I am sitting in Baltimore, slowly withdrawing from my life as a neurosurgeon and spending more and more time on the history of modern and contemporary art as well as my poetry, written and published since the 1970s. I spent ten happy years attending the Summer Writers Seminars at Sarah Lawrence where I came under the influence of Tom Lux and Dick Allen. My wife and I are Chesapeake Bay sailors, the time for which is contracting due to age and two, soon to be three, grandchildren in San Francisco. My books include The Clock Made of Confetti, The Enemy of Good Is Better ( both from Orchises) and Poetry in Medicine, my recently published anthology of classic and contemporary poems on doctors and diseases (Persea Books, 2015).
The Knife Thrower
after the pochoir print from JAZZ - by Henri Matisse, 1947
They must have thought he’d gone insane,
the old man too sick to paint, lying in his bed,
a turban perched upon his head
and colored papers all about.
Matisse wrote a friend I’ll need a white cane,
gone blind from cutting into color this way,
the bright spirals and chits falling off his scissors.
He made a book of jazzed-up clowns and kings
floating lagoons and tropical plants,
its acrobats and rearing horses, too big to hold
in my hands, land smiling across my lap.
But deep beneath the circus paint a cry, a frown:
a man who swallows a sword, his pain
starred in his eye, a magician winding up to throw
a knife at a woman, his lavender assistant splayed
against the wall. He’s coiled like a snake,
hot pink on blue and beige, caught in the moment
before letting go. And all around, leaves and ferns
are raining down—one boxed in white
where her heart should be, its shape an obvious target
for his knife’s velocity, her arms thrown up and still.
Think of Manet and the firing squad
in the Fifth of May, Goya in the Disasters of War,
think of the years Matisse survived: his wife living apart
and the smoke still cooling on all the battles of his life.
©2015 Michael Salcman