a novel in woodcuts by Lynd Ward, 1939
When I was twelve I found it
on my parents’ shelf: a fable
in black and white– the grain
of the wood caught by the ink–
a fugue for those hard times: look
of the Bauhaus, climate of Grimm.
It gave me fascinated nightmares.
And that skull on the last page
grinning as it claimed the soul
it had bargained for. The currency:
pure genius in the shape
of a wand—paintbrush
or pen as long as an arm.
Think of the not quite innocent
longings of the artist who wanted
not just to have but to make it all,
searching the streets of the city
with its whores and its money men.
And who was God’s man anyway,
the painter or the stand-in
for that fallen angel Lucifer?
What could it have meant
to me at twelve, barely an adolescent?
What might I have given,
what would I give, for those wild
moments of perfect beauty
in painting or poem, beyond
even the intention of the maker?
While the lovingly depicted
simplicities: a child at the breast,
the herd of delicate goats, his wife’s hair
incandescent in the spokes
of a dazzling sun: all lost at the end,
abandoned for the sake of art’s