Star in Stone
At the top of the marble staircase stands
the winged Victory of Samothrace,
a horde of adoring photographers at her feet.
She looks like a star posing for Who Weekly
or New Idea; the cameras flash,
lenses held aloft for the money shot;
if only she had a head, you feel she’d smile
before descending the red carpet into
the crowded premiere. As it is, we see
her windswept legs and torso urging forward,
her stone drapery and wings blown back
by the force of her ever onward surge
across the centuries into millions of folders
labelled: my pictures or home-movies—
travel diaries with no need of words.
How appropriate her decapitation is
to the idea of human triumph in this
new century of brutal wonders:
forever snapped, framed and paid for
she is the ultimate celebrity.
The Medusa Angle
A good subject for an artist: survival
in a vast sea of indifference, though maybe
Gericault had something more serious
and heroic in mind: the human condition etc.
Certainly he’s said to have researched the wreck,
done prep on cadavers at the morgue
(fortunate they weren’t closer to home)
still it suggests a certain dedication missing
in the happy snappers with their instant images:
they’d have no problem on the raft,
health and safety a mobile call away;
they’d take some shots of the dying
while they wait for the saving chopper
and email to a news station or a friend.
But this is to digress. How interesting it is
he chose at least two painters as models:
Delacroix, at the apex, is in good shape
but Jamar, the minor artist, is a corpse;
we may read what we like into that.
Though we’re told the painting’s about hope
it looks like a parable of the need to be noticed;
the urgers at the front, the less confident
in the middle, losers to the rear.
How we long to stand at the forefront
waving our shirts, sighting the famous
rescue on the horizon, but then it’s salutary
to let eyes drop to the one facing backwards
in an attitude that might be taken for comic
despair, hand on chin, resigned and dumb
one arm round the body of his dead son.