Jack Butler

The Artist

            sat in school bored with fractions and drew—
rockets, tanks, airplanes, but mostly faces.
Profiles at first, all male, heroic.  Himself
as spaceman, cowboy, cop,
as nearly as he could estimate.  Except
the nose’s bridge did not indent, the eye
butted against it.  His creatures would have been
Cyclopean, seen head-on. 

        This dawned on him one day at a graven desk—
like fissioning nuclei,
the pupils swam apart, one into the portrait,
the other into his thought.
He learned three-quarter
profile thereafter, without trial, suddenly. 

        The ear’s calyx, the tuckings of the eye,
highlights on hair (blankness for light, no pencil)—
these came in time, the routine subtleties,
the curls, scrolls, lah-de-dahs which might invoke
reality for a square-jawed dream:  flared nostrils,
the mouth broad-bracketed . . .
And now and then
a rough attempt at femininity, woe, 
expressive register,
but all his understanding polar—how sketch
mild speculation when ignorance is pain,
when joy’s the only counter to despair? 

        Withal, however, more and more precise,
sometimes wrongheadedly—
when Andrew Galloway, on the rude playground,
made a great W for tits, points bursting with spray,
he blinked with scorn (although
a grudging approval bulged his underwear): 

        —Had he not mastered the whole catalogue
of curve and sag and shadow, inventing nipples
not advertised in any Monkey Ward’s?

         —And so missed ideogram,
rough-charactered need, compression to basic fact,
humor, the jumping spark . . . 

        Years brightened and dimmed, a litter of images drifted 
up from his mind:  apples, muscular torsos,
broadswords, globular asses, long-fingered hands,
unusual noses, the trunks
of weather-twisted trees, all manner of abstract
spheroids and cubes and spirals, sheaf after sheaf       

        of visions from somewhere:  Why?
Like leaves to the forest floor, like rivers fanning
in layers of sediment,
they manifested:  Then fell to a dark sea-bottom
continuous with that childhood desk, that floor
to all his effort, carved radically with names,
with angers and lost loves.
But always the question:  Why? 

        He met the woman he’d taught himself to figure,
immemorial cartoon of hair
disheveled in wind, and all her movement languid
as any river’s silver under the lanterns—
and how did that go?  Well, great,
at least for a while, at least until he noticed
she wasn’t a model wife, was a real woman,
whatever that might mean. 

        One thing for sure it meant—That isn’t why. 

        And so he lost the hope of praise and its sweet
reciprocal, and so the long divorce. 

        Meantime, a fellow would have his career to think of,
being no longer exactly innocent,
no longer assuming his peers could recognize,
unaided, true quality: 

        One went professional, that’s what one did.
One might not like it, but it was at least
a sort of code—deadlines,
performing to expectations, following through. 

        After a while, one got adjusted, one got
pretty damn good at it.  He made his living at parties,
a paper magician, content
to spend the rest of his life on the flat plateau
of the slowed-down learning curve,
a funny and harmless puller of rabbits from hats,
and never you mind it was always the same damn rabbit,
since nobody noticed, and since
nobody noticed him pulling the hats from air
in the first place.
He had forgotten a lot,
he knew, including himself, that lost child,
that All-American pilot of inner space. 

        Maybe he lived serenely to a puttering age,
white-haired, irrelevant.  He couldn’t tell.
—How did you draw the randomness of time,
its vortex of ruined planes,
the way it shivered with all shapes, but issued
always between them to something new?
One day,
in the middle of nothing extraordinary,
he closed his eyes, and there,
there on the gentle screen of darkness saw
the usual, but this time saw it, and thought
how strange it was, had always been, how fine,
that sparkling fountain, that pulse of shimmering image,
those bellies and navels and nipples and automobiles,
those rifles and ripples and pupils and bolts of lightning,
flowers and towers and stones and flying saucers
and houses and cats and children
and bloody psychotics and bearded old men and angels,
the Source itself, the prayer and garbage of earth,
and whispered, as if in answer to some old question,
I see.  I see.  I see.


Kathie George 3.jpg (77261 bytes)

(photo by Kathie George)