Brian Culhane

Pain & Ophelia and the Nine-and-Fifty Swans
November 21, 2021 Culhane Brian

PAIN

hope not being hope
until all ground for hope
has vanished

Moore

 

Where to stand
When hope’s
Ground
 
Has shape-shifted
Is a question
Hart Crane
 
May have asked
Himself
More than once
 
God knows
The ground before
Him
 
Broken asphalt
Stained with ink
Recall too
 
How the muralist
David Alfaro Siqueiros
On beginning
 
Crane’s portrait
Requested
The head-bent American
 
Close his eyes
As there was
He said
 
Too much
Pain
In them
 
I wish
Siqueiros’s dark oils
In the end
 
Had showed us
What he meant but sadly
No
 
Perhaps pain
As a painterly
Subject
 
Is best left
To the medieval brush
Of allegory
 
For if Dickinson
Called Hope
The thing with feathers
 
Pain can squat
In the guise of
A crow
 
Grunk-grunking
Under a beech tree
Eyeing
 
The upraised hand
Of St. Francis
As painted by Giotto
 
The saint
In a shaft of sunlight
About to speak
 
Of the Creator’s love
For even such
As these
 
Who spear
With beaks the living
And the dead

 

_______

 

OPHELIA AND NINE-AND-FIFTY SWANS

 

A lecture
On the pre-Raphaelites’
Use of drapery
 
The speaker
After a sip of water
In passing spoke of
 
“The Wild Swans at Coole”
As ripe for
A Rossetti’s brush
 
He raised an eyebrow
Why was Yeats
Sure of the exact count
 
Identical white
Asses ducking in all directions
Or waddling
 
He laughed at a joke
We supposed
Private stopping to turn
 
And point at “Ophelia”
By John Everett Millais
(1851-1852)
 
There and there
His slender beam
Probed her supine form
 
Her half-shut eyes
Her parted hair
Floating on the stream
 
With its water-
Lilies and weeds
Embracing her
 
Do not try this
On your own
Ladies
 
It can lead
To a bad end
He showed his teeth
 
Count yourselves
Lucky if you
Just float
 
In some motel
Pool or tub
Green tile an old friend

Brian Culhane’s poetry has appeared widely in such journals as Blackbird, The Cincinnati ReviewThe Hudson Review, and The Paris ReviewAwarded the Poetry Foundation’s Emily Dickinson Prize, his first book, The King’s Question, was published by Graywolf Press. He’s received fellowships from Washington State’s Artist Trust, MacDowell, and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. His collectionRemembering Lethe is forthcoming from Able Muse Press.