  Only Still truly knew me.  And,


Perhaps saw through me, said I was living “an Evil Life.”

Perhaps he thought I’d taken Satan for a wife—common.


Declared I worship Mammon?  Changed my name in ’40;

Divorced a woman ’44; remarried ’45; pissed Art, till ‘49.





{It had gotten so far that one very odd summer night

they overheard a passerby

wonder, “Who lives in this house with all the Rothkos?”  J.E.B.B.}




Before the signature, iconic style there were figures, what

Figures were, in bands of strident color; shifting in time, I


Ended, nearly ended with mythological oddities trapped in

Hues.  There entered over a summer perhaps, another odd


Lapse, the “Multiforms,” bold swaths and color blotches,

Where figure asserted dominance as utterly abstract, back


But broadly defined.  I was of a mind to let them float in

Air, and yet it was simply transition.  In bold opposition,


The bands returned, two, often three, at last detached, or

Even scratched where welt scored canvas briefly breath,


And lapsed toward torment, death, or mighty apposition,

Bold breathing stacks of hue as thrust or just envisioned.





{“Chiaroscuro and perspective . . . enabled the masters

to formulate methods for giving

the particulars of their paintings the illusion of existence.”  T.A.R.}




The sense of things, here where I founder, is and are well

The boldest stroke, knowing full well I die, and die gladly


Into living on of art, in such fitting ending to the gift past

Merely skill, for the latter small portion of the matter, for


Is manque, tedious copy of event and style—and one must

Smile at even (wryly) decoration, whereas the Master goes


Far past their blandest imitation, creates anew, as if given

An exhalation of spirit beyond static machination, wields


Organism utterly removed from habit, accretions, yes, the

Inventions of 1,000 years; for genius knows substance as


Well as fears, and here in a myth-less realm of our current

Fetish grants IDEA beyond dull aping of our present time.





{“Our own country is today a bloodless battlefield

where a dozen conflicting or

unrelated attitudes are in the struggle for acceptance.”  W.O.A.}