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Royal Festival Hall (Level 5), Southbank Centre, LondonOpen Tuesday - Sunday from 11am to 8pm
Artwork by Paul Peter Piech. Words by Anna Adams. © the Estate of Paul Peter Piech
Amy's horse looked doleful. More pony
than horse, he looked lugubriously
out of his fingerprint eyes at me
from the huge front pane of night.
Outside it was snowing, inside,
orange then green then golden light
flashed through Amy's horse as if
electricity could grant him life.
He had two tails: one short and stiff,
one, superimposed by Amy's friend,
cursive and corrective. Diamonds
glittered in his outline, rainbeads
mapped him like a constellation.
He was a Christmas decoration,
the donkey of our childhoods risen
like a saint on a stained-glass pane.
His eyes were mean and close-set, his mane
a stumpy fringe, his face as lean
as any Christ's but what with the cold,
the crowded bus, the sudden gold
that flooded him, he seemed to hold
not only our eyes but all our anguish,
the terrible burdens of our flesh
and blood, for he had none, no flesh,
no body, nothing but an outline
a finger traced on glass, a sign
for the very naught we can't imagine.
And when Amy's friend erased
what body he had, it recomposed
that naught, whitening under the glaze.
after Georgia O’Keeffe’s Pelvis with Moon
In the reading room, under the spotlight,
where a month flutters against the bulb,
I am reading Charles Simic’s poem ‘Bones’,
the one where he says his roof is covered
with pigeon bones, and he thinks he hears
them, “the little skulls cracking against
the tin”, and in front of me is my wife’s
favorite O’Keeffe painting: Pelvis with Moon.
And I think, how can we not ponder them,
this business of bones, how wind might
sift through them, bleach them with grains
of sand, over time, left on the prairie,
a reminder to all passers-by? A cow grazed
here once, not any cow, but the one my
uncle owned, the one whose milk we drank
as children, its frothy kiss on our lips, bones
of angels, bones left to the bereft, open
wings, a tent risen in homage to solitude,
like the moth who’s stopped its beating
against the heat of the light bulb, now rests
on the lamp’s base, limp and lifeless,
and o, how the mind gives in finally
to this idea of bones, bones, hollow vessels
at the bottom of everything, waiting for light
to fill them, then they will tell their stories.