JENNIFER ATKINSON

Breakage
                       after Cai Guo-Qiang’s “Reflection”

 

A wooden ship                       swamped, wrecked,
submerged for years,             for decades, the ruin

a refuge for sealife,                 was yanked loose,
the broken hold                       emptied of ocean                                                  

and stripped to the planks.    The ship displayed,
run aground,                            on the gallery floor,

unfit for other                          use than art,
is now the very                        image of sea-

unworthiness—the hull          streaked and hackled
with shipworms’ random       scars, the splintered                

timbers nonetheless                 preserved at sea
like flesh with salt,                   is here kept as is                            

in optimal conditions.             Dry-docked, de-masted,
the whole ship,                         above and below                                           

deck, refigured,                        recharged with new
white tea-sets                            and mass-market Kuan-Yins.                                           

The china gleams,                    every piece glazed
alike, some intact,                    thousands broken                                             

on purpose in pieces—            porcelain heads,
handles, half-moon                  saucer haloes,                                             

heaped up together.                The artist’s Reflection
a stove-in boat                          and its cargo of shards

world-famous now,                  re-purposed as brokenness
is not a boat, any more             than its bodhisattvas were

ever bodhisattvas.                     Art— who knows
what it’s good for?                    But breaking

makes things unlike                  other things—
irreproducible, unidentical—  not wholly reflective.

 


Essay on Music In Springtime


Perched unflapped on the low-slung maple
the catbird combs his charcoal wing.
He drags the barbs, shaft to tip,
through his narrow beak—feather by ordinary
gray feather.
                     Lack-luster mimid,
his call’s a cat’s cry, his song
a crazy quilt of chirps—mock
titmouse, near vireo, and not-quite
cardinal (or was that a clumsy cover
of the robin’s song?)
                                   Why not
claim a song of his own? What advantage,
evolutionarily speaking, lies in self-disguise?
What’s the use to catbird-kind of wooing
incognito? Is he fooling predators by seeming
other just as likely
                               passerine prey?
Will impressive performance win him sweeter
berries, stronger chicks, or darn
the tight weave of a sturdier nest?
Maybe his mimicry—those bits
of this and that
                          cadged song—
is meant for a catbird beloved, evidence
of wit and memory, proof that this cover-
band virtuoso has heard it all
and been around, faced winter
and hawk and lives to
                                   sing the tale.
What, eavesdropping, I wonder,
would single catbirds value? What
would they listen for in his musical hodge-podge?
Exact mimicry? Tonal variation?
Turns of phrase?
                           Intricate collage?
Or merely the sheer number of sampled
trills and warbles? And us humans—
what’s the value to our species
of wondering and unsing-alongable music,
of loafing and listening,
                                       alert and attentive
at the green verge, the dappled ecotone
of song and speech?

 


Artwork by Vivian Calderón Bogoslavsky. Untitled, acrylic, plastic, and stucco on canvas.