YET ANOTHER FUCKING EKPHRASTIC POEM, THIS ONE BASED ON “SELF-PORTRAIT WITH BOTTLES” (1938) AND “BETWEEN THE CLOCK & THE BED” (1940-1943) FROM THE EDVARD MUNCH EXHIBIT AT THE SAN FRANCISCO MUSEUM OF MODERN ART, AND BY “BASED” I MEAN USING THE PAINTINGS AS A SPRINGBOARD FOR MY RAMBLING, INCOHERENT BLATHER WITH ONLY THE MOST TENUOUS OF CONNECTIONS TO THE SUBJECT AT HAND, BUT IF ANYONE CALLS ME ON IT, I CAN JUST SNEER AND CALL THEM A PHILISTINE WHO JUST DOESN’T UNDERSTAND GREAT, GREAT ARTISTS LIKE EDVARD MUNCH. AND ME.

I.

Brightly-hued as late-period Matisse
but wait—
instead of stylized odalisques
draped provocatively
over various color fields,
we get this balding, white-haired spectre
in corduroy jacket turned blue with age,
wrinkled pants spotted with
old man’s stains of indeterminate origins—
pee?
semen?
borscht?
seagull shit?
gefiltefish?…who knows…
And that’s quite a bar
you got there, ED—
I thought you learned your lesson
in 1908 in Copenhagen,
semi-paralyzed, violent and hallucinatory,
they almost locked you up as
terminally-insane, but the nice doctor said,
“Aw, he’s just DRUNK…”
Sure as hell looks like yr getting ready
to pour yourself a tall one, though.

II.

Always scowling to beat the band
despite (or because of?) the cheery palette—
what’s “A smile is a frown upside down”
in Norwegian?—
you stand betwixt bed & clock,
sleep and death.
Hell, I love to sleep
and if death is anything like it,
what is everyone bitching about?
Maybe you were happy,
and that’s just what it looked like
out there in the middle of nowhere
in your huge hermit’s converted farmhouse.
“The pollen season was short in Scandinavia,
and he could drink all the coffee
he damn well pleased
during the long winters”
a poet once wrote…
Oh wait, that was me!
Anyhow, there you sit at easel,
drawing endless copies of your own pictures
while making a succession of housekeepers’ lives
a living hell in
a homely, domestic diminuendo of
emotional turmoils of the past.
Like the versions of The Sick Child,
your first masterpiece from 1886.
The one from 1896 hews
fairly closely to the original.
As for the copy from 1907—
if I was an MFA candidate working on
my thesis in art criticism, I could say
“This near-abstract reworking uncannily
foreshadows De Kooning’s figurative work
of the early 1950s” or
I could be a regular schlunk and think
“Who gave this maudlin,
late-stage alcoholic
a box of 64 crayolas?”
One remake of Ashes,
A good-sized canvas of a wild-haired redhead
having a really bad morning
dates over thirty years from the original,
when you were in your 60’s.
I mean, you didn’t even try to sell ‘em
like that greedy bastard Salvadore Dali
would have done, you just
stacked them around the house,
as comforting and occupational as
picking scabs on a winter afternoon.

III.

“Where’s The Scream?”
plaintively cried the woman
in the middle of the gallery floor.
I’m sure there’s a couple of these folks
every hour or so,
and this just happens to be
the one scheduled for my shift.
The Scream ain’t here, lady.
Munch painted a bunch of those, too,
but people keep stealing them.
And anyhow, don’t you people read
the description of the show
before you shell out 30 bucks—
this is the Geezer Exhibition.
It’s in the advertisements on the sides of buses.
This is what old folks do—
endlessly repeat ancient history
even after the kids have left the room,
soil themselves in various fashions
without the mortification of youthful vanity.
Some of us even throw in lines
of old poems in the middle of
ones we’re writing—
who gives a fuck?
The ship is going down and
This is what we do—
observe ourselves in the present
obsessively dwelling on the past
while playing “No Future” by the Sex Pistols.
On vinyl.
As the twilight deepens,
this is how we stay true
to Modernism’s dictum to
Make It New.

San Francisco/Tacoma 6/30-7/9/17