Brian Culhane

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


hope not being hope
until all ground for hope
has vanished



Where to stand
When hope’s
Has shape-shifted
Is a question
Hart Crane
May have asked
More than once
God knows
The ground before
Broken asphalt
Stained with ink
Recall too
How the muralist
David Alfaro Siqueiros
On beginning
Crane’s portrait
The head-bent American
Close his eyes
As there was
He said
Too much
In them
I wish
Siqueiros’s dark oils
In the end
Had showed us
What he meant but sadly
Perhaps pain
As a painterly
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
Under a beech tree
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






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
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
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 Review. Awarded 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 second collection, Remembering Lethe, was published by Able Muse Press in 2021 and reviewed by Chelsea Wagenaar in Issue 127  of Plume.