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
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?)
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
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
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?
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.