Saturday, November 17, 2012

Three Poems for Jay De Feo


I’m the howling Madonna
Sitting by the window with my embroidery
I thread the lines in and out
Sometimes they show
Sometimes I hide them
But they always go out
From the center

When I was a kid I sat quiet
After dad left mom and us
And the pain flowed in
Now I’m at the center
And I push the pain out
First with my brushes
And then, oh man,
Lay it on with a trowel
Making this relief
Of my heart

Hail Mary full of grace
My you have an ugly face
Joan would say
But Joan’s hot now
She’s shucked off
The Catholic San Francisco thing
I’m no Mary I’m no Mary Joan
I’m the howling Madonna
With a whirlwind on

And Wally’s out doing his thing
He’s got his causes and
We’re always there in some group
Where he’s the main speaker
That’s his way
Of being at the center

And mine is paint on canvas
Built up by time
And soft application
One loaded brush after the other
Those colorless colors favored by me
Built up by time
With a little help from the artist

This is like clay
I can go on making
My own
Out of the howling hearth

I’m the flaming Madonna
And for hours and years
I sit by the window pulling threads
Look into the heart
Of my deathrose, my child,
Baby, I will call you Deathrose
I’ll build you up
With paint for food
With paint for blood
Keep building
And when the lines get too straight
Like rays in some kid’s
Yellow crayola sun
I’ll bury them all over again
Black and gray in the white

I made fissures for runnels, built
Channels where the rivers of my heart
Could flow
I show you the channels
So you will know
A memory trace

I made mountains and valleys
This could be the moon
My moonheart

And I always loved the woods
Trees were there
Wherever we moved,
However often

Up in Northern California
Country places
Where dad did his healing
Before he did his wounding

Here on this relief
On my heartswept terrain
Where I’m cutting and hacking
And sealing the breaks
No trees

Imagine them if you want
But don’t bother me I’m busy
Building out the lines

I’m the howling Madonna
With a hungry ache
Inhaling paint smells
And liking my lips
Hard around the papery
Tobacco tit

I’m the howling Madonna
Sucking mother smoke
Scraping my paint cans
And messing my room

If I can’t get more paint
If daddy won’t come back
I’ll rip out their insides

I’ll scrape down
The sides of every can
To make the colorless color
Favored by me
My child, my Deathrose
Daddy come see

The White Rose

I’m the messing Madonna
Mixing mica with paint
So my Deathrose will shine
With diamonds and stars

Here in the Mirror Perilous
You can see everything
Here in the walled garden
My studio
It’s not a Deathrose any more
It’s the White Rose

A rose is a rose they say
But you can look into this one
And in the sparkling stones
On the floor of my pond
You can fall in love with anything

The crystals in paint
My mica
Eye everything in this room
My magic is big now
The Deathrose was too small

Death is at the center still
Where I fixed the first canvas to the large one
That smaller canvas, that Deathrose
Was always a bit off center
Now it’s the center itself
And it fills the bay window

Of the sun you can see
Just two ribbons:
Light coming in at the sides

My mica
Is in the white paint and the black
Paint held together
By crystal bits
My mica shows
Anything you want to love
Deep in the white pool

Look in and see my painter’s stool
All spattered
Where I sat and embroidered
With my heart’s blood
I swear

And the Christmas trees
I kept every year,
Skeletons propped around the studio
A rose for Emily
Kind of thing

Mom threw our Christmas trees out
You had to do it
Before Epiphany
Or it’s bad luck
But we’d already had ours
So I keep my dead trees,
All the stripped Christmases

I have Wally now
But I could be some spinster
In this shuttered room
Spinning this out
Him, anyway, I share
He’s kind of community property
So I just sit here doing my thing

This White Rose
I built her nave
I built her transepts
Out from one still point
No man shall look upon her, no mortal

She’s perfect
A white sun
Always radiating from the center
An aerial photo of the High Sierra
Pure, defended
With cornices
Ready to crash down on the unsuspecting

And if I keep building
This snowshow
Day after day
The people down below
Can walk on by
Just let me cry
But they might get hit
By an avalanche

I’m buying this stuff
By the carload now
At Bay City Paint
No more shoplifting
(I promised Wally)
There goes
A fortune in paint,
In white lead and black

When I raised the White Rose in the bay window
Blocking out Fillmore Street
I saw this girl on the sidewalk
Short black skirt and a beehive
Pushing a baby carriage

And probably that’s all she can talk about
The darling little one
So let her
I’m going to go on
Sitting up here
Behind my white sun
My little one
But my how she’s grown

The Rose

I’m getting jammed
By the air and the crystals
Up here
Not a mirror
It’s got to be growing
And breathing

Let it bulge and roll
All the wet paint
Let it live
Like some shimmering skin
Scaling dreams

And if the center cannot hold
If the paint’s going to slide
Let it slide
As long as it slides away
From the center

There was the place with Wally
Just us that time
How the sod and the flowers held the soil
Down to land’s end
We stepped right off into warm water
Up to our knees
For miles it was shallow and warm
By the crescent of the shore

So I might put some of my jewelry in
To keep the paint from sliding
Off center
I may have to
Give something up here

I promised Wally I would stop
Sending messages to the neighbors
On the clothesline
They didn’t think it was funny
They don’t like artists I guess
And the landlord that old crapper
Said I broke the law
Just because I painted the phone green

So now after seven years
It’s out on our ears

Give me a canvas for seven years
And I’ll show you the Rose
I’ll show you the Rose
In Pasadena

And I’ll call you The Rose
You’ve kind of graduated I guess
A full-fledged seven year-old
I spent a lot on you kid,
A lot of years,
And the paint cost thousands
But who cares

It wasn’t too much
Just an atom in the sea
Of my ever flowing love
That ever flowing love
Just ran out
The way rain and rivers
Shape the land
I shaped you that way
With changes
That happen deep in time
And my heart
Was full of time for you

Bruce is coming to make his film
He wants to turn this removal
Into a liturgy
He wants to establish
The Church of the White Rose
A place to worship
Weeping Madonnas
And dying suns
So let him do his thing

I didn’t tell him
I’m through with the White Rose

It’s the Rose now
Pure and simple

It’s my Rose again
Huge, ungainly

Bulging with paint
Like a pregnancy

Let them take it and wrap it up
A package for the future
Let the light come in through the window
Where my Rose
Hung like a shutter

Let me see the room the stool the trees
All in sunlight

And when my Rose is wrapped
And lying on the floor
I’ll lie down on it
My box spring,
My mattress

This is my real bed
My resting place
I’ll curl up on it like a baby

And lodged in the open window
With no glass to keep me
From break of day

I’ll watch them lower it into the truck
I’ll watch them drive away

Let Bruce make his film
His liturgy
His Art

Let him found his church
And pray
For all the mothers
I’m not

Because when she’s been born
Out of this room
She’ll be dead to me

This is no graduation
This is art being untimely ripped
From its mother’s womb

Farewell to the Rose
The starry sky
My map, High Sierra,
Whatever you were
The blazing Sun
The Flower Fair
The rockface, the tide
The moonrise, the slide
Janus at the gate
My staggering breath
The One
And only
Early death

I won’t jump as long as I can feel
The papery teat between my lips

I’m the howling Madonna
Soothing burns with smoke

There goes my world
In the back of a truck


Anthony Bulloch said...


linda colman said...

Jay De Feo worked almost exclusively on The Rose for over seven years. It was a heroic feat. She was awesome.

Anthony Bulloch said...

Although these poems were written many years ago now, they have a vibrancy and immediacy that is as vivid, and as relevant to their subject, as the day they were written. Timeless.

linda colman said...

Jay DeFeo was my Muse. There's just an epic quality to her creation of the Rose. One reviewer called it 'Cosmology on Canvas.' And fortunately for DeFeo's legacy, the retrospective consists of a whole body of work, so she won't be over-identified with this one painting. DeFeo created this masterpiece, the Rose, in addition to a rich array of artwork in different media. The Rose may even become the portal to the totality of her artistic production.