Two Paintings by Gustav Klimt

By Jorie Graham b. 1950 Jorie Graham
Although what glitters
         on the trees,
row after perfect row,
        is merely
the injustice
        of the world,

the chips on the bark of each
        beech tree
catching the light, the sum
        of these delays
is the beautiful, the human
        beautiful,

body of flaws.
        The dead
would give anything
        I’m sure,
to step again onto
        the leafrot,

into the avenue of mottled shadows,
        the speckled
broken skins. The dead
        in their sheer
open parenthesis, what they
        wouldn’t give

for something to lean on
        that won’t
give way. I think I
        would weep
for the moral nature
        of this world,

for right and wrong like pools
        of shadow
and light you can step in
        and out of
crossing this yellow beech forest,
        this buchen-wald,

one autumn afternoon, late
        in the twentieth
century, in hollow light,
        in gaseous light. . . .
To receive the light
        and return it

and stand in rows, anonymous,
        is a sweet secret
even the air wishes
        it could unlock.
See how it pokes at them
        in little hooks,

the blue air, the yellow trees.
        Why be afraid?
They say when Klimt
        died suddenly
a painting, still
        incomplete,

was found in his studio,
        a woman’s body
open at its point of
        entry,
rendered in graphic,
        pornographic,

detail—something like
        a scream
between her legs. Slowly,
        feathery,
he had begun to paint
        a delicate

garment (his trademark)
        over this mouth
of her body. The mouth
        of her face
is genteel, bored, feigning a need
        for sleep. The fabric

defines the surface,
        the story,
so we are drawn to it,
        its blues
and yellows glittering
        like a stand

of beech trees late
        one afternoon
in Germany, in fall.
        It is called
Buchenwald, it is
        1890. In

the finished painting
        the argument
has something to do
        with pleasure.

Jorie Graham, “Two Paintings by Gustav Klimt” from Erosion. Copyright © 1983 by Jorie Graham. Reprinted by permission of Princeton University Press.

Source: Erosion (Princeton University Press, 1983)

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Poet Jorie Graham b. 1950

Subjects Living, The Body, Nature, Fall, Arts & Sciences, Painting & Sculpture

Poetic Terms Free Verse