Back to Issue Forty

At the Pushkin State Museum of Art


A couple stands admiring a line of portraits, not their beauty
But their untouchability. “How do you know that,” M. says
And then, “I don’t know why, but I want to taste one,”
Gesturing with his umbrella to a portrait of a painterly-looking Frenchman
Holding a baby in one hand and a sword in the other.
A guard in the corridor barks Too close, commands Distance.
“I can’t find shit,” the woman next to me informs me.
“Are these the Abstract Expressionists?”
On the second floor, there’s a replica of Michelangelo’s David
That towers over spectators who clutter the hall for a closer look.
… the contours of his tensile back, his unkempt hair, his elegant contrapasso,
placing him in boyish repose, the pubic zone
flowering to render delicate a rigid and unruly stone…
A docent struts a tour-group around red ropes as if they lined a runway.
He instructs Desire, applauds European.
“The statues are so life-like, I think I could fall in love with one,” says M.
and I nod, examining the patrons examining the hall.
“He’s exquisite,” the docent says. “Imagine being struck
By one of David’s magnificent palms.” And I do.
M. and I spend the rest of the afternoon in line for the bathroom.
We watch a boy in the gift shop knock a row of statue miniatures
Down from a shelf. “Because I want to,” he tells his mother,
the miniatures shattered on the ground. For a moment,
I imagine he imagines his hands are the most powerful things in the store,
the whole shop pulled into focus by the fact of its fragility.
I look to my right and M. is gone. “Say sorry,” says someone,
to the boy. He apologizes to no one, dutifully, and his mother
Grabs his hand, leading them both from the reach of my gaze,
Out of the museum, and, without umbrellas, into a winter night
Made ornate by the brief and brutal rain.



Lakeshore Scene


Could you imagine loving someone like that?
my grandfather said, gesturing at two canoe-boys
kissing, as they glide over the water, ordinary desire
casting a quiet love, I thought, across the lake like falling snow.
He was not a nice man. He sucked his teeth and spat. No…
I thought, though I could and did and would.
On the shore with him, imagination was the weather
of a better world. I curried my mind to invent
another body into which I could hide my life.
The wind picked up. The canoe-boys docked.
All the good men went home to kiss their wives and daughters.
The air was wild with summer. We sat in the silence awhile.
His brutal brow twitched. He thumbed the slits on his linen shirt.
Like this, I learned to love by watching. My shadow
on the lakewater is a little man
obscured by the shadow that swallows it whole.



Nocturne with No End


It was autumn. It was nightfall.
It didn’t matter when it was. There was a song

that pierced the evening air. A music
went longing through the evening air…

Just leave, leave and let the wilderness
do what it wants with you.

You stood in a clearing in the forest
at the edge of the city: the only place

you thought you could be king.
Then the rain came,

falling, against the once-brackish pond grown ripe
with duckweed, in droplets as large as chestnuts,

sounding like so many doors
closing and opening in the halls that lead to the bedrooms

of your parents, where, at this late hour, they lie alone
dreaming, together,

of the bodies they left decades ago
and a city without daughters or sons. Just leave,

leave and let the wilderness do what it wants
with you…

Then the rain stopped,
as if rain, its familiar illegible shape

and the inexorable darkening of the land
that it brings, is, if anything, a mere promissory recurrence

of memory:

Remember, boy,
when you thought this field was once untouchable,

when, in summer, you thought, running your hands
through the dirty hair of another neighbor boy,

the aridity of this life would last,
until morning—

But it wasn’t morning.

And talk of the weather, a scaffolding,
a kind of punishment, bored you

as the thin hours of this late night
spun together and lulled. The sky unraveled

in extraordinary purple streaks, a representamen,
you thought, as you tucked your body into a boy

-shaped hollow cut crudely
into the tremendous trunk of an oak.

You can roam this wood for hours,
but eventually the mind exhausts itself

and abandons the defenses it made
against memory. So memory,

a kind of weather, a weathering,
in the mind, came like a terrible music

and returned you to your name, now less child-like
and diminutive than you’d known. This journey,

what once felt like a test to prove yourself capable
of kingliness, seemed suddenly gentler,

abandon at its center.
No one told you that

to take an errant path alone, away
from home, toward a terrible music

would make the journey back,
back into your life

an unending and terrible refrain.
Just leave, leave and let the wilderness

do what it wants with you.
In the legible dark, the moon and its reflection,

a vague white error in the pond, shine like irides
abstracted from the eyes of a boy.

Twin ravens, heading northerly,
away from the city, blacken on the horizon, becoming one

with the blackening night.
In this wood, where the hours are large as rooms

a boy could lose himself inside of,
you stayed the night in a tree trunk, clothed

in an impossible and erudite dusk. With each uneven hour,
the night unbridled you from boyishness,

and the names onto which you once held so vehemently,
hysterical in your dear, undear refusal of grief,

then left your mind. Your world became anonymous,
unmusical, ordinary as a crow

left to pick over the ordinary flesh
of men left unfleshed in the field by men like you,

whose every song, for centuries,
was sung like a battle anthem that a nation refused to just leave

among the dregs of history
so boys, like you, would not leave

this violent and musical world behind—
And let the wilderness do what it wants with you.

A familiar music awoke you. Overhead,
songbirds darken the weak morning light.

Something opened like a door
inside you: all loss is a loss

of sight, you thought. You thought you needed another song
to find the errant path home. No—

The door inside you had locked.
All of memory is loss.

David Ehmcke lives in New York. His work has appeared in Peripheries, Cosmonauts Avenue, Deluge, The Columbia Review, and elsewhere. A recipient of a Henry Evans Fellowship from Columbia University, David is at work on a book project that investigates curation, museology, and the poetics of the museum.

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