Adam Tavel

Three Poems
March 24, 2022 Tavel Adam

Watching Outtakes of Orson Welles Playing Othello on YouTube


Resingeing his right palm each take,
Welles smothers candles out and raves
unblinking from the shadows that
he makes. Fair Desdemona quakes
atop their marriage bed behind
the lens, our only eye, and so
he stares beyond us like a scout
who’s sprinted dazed to tell us how
our village burned. His collared fur,
a shameless opulence, is puffed
to hide the color of his neck.
He stole it from another set.
This face he wears, his own, not black
but poorly bronzed, is another theft
that bends all suffering around
his tongue. His left hand shields the wax
that’s melted down into itself
and pooled so low two fingers mask
its wick. How easily he snuffs
it out and calls his wife a whore.
How easily his frantic baritone
unfurls its lines, as if they burned
right from his head, a living candle
that disappears to bear its light.


Slaughterhouse Ruins at Aledo
            Gertrude Abercrombie, 1937
The roof that hid their final agony
is gone—just cracked plaster walls,
a knoll’s crude shed or naked barren stall
blanched like the wolf a desert keeps, its pet
of bone. Dull chrome, the depthless Texas sky
bleeds gray on gray, a stagehand’s anywhere
for plays where someone bounds outside to stroll
into their doom and glides there on a song.
Before I gave up teaching speech a girl
sniffed through her A, regaling us with how
the stickers on most killing floors now wear
headphones to drown out bleats. She scowled
at our applause. Her gory posterboard,
a triptych altarpiece, got graded shut.
Small class. The stack was light. After exams
it flapped into the dumpster like a kite.



Red Abstraction
            Alma Thomas, 1960

She stared into the poppy gash
that split the field that wasn’t there,
but seemed, a ministry of greens
streaked black. The eye betrays its need
to make them elms or aftermath,
charred stalks like crucifixes burned
to teach an outpost colony
the cost of hope. Or so I thought
she said, half to herself, a voice
so like my grandmother’s that I
turned from my corner dream inside
the gallery abandoned but
for us, near closing time, the guard
a distant squeak of loafers down
rococo corridors I can’t
confess to love. Here hair from where
I stood was ash on steel and permed.
The tennis ball that cupped her cane
made little squishes as she turned
and left before I had the chance
to speak or glimpse her face. Perhaps
she knew the artist or had taught
nearby. I made my way to see
what she had seen but only found
an autopsy of spring, a gate
of blood, a field inside the field
its frame made on the wall. What did
she say to you, at last I asked
the paint. It said, she came to grieve
my gash, but no, I said, I said
I hang to brace you for the world.

Adam Tavel is the author of five books of poetry, including two new collections: Green Regalia (Stephen F. Austin State University Press, 2022) and Sum Ledger (Measure Press, 2022). His third book, Catafalque, won the Richard Wilbur Award (University of Evansville Press, 2018). His recent poems appear in North American Review, Ploughshares, The Georgia Review, Beloit Poetry Journal, Ninth Letter, The Massachusetts Review, Copper Nickel, and Western Humanities Review, among others. You can find him online at