"For Sutherland's Churchill"

"Triptych of the Lost Kandinskys, 1992"

Jacob McArthur Mooney

Jacob McArthur Mooney’s books are The New Layman’s Almanac (2008), Folk (2011), and Don’t be Interesting (2016), all from different permutations of McCelland & Stewart. He lives in Toronto.

“These are from a sequence of ekphrastic poems I’m writing after works of art that I’ve never seen, and that few if any living people have seen, because they’ve been lost to fire, theft, war, or the misunderstanding that they were never art. They are reconstructed ekphrastics. The sonnet is after Graham Sutherland’s infamous portrait of Winston Churchill that was so hated by its subject it was hidden away and eventually destroyed. The triptych is after three Kandinsky paintings that were burned after exhibition in the Nazi Degenerate Art Exhibit. This poem is set in 1992, when the paintings would have hit the public domain.”

     Imagine for a minute that you are a public person.
     Your mics are always on. That you’re always
     going to the toilet with your microphones on.
     The nape of your neck is red from gaffer tape.
     A kid you knew in college has grown out rotten politics,
     a beard, and is blogging down your name.
     Sports fans hassle into boos when your face
     invades their jumbotrons. Your personality tics
     are the stuff of public comment. There have been
     whole briefs on the way you take your tea,
     how you hold your wife’s hand to cross the street.
     You thought you had religion but you were the religion.
     Imagine, your surname is an enclave. Your face,
     an enchantment. Your children were raised
     by lecture-light and cameras, and the glut of topicality
     their genetics generate. Your wins are a narrative.
     Your losses are a stake. Not dance but kinesics.
     Not the meaning of words, but their pantomiming shape.

“If not destroyed after their showing at the Nazi’s Degenerate Art Expo, the three Kandinskys would have entered the public domain in 1992, and adorned the stuff of publics: phonebooks, calendars, screenprints on tshirts…”
—Schumpeter Jr.

          Composition 1, 1910 (Phonebook)

     What to make of all these spiritual demands
     except to say I know and maybe Thank you.

     In this room there are the books I’ll never read
     and the books I’ll never re-read
     and then there is the telephone book,
                     my only friend,
     though it is not coming with us on the trip.

                     It is 1992.
     Don’t be confused. Kandinsky’s stretched thoughts
     split a dozen hectic figures
     posed in front of one another
     to make the opposite of pattern,
     framed but unspoken-of
     by Bell’s unflattered blue.

     A clutch of Delta tickets. A nest of Old Milwaukee.
     My hand, and the shadow of my hand, and a paper.

     Spiritual like the way
     an explosively-hated idea
                     particulates the air
     until it settles on new pages.
     Spiritual like the non-possession of a body.
     Weightless so it falls into its gist,
                     into capital.
     Strike. Self. Teardrop. Gaze.

     Adoption. Purchase. Degenerate. “The.
     Sun. Melts. All. Of. Moscow. Down. To.
     A. Single. Spot. Of. Light.” Liles. Lillard. Linares.
     Lindberg. Lindberg. Lindberg’s Pizzeria…

 

         Composition II, 1910 (Calendar)

     Highlighter alights on a long weekend with the words
                     “Fuck it Festival
     tatted across the lines meaning Thursday and Friday nights.
     Sunday is a day of rest.
                     It is August.
     Don’t be confused.

     The seasonal relief is all sunspots and dust.
     Kandinsky did not love the weather
     but he loved the lidded touch discovered by lit things.
                     The words Terry’s Esso
     
interrupt his leftmost swath. I promise: Terry exists,
     though you have never met him. Still,

     it is bourgeois to see a human figure where there isn’t one.

     I don’t know what Kandinsky meant
     when he said he was a prophet.

     He died like other people, which is to say surprised.

 

         Composition III, 1911 (Screenprint)

     First a woman in a T-shirt with a picture of the Duke Boys
     and a caption joking “Sons of the New South.”
     Then a kid in a racially insensitive baseball cap.
     A man, XXXL, her husband and his dad,
     with Kandinsky’s third attempt
     splayed from shoulder to Simpsons buckle.
                     It is Saturday morning. Don’t be confused.
     The Fuck it Festival flukes towards its lame duck period
     as the temperature leaps to three digits
     and a pocket radio plays Whitney Houston
     to help the crowds outside Space Mountain
     manage their mortality, convert their hung terror
     into a spontaneous Super Bowl pregame.

     The Soviets have given up.
     Everyone is digging for oil in the Arctic.
     What is one more attempt to explain yourself
     as the half-said consequence of art?
     I don’t know how I got here.
     I should be nine years old and sober.
                     Florida is golf courses
     that sell you bamboo pants.

     The dad in the Kandinsky shirt smacks the kid’s hat.
     It lands face down at my feet saying, “Starter.”
                     O, public market,
     just please don’t let me die during wartime.