July 24, 2011

Christopher Kempf

THE PROFESSORS’ WIVES

At the lecture on the aesthetics
of Renaissance sculpture, they sit there like their own
kind of statuary, that unique New England style

combining tweed and Talbots, Lands End and the repression of whatever it is
they are actually thinking. If he was living now,
and not in whatever century he did, in fact, live, Rilke

would note how from all the borders of themselves
they shrink, how suffused they seem
with patience, waiting

for this man to finish his pigment and mortar analysis of a statue
which isn’t even beautiful really. It’s the same
way they wait most nights like the wives

their mothers instructed them to be, bearing that
ponderous weight of faking it, taking
their husbands slowly into the sad

caverns of their bodies. They watch
slides of Italy flicker along the walls. They want
to be anywhere else.

But this is a poem, and they are the kind of pathetic
fallacy it needs now, the endowing
of something which is not me with feelings that are,

entirely, what I would like at this moment. To go
a little crazy on some Venetian beach with my body
like it belongs on the cover of a book

by Nora Roberts. To watch the slide projector
melt into a smoking pile of plastic. And that
would be the end of the Great Masters, their statues

a hot mess of marble and bronze. I want
to say they would like this also, a small catastrophe to keep
things interesting. If I was Rilke,

in my drafty castle in the past, I’d ask you to observe
the curved breast, which dazzles us so. Its hopeful
rising and falling like all Creation went into it. How they seem to be

somewhere else entirely, letting their hair down, which is something
no poem, no painting or statue, has captured
with quite the same sadness.

from Rattle #34, Winter 2010