The Missing Portrait (1)

By John Yau b. 1950 John Yau
It does not do you like it
Imperfect copy's forgery
Posts its vermillion decree
These anointed mistakes
Neither robust nor enticing
These dark orthogonals and parallel curves
This swift recession to the single
Disgusted, the poem closes its mouth
Full of revulsion, the poem proceeds to close its eyes and ears
Once it recognizes, it realizes
Escape is impossible
Snow continues falling inside the glass egg
The villagers are singing, but the children looking in cannot hear them
Someone calls this poetry
Someone said, you shall observe words
Stealing parts of language that remain missing
Why speak about the unspeakable and the silence surrounding it
The unspeakable is a planet, our destination,
And silence is its atmosphere
The poem's mouth remains closed
There is no map that the poem can follow
The poem is a dog that doesn't sniff the traces of fear clinging to us
A man decides to paint a tree while the radio announces the progress of a war
A critic writes you do not make progress painting a tree
A new machine is progress, a machine of words
Each more perfectly realized than the last, is progress
Another example might begin with
I returned the tree to the hill from which it was stolen
Stay, coward blood, and do not yield to beauty's burning field
(I did not write this and neither did you)
And this latest example to arrive
The end is never near because it has always
Now the sky drifts out of the picture
Now the poem mangles its imperfect copy

John Yau, "The Missing Portrait (1)" from Further Adventures in Monochrome. Copyright © 2012 by John Yau.  Reprinted by permission of Copper Canyon Press.

Source: Further Adventures in Monochrome (Copper Canyon Press, 2012)

Discover this poem’s context and related poetry, articles, and media.

Poet John Yau b. 1950

Subjects Arts & Sciences, Language & Linguistics, Poetry & Poets

Biography

Poet, art critic, and curator John Yau has published over 50 books of poetry, fiction, and art criticism. Born in Lynn, Massachusetts in 1950 to Chinese emigrants, Yau attended Bard College and earned an MFA from Brooklyn College in 1978. His first book of poetry, Crossing Canal Street, was published in 1976. Since then, he has won acclaim for his poetry’s attentiveness to visual culture and linguistic surface. In poems that . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Arts & Sciences, Language & Linguistics, Poetry & Poets

Report a problem with this poem

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.