Reza Baraheni

Exile poem
of the gallery

In the Portrait of Apollinaire
one eye of the poet is closed like Odin's,
the double chin is lifted to one side of the face
and the countenance is a moon blinded by its revolution Yet this
is not what the Persian poet sees with both eyes Chagall has put
Over Vitebsk between the three eyes of the two poets The year is
1914, when the 19th century ended
and human flight began in Vitebsk.

In Rodin's Adam, the absence of divine clay hurts the hands
of prehistory It is black and heavy God moulding it
in the Age of Iron, with no touch of irony Instead, you see
the organic unity of Rilke's sonnet to Orpheus A pity
that Orpheus is not there with Rodin Adam
would have been replaced by Eurydice, the woman in ashes
waving her soft hand, disappearing Rilke, the apprentice,
too timid to suggest it to the master, had to
go to the steppes of Pasternak's Russia and Chagall's Vitebsk.

"Kiss my lips. She did."1 Whenever I see these words,
I run, then I fly, not freely, that is for Chagall, but
in a plane, to look down and see as Picasso
did the canvas, and Gertrude suggested that we should see
all his paintings as if looking down from a plane, since the "war was
the composition of cubism." Picasso inherits
the earth from the sky, dividing and blending frontiers
And Blake had said: "To create
a little flower is a labour of ages." This time, Eurydice
descends from the sky to lay her face on the double-mooned
face of the poet in the Gallery's Picasso "Kiss my lips over and
over and over again she did."1
But I am not talking of this flight, and this 1914.

First, I have to walk to the biggest hall to wake up my son
sleeping under the legs of the draped female colossus, a Henry Moore
"I have feathers/Gentle fishes."1 And Aba Gertrude is my mother's title
in heaven Where I am watching a few Picassos in the
Art Gallery of Ontario "In the midst of our happiness
we were very pleased."1

He sleeps there, the childhood of a long-haired deity
All around him children re-collapse and re-collect their
turbulent games, with parents and instructors
frenzied to educate them in the ways of stone and flesh
My son's dream is an education Gallery objects wash him
in ether He has half-open, half-kissed mouth,
his mind gallery crowded with softwares of arcane material.

And stone is a stone is a stone in Mr. Moore Here it is, copious,
but not to be copied And the game goes on Herculean
arms are needed to unhinge the stones, reclining on their
elbows, knees and buttocks Only a god could give you
a tour of these Moores in the Gallery, by lifting them all
on the tips of his fingers and nursing them by his lips
Male stones of stability cast
in female figures of needless heaviness
each poised, regular or irregular, like a sterile
island of desire, thirsting for passions of hammering rain
Round cavities, peopled by smooth half-shoulders and half-backs,
and single-fingered fists of female nipples, left untouched after
the first touch of their master mason Silent homes
of human members, each in search of an antediluvian desert
to live happily ever after with the rush of the sand
and the push of the wind The gigantic magic of curved
slabs rising musically to end in upturned faces
And how hard to say:
"I have feathers/Gentle fishes,"1 in this hall Carry them all into
open air The zoo needs a breath of the forest.

"I am waiting here...I'm tired of standing - Let us fly together"2
Chagall must have said these words
watching the uplifted toes of 19th century ballerinas in the next hall
"Ton visage écarlate ton biplan transformable en hydroplan."3
Apollinaire must have seen it in Au-dessus de la ville, lovers
flying freely over the city in colours, the spine of the woman
openly made pregnant by her own buttocks Two arms and only
three elegant shoes But they are flying and who cares?

I have also seen his La promenade, the horizontal beauty in the air.

The lonely Chagall in the Art Gallery of Ontario has a date
I have gone through valleys of bronze and marble, and all
pastures of faces and lines and eyes and hips, and I have
noticed this: the epitome of my empathy This: Over Vitebsk, 1914
The crisis reflected in flight of the doomed and the damned
The borders, as always, are closed
the wars are beginning, the pages of exile
are opening before your very nose And Chagall
places my hat on the old man's head, hands him the cane of Oedipus
throws a beggar's sack on the man's bent shoulder
And makes him walk in space, over the city of Vitebsk
in Gogol's Overcoat.

We have to change the faces and figures of all coins
all the moneys And change all the flags There remain
only three things: the epitomes of our empathy: the "Sketch
for Over Vitebsk," 1914; "Study for Over Vitebsk" and Over Vitebsk,
1914. Three things in all three of them: the man in flight;
the schizophrenic gulf under him; and the city split in half:
the non-place of exile century
No one has a country.

And the lonely Chagall in the Gallery keeps the exiled poet focused,
changing the figures, the notes and the flags
and even languages
And Chagall inherits the sky as country
And the sky as language
And the poet looms over the precipice
with a dagger thrust in his throat
with his tongue caught between his teeth
performing the sacred duty
of writing this very poem of exile.

March-April, 1999, Toronto

1 Lines from the poetry of Gertrude Stein
2 From a poem by Marc Chagall
3 From a poem by Apollinaire on a painting by Chagall