The Bell and the Glass
—An installation of Duchamp’s
The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors
and The Liberty Bell
Philadelphia Museum of Art
Again, in front of The Bride I sit,
bared before leaving Pueblo,
a Colorado town on two rivers,
stripped back to an apartment
on Tulip Street down from SKF,
Swedish ball bearing factory just
over the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge.
I’m 18, commuting to high school,
crossing a bridge in a Tempest.
On Tulip Street, I park on a hill,
hope the brake holds. Days when
it doesn’t, neighbors call out
and I chase the Pontiac down streets
marooned near tracks so Father
can form steel.
There’s a mechanical apparatus in
the lower pane of Duchamp’s glass.
Three windows that look out come later,
in a studio in Pueblo with a pull-out bed.
Duchamp’s glass broke when traveling
between Philadelphia and Brooklyn—
Father’s birthplace. There’s a pattern
to the break. It did not harm the piece.
It added texture, something you could feel.
“Can salvation have the marks of sin
that others can see?” I asked before leaving.
“Because you may not like the marks,
the cracks in glass or brass,
anything containing that much liberty.”
Canvas Anchored to Shore
Philadelphia Museum of Art
Arc of drawn bow holds Diana’s breast
and a native maize out of Diego’s field.
Kay resented my Englishness, the wiry
elongation, the bow I drew to her words.
She wanted blonde, boxy, someone to follow
her arrow to tapestry wall, a canvas of ships
anchored to shore.
A report on St. Peter’s Basilica unfinished,
the Catholicism I could not commit to paper,
I escaped to the shore on a bus with wooden
benches where a sluice drained into the bay.
In Philadelphia, pressed against an abbey wall,
water dripping in a courtyard fountain, torn
down and reconstructed on a museum floor,
my view is of windows dark, narrower than
square, to say rectangular would be geometric,
based on math and logic, unlike the meetings in
an abandoned Cathedral school where blue tiles
wrap the building as gods in a classical frieze.
Like Duchamp’s Box-in-Valise, miniatures
carried from place to place, I carry poems
in a suitcase that held stockings for years,
black and nude with lace on thighs. Inside,
in a gathered pocket, a clipping from Stars and
Stripes says the Ironwood almost went down
with shoes for an orphanage in Osaka Castle.
“Three times larger than the fort in St. Augustine,”
my brother says in a letter asking me to get well
that summer I spent in bed with whooping cough.
I wrap the clipping and letter in the same silk I
cover thighs with as winter draws near.
I’m forced into the third dimension, the building
bought the year I was born, first Fagin’s Saloon,
then the Fishing Club, more real than any painting:
a flat surface with color I can stand back from.
Here, I am up against women leaning on temples
with plaits of blonde hair that do not ripple in
the wind, palms pressed in prayer like Kay’s until
her first Manhattan—hands, what are severed first
when statues step forward from the wall.
Portrait of Brother As Fo’c’sle and Fantail
The only recognizable parts of the ship
that Brother retired from drawn by a man
down on his luck who he helped on the wharf.
His work now commands a high price.
He sent me a photo of the Thank you pen and ink
after I told him I’d opened a gallery in Pueblo.
“Is his work mostly maritime?” I ask,
wondering how well it would do in the desert.
Brother hasn’t said this much since the Stage Four
diagnosis of throat cancer, so I keep him talking
while he points out the flag on the fantail and the flag
on the fo’c’sle, which I have to ask how to spell
because it was originally forecastle, a syncope.
Eventually I see the ship and the waterline,
what’s above emanating from the moon and stars,
and all that’s below churned up as he fled
a fishing village, no place to go other than the docks
to pack fish starting at 4 a.m. when crates rolled up
on a dolly. First the fish went in, then they were iced,
and then he’d throw crates, five feet high, onto trucks.
The step up from there was the commercial boats,
but Brother says those guys looked old by thirty,
so he joined the Coast Guard, walking the streets
of Tokyo by eighteen.
Kyle Laws’ fifteen collections include This Town: Poems of Correspondence with Jared Smith (Liquid Light Press, 2017); So Bright to Blind (Five Oaks Press, 2015); Wildwood (Lummox Press, 2014); My Visions Are As Real As Your Movies, Joan of Arc Says to Rudolph Valentino (Dancing Girl Press, 2013); and George Sand’s Haiti (co-winner of Poetry West’s 2012 award). With six nominations for a Pushcart Prize, her poems and essays have appeared in Abbey, Anglican Theological Review, Art Uprising Anthology, Chiron Review, Cities (U.K.), The Delmarva Review, Exit 13, here/there: poetry (U.K.), IthacaLit, Journey to Crone (U.K.), Leaping Clear, Living Apart Together: A New Possibility for Loving Couples (Canada), Lummox, The Main Street Rag, Malpaís Review, The Más Tequila Review, Mead: The Magazine of Literature & Libations, misfit magazine, The Nervous Breakdown, Pearl, Philadelphia Poets, Pilgrimage, Relief, r.kv.r.y Quarterly Literary Journal, St. Sebastian Review, Turtle Island Quarterly, Verse Osmosis, and Waymark. Awarded two residencies in poetry from the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA), she is one of eight members of the Boiler House Poets who perform and study at the museum. She is the editor and publisher of Casa de Cinco Hermanas Press. www.kylelaws.com