Michael Tod Edgerton

It Closing In It Whispers

1.

Francis Bacon at the Met: hours
with the paintings
leering
at every one of them
(and glancing here and there
at hot boys who pass
too quickly by)
shifting
circling
an un-kind lust
mingling
the surface      the space      inside
the frame
tremulous.

Then deflated
with the absence
of Two Men on a Bed, one of his most erotic.
(Brutal, you would add.)
Tender, I think. And no
Man at Curtain no Study of the Human
Body
I dream of having
on a book, no ice-gray glow of Two Figures
at a Window
in an eclipsed rock-blue room.

But then: Head I, one of the earliest paintings, the earliest Head, early 1948.
I stare at it at length, head flapping in the frame
to extract my small face from its glass, convinced:

it’s some substrate struggling for form, some unminded storm of forces half-
dispersed, desiring at
being One while wanting for want, substanceless
muck without world:

whatever it is
it is not I: Head
half on, ill-
shaped: flesh mottled gray
matter: eyes swollen
shut or glazed over: embryonic: face
all mouth round mouth four
fangs angling each other:
mouth a clot of blood
inside, muscling
toward a moan: staring
at me staring
at the painting trying still
to shut out my face your face
behind the glaring wall placed between us
to protect us, one from the other, my head still bobbing for an opening
I can slip through: cracked open
I almost break down:
hold back in fear hold back don’t
smear don’t bleed
the bruising pigment
flash of wine-splash
from a smacked mouth: still
a small almost-sob escapes, a sigh,
a quick-intake and—
repudiation of breath: eruption of               something
the glass has no will or way to stave
takes leave.

2.

Lunch to replenish some sense
of space between
myself and Bacon.

Then back in the museum with the hope
of recomposing
myself in a Rothko (or who knows, with luck,
maybe in one of those quickly-zipping men), so I go
seeking to float out into what currents
I can and I

turn the corner stop:      dead in a start:            the shark
scraping against the glazed skin of the seen to get at me,
this shark I didn’t know was in the States, let alone here
here               heaves
forward
toward
the shark-
mouth gape-
eyed and
leering at me leering:               (its prey)

glass cannot protect me from
the gaze:               the mouth               that mouth
that blazes
black
             sun
this
shark’s
dead eyes
defer to,
full-throated
void, it calls
and closer.

It could only be
this shark, this
second carcass, a shark
just like it, but not the original.
Only this museum, the Metropolitan, or a museum
laid out the same. Like so fallen a heaven
as The Physical
Impossibility of
Paradise,
the imperceptible Death
in the Mind
of the insensible perceptions of Someone
Living
(originally executed in 1991
shark replaced in 2006
now white clouds its expressions)
expressed gases floating
above it
a few rays behind
those reflections within reflections
the glass tank swims off into
the glass walls
of that side
of this gallery
in the Met:
shark head replicating
infinity in miniature over
5th Avenue. So peaceful
this
mouth-
like Bacon scream
hovering in its sea-blue
tankful of formaldehyde. Surprisingly
beautiful (what beautiful means)
to be stricken to be
taken. Thought from
the first it was pure
hoax. Seeing photos of it
differently installed (or was that the first
fish, the closed-mouthed?), reading about the piece, about Hirst’s other works,
the bifurcated
sheep and cows—I thought it must be
the inert sort of conceptual gesture that fails
to penetrate, to interpellate: to call out to call into
being:
my breathing, my movements
of expansion and response, calling me into its own—until I saw it, there,

installed to eternally return in the glass wall
of that particular room in the Met. Display lights scoring the symphonic depths
it soars
unswimming in, engorged and gorgeously eerie
glow. That crowned hole,
its pillowed palate itching to swallow in its entirety
my slight frame, every enfleshed soul in this museum—our sense
of sight itself
—every single thing and that thing’s inside-outwarding into

the world.

I sit with it

for a long time.

I sit with it very near

absolute stasis.

Sit with its ellipses
in the window over the car-barking street,
the window-pocked buildings
glaring back
their annoyance, that light-struck cloud
let to blue.

Circle around it and around. Sit. Flesh flecking off
even still: this form can’t hold, formaldehyde or not: art and science aside,
muscle and cartilage, even teeth
break down: the hide frays: none of us can stay.

And out of nowhere
out of nothing
— The museum is —


— closing in —
measured time
is shutting down
this last moment.
The museum
closing in on
the Physical
Impossibility.

The mouth the eyes
too will go.
The guards having
disappeared,
I take something
of it with me.
(Something other
than the photos
I never look at now.)

— fifteen minutes —

Is that how long,
not fame, not fortune,
but anything kin,
in the 21st century,
to transcendence
lasts?
(Look at them now,
so wanting.)

3.

On the slow walk out, I pass back through
the howling Bacons, the last
of the crowd (no longer even half-looking
for a mere hook-up)
no longer exactly hungry but wholly sated, sated and still
whetted for more, for the summer-humid air, for all the faces perched on the front
steps of the Met, along the bannisters, mapping their way to dinner (and okay, yes,
the sideways slide of that man’s tongue up my bent neck does flash over)
mouth
by mouth, room
by room to the exit, the front stairs, the early evening streets extending into
this calm exhilaration—this circulation of the substanceless
substances that compose and decompose us
recompose through us throw us
through the gullet of it into the world-rivering a bit further down now the teeth
in my back your chest the snaring marks the bracketing scare
quotes lighter now around the world around us
more real this illusion and only exhalation of the remains of:

the never-shaken unknown:          unknowable:                       —heaves—

What else
does beautiful mean
but unnerving or
innervating
or vacating:
Mere pleasure binds us
together the same,
Barthes (that lovely loner)
whispers behind us. And listen to us again, I thought
I heard, but no:
And bliss
undoes us
again.

Land’s End

—for Kate Schapira
 
It’s because of their mortality that things exist.
—Etel Adnan, Night

Walking unintentional miles
along the Pacific: Land’s End to China

Beach and back, in view
of Marshall’s (but not

close enough to see
any nude men

lingering along one another on the wet sand),

wondering if we were anywhere
near where you had been when

a whale back
arched above

the tremulous
sun-

reflexive surface foaming over rocks, gliding in

and out as quickly
lost to you as you

turned to leave turned round to see:
hence memory, so sight.

So this absenting
presence, this existence: Oceanic:

from our finite shores, some notion of something more: magical

thinking. What else do we have? What else
could we do, even knowing

it was futile, but back-track all our day’s
steps to try to find what was

inadvertently tossed aside
or slyly lifted from my little black bag—

designer shoes from Rodeo, a trip to Rio for Carnival, a Mercedes convertible, maybe even

a chateau on the coast
of every sun-drenched droplet of a newly-acquired summer-home archipelago—

an electric trail of charges posting stills of a whole life I’ll never know
but might have halfway wanted myself—someone else’s

bucket list pocketed by the fistful
from my fiscal ipseity—

eyes in the bushes behind rocks but thoughts roaming now like children lost

hunting the hidden and finding—I imagine a plump
and graying woman holding out

a cracked hand full
of endless slices

of cake and reams of paper to capture
our attention.

When we put a sheet over her face

to trace its contours, our gazes no longer meet
its lines. We must rely

on the two-step dance
of memory and perception

(the beat won’t stop even
when your feet go missing)

like a daydream out of which we’ll never snap but know

will end, as this record heat
submits, and so

when the moment comes we look out
over the Pacific

with its ever-redder set piece sun—going going
about and around—look look

out and out for any glimmer of twilight

blue leather along the crepuscular ground,
futile even by cell-flash at dusk’s end

retracing a path already taken
again and again, and then giving up, nothing left

but to hop on call after call to call in,
rep after rep, my current status:

disabused of symbolic currency.

Only one last place to check
against hope:

the dollhouse, where the men therein protest
all clothing and sexual dissonance,

where I had stopped to snatch quick shots of the signs
gleaming dreamily in their disco window-splayed resistance

on the way out. On the way there

the front door callbox rings up my phone
on Geary, the cops finally come for me

to inform me my wallet
was returned,

seemingly as found, to the station on Fillmore,
just off Geary—

my ID, every single card, a grocery list on the back of a Blackbird bar receipt—everything,

even an easily swiped bill—
present and accounted for—

turned in by a worker at the VA near the Coastal Trail
who didn’t leave a name so all we can do is go home

as thankful as surprised, as anxious-buzzed as exhausted, with the hope of waking

renewed in the morning,
of keeping something

of the sound of the waves
inside of us to aid us,

to anchor us,
as chorus to score,

here

in this world’s
body this

body’s world
(sail

and chain),
that that might fortify us

to press through the night into another day,

to rave with the sea to change,
to rage like the sea

that it may recede again
that that may make it

(though the waves thrash
they sing)

easier to drift off.

Michael Tod Edgerton is the author of Vitreous Hide (Lavender Ink, 2013). His poems have appeared previously as the winner of the Boston Review and Five Fingers Review contests, and in Coconut, Denver Quarterly, Drunken Boat, EOAGH, New American Writing, New Orleans Review, Sonora Review, and Word For/Word, among other journals. He holds an MFA in Literary Arts from Brown University and a PhD in English from the University of Georgia. He lives with his husband, Greg, in San Francisco. You can check out Tod’s ongoing participatory text and sound project, “What Most Vividly,” at WhatMostVividly.com.
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About Posit Editor

Susan Lewis (susanlewis.net) is the editor of Posit (positjournal.com) and the author of ten books and chapbooks, including Zoom, winner of the 2017 Washington Prize, Heisenberg's Salon, This Visit, and State of the Union. Her poetry has appeared in such places as The Awl, Berkeley Poetry Review, Boston Review, The Brooklyn Rail, Cimarron, Gargoyle, The Journal, New American Writing, The New Orleans Review, Prelude, Raritan, Seneca Review, So to Speak, Verse, Verse Daily, and VOLT.