Elegy Written Beforehand (after Francis Bacon)
No one has died yet.
Or, not the man and the woman
who walk through the Garden
of Remembrance, with its
hyacinths legion in the new
spring, bronze swans lifting off
paused in air. But the couple
has not come
for this. They have come
to see the artist’s studio,
the one recreated,
mess-wild, in the museum—
sheaves of paper on the floor
he tore from books:
photos of wars, Muybridge’s horses.
Only Plexiglass kept the two
from entering, the man’s hands
pressed to it as they looked in.
It’s like that, she thinks,
all those hundreds
of brushes, tins of paint, newspapers,
boxes, dust. Something, someday
will make it cohere: the canvas
suddenly soaked, the rictal faces
Lament with Six Stitches
Everyone who looks at you sees
my face in your face
but this is a part of you I do not know:
one of the only parts, this inside of your skin,
many layers down, flanged with white
and pulpy-red, exactly as a split fruit.
Less than I ever do I see myself in you now—
blood trail down your shirt, the hole gaping
between your eyes—I, who am so careful,
who only came close once to slipping
out from this world’s grasp: the day you
came into it, a noose around your neck
that almost killed us both. And here
we are again. This time I think:
I can’t look, but I have to,
your body tight as the nurses
reach toward you with sutures,
as you scream I don’t want this!
All those well-meaners say God
doesn’t give you more than you can bear
(and this is a small burden in
the vastness of suffering)
but you don’t know that yet, your small fists
pinned to your side by the white blanket.
Kiddo, God gives you whatever God wants to
knowing you have no choice but
to live through it. What does it mean to be
unbearable? To choose not to bear?
I bore you. And when I did, it was a vow
to keep looking: as another woman soothes you
and bends to your sweet face, to watch
the needle flashing in your flesh like a sear
of lightning, the retinal burn like birth,
indelible, unbearable, borne.
Colleen Abel is the author of Remake, which won the 2015 Editors Prize from Unicorn Press.