David Swartz "RELIGION WITH AN EDGE"
biblicalfictions.com
Poetry for the Curious across the Religious Spectrum
ROTHKO III

And it is wholly certain that the Greeks could have never

Endured their life without art, that poetry renders a most

 

Difficult burden even intelligible, and yet today this very

Moment, the world at large is invested with the power of

 

Consummate cruelty, bending our pictures with the worst

Sort of companionship, with the predatory eyes of vulgar

 

Manipulation.  And they would have their manipulations

Universal.  The artist lives and breathes by his viewers—

 

Is prey to their blatant insecurity.  Where message should

Release, it labors in the eyes of the received, must perish.

 

It is never enough to merely sell, but one must place; we

Choose, at best, qualify recipient.  Such IS our patronage.

 

TWENTY-TWO

 

 

{“Ideas and plans that existed in the mind at the start

were simply the doorway

through which one left the world in which they occur.”  W.O.A.}

 

 

 

For I myself, Rothko, there is an entrance and an exit.  I

Enter and leave by the same door.  What’s more, when I

 

Do leave there is in that finality no return.  The painting

Remains to me simply as viewed experience, no more—

 

I live no further interaction.  The presence (or absence)

Burns.  Should I turn my back, I feel its heat, and every

 

Viewer should as well, endure it like the sun, for picture

Has begun.  Those cattle’d see mere color, solely simple

 

Beauty are not involved in Rothko, for there is violence

In the work, every inch, indeed in every fleck.  To dine

 

In their presence will turn them sick.  To dare to eat—I

Double at the thought.  Hilarious.  And yet mysterious!

 

TWENTY-THREE

 

 

{“Rather prodigal than niggardly, I would sooner

confer anthropomorphic attributes upon

a stone than dehumanize the slightest possibility of consciousness.”  W.O.A.}

 

 

 

They are actors in a private drama; they are souls.  And

Inflict their living even on the weary.  Of metaphysics, I

 

Am not wary.  Of slaughter?  I find scary.  There’s much

To fear in letting Rothko in.  These tentative incisions I’d

 

Inflict upon my skin—are prelude to the greater lashes, a

Welt a world that gashes.  Here now deep enough it pours

 

Or pulses? forth.  I paint the sink, I fall, I paint the floor!

And yet there’s more.  Here is my last expression—that

 

Term I fully deny.  This is no FINAL statement, though

Statement tends to last.  I fade.  The die was simply cast.

 

Incarnadine syrup leaks from this going on ancient sieve

This riddled soon corpse, this defunct foundering master.

 

TWENTY-FOUR

 

 

“I think he was probably the loneliest man I ever

met,” said Regina Begat.  “I never met

anybody who was that lonesome, really desperately lonely.”  J.E.B.B.}

 

 

 

I have known true isolation, for the sense of it all, my

Art, is singular, and there is message to my paintings,

 

Perhaps pre-verbal, locked in the silence of the whole.

There is a certain silence in our Soul.  Perhaps, and it

 

Is only speculation, were one to find even hints of the

Cosmos locked in these mute stacked rectangles, even

 

                 Slightest tremors of their violence, their constrictions,

The import of such having would wreak havoc, truly

 

Devastation, for I know of things I cannot merely say,

An inner canker, an outer suppuration, a Welt, a very

 

Welt, a laceration in the supposition where one clings,

And there where I cling—ethos-abscess that I’d stress.

 

TWENTY-FIVE

 

 

{“ . . . painting was sort of a tormented act for him. . . . and

 when you watched him when he painted,

the expressions . . . he seemed to go through agony.”  J.E.B.B.}

 

 

 

Simply MY women knew how furious I despaired.  My

Edith knew, as well did Mell, the madness in my vision,

 

The lapse from grace, the terrible indecision.  They may

Make much of Pollock’s dance—this Rothko breathed a

 

Color on the canvas, scarcely violated that delicate trust.

The beings brought to birth in Rothko’s spirit were like

 

Demons, and would, and, in fact, HAVE, consumed him.

There will be no second-guessing this man’s suicide, no

 

Hint of external collusion, for I am alone in the very hole

In my own being.  These gashes—who could’ve guessed

 

How Rothko’d bleed.  This last is my greatest canvas, my

Sweet Jew God looking on, my Christ my rancid Savior.

 

TWENTY-SIX

 

 

{ . . . the opacity of the acrylic paints and the ominous,

self-absorbed feeling of the whole, locate. . .

viewer and . . . artist, outside a bleak, self-enclosed space.  J.E.B.B.}

 

 

 

The thrust of Cezanne was the thusness of the thus, that

“Appleness of apple” and where I mimic things, there is

 

Total fidelity to thingness.  With Giotto’s color there is

Giotto’s tactility.  With Rothko the beauty is not that an

 

Obvious beauty burns, but ideas on fire.  For structures

Are being, and seeing utmost—in this particular artistry

 

We harbor no verbal equivalents, and if I have message,

It is subtle implication, word of no word, voice with no

 

Voice.  The plastic elements are in state of subservience

And caught in space.  While I cannot construct from it,

 

My space is central.  They would have man decorative?

Neither void, illusion—I have moved beyond the fictive.

 

TWENTY-SEVEN

 

 

{As E. de Kooning had him, “I have come; I have the

word . . . [he] had a very healthy self-

worship and [felt in possession of] . . . a great secret.”  J.E.B.B.}

 

 

 

Those who have approached me must know that Rothko

Went “beyond painting,” that the painting was not of the

 

Beyond but of the struggle to reach beyond; and yet was

The need to bring forth to immediacy the remote, for the

 

Latter spoke, and mystery in the details.  It is not that I

Am certain what this entails, nor that ever really spoke

 

Of my true mission, for all that verbiage is misleading.

When their message becomes word it disappears.  And,

 

Frankly, there, just there, is the crucible of all my fears.

I’d have the world, I’d have the words, have the weary.

 

The opposite of this is theory, for truth is a subtle edge.

They’d hedge their bets; interstice of the wink’s I think.

 

TWENTY-EIGHT

 

 

{In the last year . . . [his] medicine cabinet and bedside

table were crowded with . . . prescriptions . . .

[that night he] took an overdose of the Sinequan. . . .  J.E.B.B.}

 

 

 

The rectangles are doors? windows? humanoids? women?

The doors are tombstones?  Where does the entrance lead?

 

Opening? enclosure? gaping hole? thrusting presence?  I’d

Speak for them. Speech could if words would not diminish

 

Or even approach what I see there, what is seeing me.  The

Artist detached from voice is speechless, severed from his

 

Pictures.  Such are the strictures.  There is an awful void in

Their last balance.  Our viewers are structurally challenged.

 

Seeking decoration, they find overwhelming violence, her

Sister, pain.  And speech comes not again, comes never—

 

For speech would sever, sever tongue.  There was a death

That took me young, there was aching.  Rothko? forsaken.

 

TWENTY-NINE

 

 

{“The dark is always at the top”. . . .  It is as if one side

of Rothko wished to recoil into himself

while another stood back, detached, contemplating. . . .  J.E.B.B.}

 

 

 

I gash my arms withmerciless detachment.  I cascade even

Flood.  And some of this is God.  Here shifting to the right,

 

I wield the blade, careful of my fingers, having clothed the

 Edge with Kleenex.  This suicide has tricks.  Has certainty

 

Has doubt.  The worst would find me out?  Leaving behind

My dearest Mell, my son, a daughter.  From daughter there

 

Is slaughter, child of art’s yield.  The wound of rage shall

Seldom wield.  Quote myself?  Certain the thought is new,

 

And no small comfort to the tortured seeking respite from

His skin; the canvases shed skin, tacked to darkening wall.

 

The sin, the skin is all.  Selbstmord.  This murder of Mark’s

Self.  Ah put my awful language on the shelf.  My children!

 

THIRTY

 

 

{Two months before his death . . . Rothko sold eighteen

oil paintings to Lloyd for

$396,000, . . . long term, interest-free, deferred payments.  J.E.B.B.}

 

 

  

They were sucking the juice out of me; they had it all on

Paper, locked in; I could scarcely resist their impossible

 

Hold on my art; I suppose I was just too weary, removed,

One might say, beset even, not the will to even paint OR

 

Sketch, let alone service a mistress, manage my affairs; I

Was tired, bone tired, and the sharks closing in on every

 

Side, smelling money, Rothko’s blood, the very blood I

Leak on my studio floor.  These dealers? Christ, I miss a

 

Betty Parsons.  Blood suckers, scavengers circling for the

Kill.  These last days I haven’t been with it enough, even

 

To take my pills.  And might as well take them all—this

Antidepressant?  Will This present perish?  Nightmarish!

 

THIRTY-ONE

 

 

{By this time—as he contemplated a third Marlborough

sale within a year—Rothko felt “uneasy

about [the whole thing]” . . . was “questioning and doubting.”  J.E.B.B.}

 

 

 

The lot that languish on these walls are prey; and scarcely

Stop the leaking from this burn on the mouth of bliss; I’d

 

Say there’s small comfort in greatness, much less simple

Recognition.  For there are barracuda out there lusting for

 

My hide, so fierce in their intentions, sheer feelings can’t

Decide.  I am leaking money like the great Depression; I

 

Hemorrhage by the hour.  These openings in my arms are

Modest when I see what leaks they’ve visited on my Soul.

 

And Soul is sold.  Even Reis has turned to monster!  And  

Yet I can’t trust that assessment, for there is no one left or

 

Living in my house; the spouse is simply outrage, slut—

And I’m better off shut of her.  Ah, Mell, that caricature?

 

THIRTY-TWO

 

 

{The first of Rothko’s friends to arrive . . . was Theodore

Stamos, who would later be

Found guilty . . . of negligence in managing Rothko’s estate.  J.E.B.B.}

 

                                                                                                      

 

“Here JUST in time to die!”. . .  They’ll find ME stinking!

Where DID that Dutchman direct his ammunition?  That

 

Leak in his bloody chest?  I find it strange enough that I

Never burned my incense by THAT temple.  Van Gogh,

 

Vincent, where ARE you leaking.  These Masters seldom

Ever recognize another Master speaking.  We are alone—

 

Gauguin and his pretty friends, a wad of syphilis in your 

Pecker.   Rodin alone who lived to outlive grandeur.  He

 

Felt up his share of succulence, and a marvelous decline

Beyond Rothko’s “bitter old age.”  Now even Reis!  My

 

Rapture is on ice!  I live a vagrant notoriety.  The fame is

                   Past.  GILLETTE blue blade—that much may likely last.

 

THIRTY-THREE

 

 

“ . . . with a . . . ritual blood letting—Rothko acted unequiv-

ocally . . . [as] a man who had spent hours

            contemplating the violence he had seen in his own paintings.  J.E.B.B.}

 

 

 

“Pitiful Christ, I ache”—I feel the cleanly steel, seal steel

And Christ, I ache.  They rack me on a stretcher: jagged

 

Timber.  The timber’s limb, Or?  I shudder massive dying,

This death is trying.  Try Mell! Kate!—Chris! Edith! Still!

 

That He would have ME evil!  This blade aborts, distorts,

THIS bole, this weevil.  I am EATEN into suckling filth!

 

These last years granted all but certain art, granted simply

Wealth.  The aneurysm-chasm.  There on heart’s valve is

 

               Final shrug, my spasm.  I am sweeten into death!  Am ill,

Am beaten.  Was thus a Master knew his Eve, knew Eden.

 

The worm is at my sheet.  My luck is such this living will

                Repeat—as such I perish—as such I take and drink; I eat!