To begin ...

As the twentieth century fades out
the nineteenth begins
it is as if nothing happened
though those who lived it thought
that everything was happening
enough to name a world for & a time
to hold it in your hand
unlimited.......the last delusion
like the perfect mask of death

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Three Caprichos, after Goya


Words imprinted on a sign
by Goya glowing
white against a surface
nearly white:
the sleep of reason
that produces monsters.
He is sitting on a chair
his head slumped
resting on his arms
or on the marble table,
pencil set aside,
his night coat open

thighs exposed.
All things that fly at night
fly past him.
Wings that brush an ear,
an ear concealed,
a memory beginning
in the house of sleep.
His is a world where owls
live in palm trees,
where a shadow in the sky
is like a magpie,
white & black are colors
only in the mind,
the cat you didn’t murder
springs to life,
a whistle whirling in a cup,
gone & foregone,
a chasm bright with eyes.
There is a cave in Spain,
a fecal underworld,

where bats are swarming
among bulls,
the blackness ending in a wall
his hands rub up against,
a blind man in a painted world,
amok & monstrous
banging on a rock.


Flesh down to bone
a feeble skin
that barely covers her,
her empty mouth
pushed up against her nose,
her eyes shut tight,
the two who kneel beside her,
sister crones,
squat bodies hoisting brooms,
what do they spin
so finely?
In a corner of the room
the bodies of dead babes
are hanging,
little molls like little dolls,
the chins of children
sickly prickly
strings attached
to fingers. Elsewhere
in Goya’s world
crones suck the juice from
babes jaws loose
& braying
ancient beings tucked in cowls,
in coils,
a basket at their feet
filled with babe’s bodies.
It is too late
too late,
the bodies hang no longer,
all have fallen,
the women pass a dainty
box from hand to
hand, their fingers
dig down deep,
they slip the bones,
the little seeds,
between their lips,
into their gullets,
always still more to suck,
still always hungry.


Duendes sound a last
hurrah they squeeze
a bellows, scrub a dish
with greasy hands,
a whisper
in an ear bent down
to listen.
No one sees them.
Over every duende
falls the shadow
of a greater duende..
Holy moly!
Is this not a black sound,
Mister Lorca?
Pissing olive oil
I isn’t what I seems
to be a poor
barrel overturned,
the wine I swigs
gone rancid.
There is now an end
to everything.
What is flesh
they suck no more,
they drive the foul caprichos
out of sight
Caprichos, Goya, Lorca,
all my duendes,
locked into a cage
at dawn, evading
sleep & dreams,
those whom they leave
behind them, fathers
raising arms
to heaven,
screaming through
their empty
mouths like caverns
black holes
where all light
is lost.
Now is the time.

From an ongoing series of fifty poems, the first half of which were published by Kadle Books in Barcelona and Tenerife as 25 Caprichos after Goya (2004), with translations into Spanish by Heriberto Yépez. The three printed here and a number of others from the second half of the series also appear in a limited edition, Homage to Goya, published by Brighton Press in 2008 with images and design by Ian Tyson.

Written with Jeffrey Robinson

Painting (like poetry) chooses from universals what is most apposite. It brings together in a single imaginary being circumstances and characteristics which occur in nature in many different persons. (F.G., announcement for Caprichos, February 6, 1799)

Not a poet in any ordinary sense of the word, Goya opens an exploration of the constructed dreamwork – a conduit for transformation & dis-ease, holding up a crooked mirror, to see the world askew & dangerous, but ineluctably real. His Caprichos, initiated in 1796 as a series of eighty etchings & aquatints, come complete with captions, later reinforced by editorial “explanations,” on some of which (the so-called Prado manuscript in particular) Goya himself may have been an informal collaborator. As he takes hold of the idea of “caprichos” – what had been whims or fancies in the works of others – he becomes, as Robert Hughes writes of him & them, “the first artist to use the word capricho to denote images that had some critical purpose: a vein, a core, of social commentary.” And it’s his alliance of this with a stunning sense of the fantastic – even the surreal – that makes him not only a forerunner of the “romantic” but, as others have noted, “the first modern artist and the last old master.”

In the notes to his early drawings for “The Sleep of Reason,” originally intended as the opening Capricho but finally positioned as Capricho 43, additional texts appear. As Hughes further describes them: “On the flank of the desk is written ‘Universal language [Ydioma universal]. Drawn and etched by Francisco de Goya in the year 1797.’ Then, below the design, we read in a pencil scribble: ‘The author dreaming. His only purpose is to root out harmful ideas, commonly believed, and to perpetuate with this work of the Caprichos the soundly based testimony of truth.’” That this “truth” incorporates images of witchcraft, animality, cannibalism, rape, & torture, often identified by him with those in power, made the Caprichos a target for censorship & inquisition as well as a sardonic & ominous reflection of Goya’s world & ours.

N.B. The alternative translation as “the Dream of Reason [that produces monsters]” adds an ambiguity to the reading that we shouldn’t overlook.

1 comment:

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