“Avant-Garde” by Courtney Kampa

Courtney Kampa


A man slouches before a uni-colored canvas
with the perplexity of a stumped technician
gaping at the unremittingly blank screen
of a television. He adjusts his stance,
a double antenna, in search for reception.
Its artist has spread the blackest paint—probably
in fistfuls with her bare hands—until every inch
was filled, or emptied, with dark. “A negation
of art,” spouts a museum curator, but by now our guy
has stopped listening. Maybe the artist felt a wound
deserves a close-up. The threaded color
of sutures—dark stitches laid down like train tracks
across a forehead. Maybe she wants answers
but isn’t getting any. She’s in the tomb on Good Friday, before
the stone’s rolled back. Or maybe it’s feminine—
like pantyhose, or the womb. Something about birth.
Or death—that dark hound curled up at her feet.
Could be she has a black lab, and just really likes
her dog. Or it’s the view from inside a chamber
of the heart that has sealed itself off. Or it’s cancer.
Maybe she’s ruptured, and knows first hand
what a rip looks like, having watched the hole of herself
stretching even wider. It’s possible she’s been jilted
and has an axe to grind, and that this is a portrait
of her ex, that anatomical hole, himself.
Perhaps it’s a memory of being kissed—kissed well.
The lashes on a smolder-eyed man. Maybe it’s motherhood:
the charred casserole, smudges across the leather
in the back seat of her car, a sugary space a first-lost
tooth creates. Maybe the money’s gone
and she’s got kids in college. Maybe she’s divorced
and this is the hue of lost custody. Maybe it’s the bald-spot
in the ozone, and she wants her climate back. What if
she’s painted sacrifice: the gap plowed into Adam’s side
to create a second life; the rib removed from a girl named Eve
to create a wasp-like waist. Maybe it’s an un-filled cavity,
or the huge, open pores on her dentist’s nose.
Perhaps something very personal occurred here.
Steam-rolled asphalt. A star-scrubbed sky.
Either she wants to say nothing, or say too much.
Either her world keeps ending, or it’s always beginning.
Whatever it is, the man’s face awakens with what looks like an answer.
Taking two steps back in his trainers, he reaches
into his jeans for a ballpoint pen—a moment of light
before this work?—and inks onto his hand:
                        buy eggs.

from Rattle #34, Winter 2010
Rattle Poetry Prize Honorable Mention


Courtney Kampa: “Being 22 years old, I have little to offer in the way of a substantial bio, but will keep you posted.” (web)

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