The Collectors


     after Magritte

I know it was our father’s house,
but prudence says he wouldn’t mind
your packing up his legacies, a trunk
or two of city clothes, a photograph,
perhaps, of what had been a neighborhood
where now the sea laps barren beach
behind your yard. Do you enjoy the thought
that apple trees you climbed as a boy
are now the hanging place of cuttlefish?
Do you expect that whatever it is
that gobbles houses by night
and hauls the sidewalk off in chunks
will spare your little edifice?
I don’t worry so much                    
about the lobsters, big as cows,
that made off with the Belgian clock,
the marble mantelpiece, or the horn
that I left in the attic; their taste
is too baroque to warrant another visit.
But I will prove, if I must
with photographs and measurements
that the oblong rock once half a mile
at sea will soon adorn the lawn,
then, with a nudge, the stairs;
next day it will bulge into the parlor;
and probably within a fortnight
sweep you a mile up the beach
to that stack of abandoned houses
where it has already assembled
what’s left of the town.

It’s one thing to be “lived through”
by Cosmic Consciousness,
serving some higher purpose as though
the Universe had plans, and we
were its chessmen. But this won’t do,
this passive acceptance of
granite elbow-nudge,
this nibbling away at things,
reducing us to dust mite status
at the bottom of the vacuum bag!

Note: This is a revision of a poem that appeared in Whippoorwill Road: The Supernatural Poems. I suppose the "victim" feeling of the narrator is a good metaphor for today's politics, where we are all being nibbled to death by mice. The poem refers to three Magritte paintings, two of which I found, and was written back in the days when Barbara A. Holland and I hurled Magritte-inspired poems at one another weekly at poetry readings. These poems don't make a whole lot of sense alone, but when read against the paintings, I think they're pretty amusing: the weakness of "ekphrastic" poetry is that poet and reader really need to share the image. Magritte's strange work continues to haunt me, odd since I am not in the least a modernist.


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