courthouse steps

By D. A. Powell b. 1963
to say no more of art than that it makes, by its very distraction
                     a mode of abiding

accordingly, its variations:    each type of thread-and-piecework   
                     named double engagement ring, log cabin, or broken dishes   
all built on the same geometric figures—
                                        precise interception of angle and line

so too each tale of love is rooted in that first tale:    the poet
                     descending to the underworld
                                        finally granted his shade, who'll follow him
only to disappear again.      perhaps one version has them reunite
                     affixed in their solo chromospheres the stars, which,   
to the human eye, appear to overlap

substanceless love
                                        immune at last to gravity and time—

in texas (I might as well recount this as a story) there's a town
                     with a courthouse built on concrete and twisted iron
edified in red granite, capitals & architrave of red sandstone   

with point and punch, a carver broached the effigy of his muse
                     he rendered her attractive features, down to the very blush

                                          of course she spurned him,   
                  of course there was another to whom she turned
love should not be written in stone but written in water
                                        (I paraphrase the latin of catullus)

the sculptor carried on:    not just the face of his beloved   
                     but the face of her other lover:
                                        snaggle-toothed, wart-peppered, pudgy
them both, made into ugly caricatures of themselves, as wanton
                     as the carver perceived them, and as lewd

                     well, craze and degenerate and crack:   the portraits hold
though, long since, the participants have dwindled into dirt
                     beautiful.      unbeautiful.      each with an aspect of exactness

tread light upon this pedestal.      dream instead of a time before
                     your love disfigured, a time
                                        withstanding even crass, wind-beaten time itself

Source: Poetry (October 2008).


This poem originally appeared in the October 2008 issue of Poetry magazine

October 2008
 D. A. Powell


Born in Albany, Georgia, D.A. Powell earned an MA at Sonoma State University and an MFA at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. His first three collections of poetry, Tea, (1998), Lunch (2000), and Cocktails (2004), are considered by some to be a trilogy on the AIDS epidemic. Lunch was a finalist for the National Poetry Series, and Cocktails was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for poetry. His next two books were . . .

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