(fifty days at iliam: shield of achilles)

a mythology begins with a question like who are we, where are we, what is red, why paint, why me, lord, why? a person who knows all the answers can only borrow a mythology like i’m king midas or i’m god. a painter can take a mythology and remake it so that it answers a new question like romare bearden asking odysseus who are my we? and cy twombly asking akilles why are we still you? painting the i of the storm on a shield. cutting the trickster out of black and blue paper and lashing him with glue to the mast of his last ship. the journey always rough, some miserable god under land under sea always looking for company, people always succumbing. the hero is the one who comes home, even if it’s by process of elimination. a playwright can make a mythology ask what’s wrong with this song? like suzan-lori parks asking ulysses about coming home from the war so why are you a hero and why are you still coming home from a war and women die in wars, too, even if it’s not the expected death and—wait that’s not a question but it’s still a mythology if that’s the only thing she knows for sure.

*****

(quattro stagioni: primavera, estate, autunno, inverno)

a mythology can ask why is autumn so beautiful and why is winter, blight-stricken as it is, so arresting? a mythology, as opposed to a young person, can find autumn and winter much more striking than summer, sun-bleached summer, so legibly the scene of happiness that nothing else can really happen there. a mythology can see the blood in spring, the stages of growth a kind of violence the body does to itself, it will never be this way again yet it can’t get on to the next moment fast enough. a mythology can ask why does spring throw its arms out with abandon even when it’s abandoning itself? a mythology can ask why is winter so much greener than spring, even clouded in white? the icicles trail as far down the evergreens as they can, but don’t keep the wind from brushing snow and sun across the mountain on the same day. the inferno is always burning, women and men going up in flames. a poet can ask why do daughters grow up by going down? like rita dove asking persephone you think he’s hot? all the while, autumn is answering the question about gorgeous rotting. just magenta, green, brown, pink, yellow, red, violet flying off the mythological canvas.

*****

(untitled [a gathering of time])

a mythology of time can ask a subtle question. a sky blue can gather white clouds right before your eyes holding them by threads of paint stringing us along so that we miss the purple. the thunder is always further away than the whitening. a poet can grab a mythology of time that takes place over the dead bodies of letter after letter. the tongue lays them to rest and they cover are covered by a sheet that falls far from the tree. a cy twombly can leave for rome at twenty-nine and still die an american artist, a hero who doesn’t come home. a photographer can snag a mythology to turn her back on it, wearing black and steady gazing from a question that’s a statement of the only thing she knows for sure. like carrie mae weems asking institutions like the british museum when and where i enter showing that she’s the answer. contrast, stark, the steps leading in leading away, bright but heavy. the poet can ask a mythology a question like what is black in the museums of paris? and again the mythology pierces the clouds it thunders so loud but so late that by then we’ve forgotten we saw the lightning we saw the lightning we saw it and it was not subtle.

—at the Cy Twombly exhibition at
Centre Pompidou, Paris, April 2017