Miriam C. Jacobs
Gypsies [sic] at a Campfire, c. 1911
For Otto Mueller
Begin with the poet, storyteller, and end with her, too.
Summer skirt twisted, feet bare as gods’,
her slender wrist and pale cigarette mark out
the tale’s trajectory, lightening turns we already know.
Listeners face us, no strangers to vampires
stalking the world beyond this glen: Belle Époque
moll, tied at the throat, but susceptible to story,
complicit in our lust for a yarn, and shadow
boy with a crimson mouth,
brown rise in his lap, lightly parted legs.
The painter washes the scandal of his yearning in the smoke
from their fire, complicit in secret –
too close – what may be told and what must be hidden
growing ever less distinct from right to left –
not yet become irrelevant. Madonna of Palms,
nursemaid’s jilt, murdered child, what the gendarme said,
gypsy, that embarrassing slur, all so close we avert
our eyes from this ruse that’s still not historical,
never marking the brush strokes
fanning the poet’s hair in the fertile here and now, twisted
in a silver comb at the nape of her neck.
For Jean-Michel Basquiat
Here, on this grid, where you crouch
headless, playing sextets, turn your crown
side wise, show us the warrior
and the one-eyed magician, dark pustules reddening
with everything the alphabet will not say.
Streets forget their history. In the squares
and mop-ups of marble claim, words
that don’t burst roil with messages
under our skin.