The Wall Text
The yarn matrices of the exhibit Intrinsic Estrangements
stretched from one end of the art gallery to the other
like a series of overlapping spider webs.
The wall text spoke of the estrangement of contemporary life
and said that our worlds of concern hang by a string
a string the color of sunlight.
When you get an MFA these days
they tell you to wrap your art in didactic text
to guide the viewer toward an epiphany
and to position your artwork among your competition —
your fellow art school instructors – fighting over grants
like dogs fighting over butcher scraps.
Or so I thought as the wall text bounced
up and down on my skull like a word balloon
made of rubber, so dense were these concepts,
these constructions grounded in nothing but air.
Hindu Gods at the Toledo Museum of Art
Here’s Pavarti, consort of Hindu god Siva,
cast in green bronze. Her D-cup breasts,
firmer than apples, eternally bra-unbound,
can arouse the dance of bliss from gods and men
yet she stands by her Siva. Narasimha, however,
came into the world not to arouse but to kill
the demon Hiranyakasypu. With his four arms
and pop-eye gaze he certainly looks capable
of turning the demon to stone. But Narasimha’s
already been cast into stone—sandstone, that is.
Adjacent stands a stele of Varaha, the third
incarnation of Vishnu; he took on the form
of a boar in order to rescue the earth from
the clutches of Hiranyaska. After swimming up
from the sea with the earth in his arms, Varaha
(a pure blueblood deus ex machina) went on
to mold the mountains and shape the continents.
It’s an unending cycle of lust and violence
in the gods’ realm. In earthbound Toledo,
meanwhile, Daimler-Chrysler has cut production
while increasing capacity south of the border.
What incarnation of Vishnu will descend
on Mexico to retake this city’s lost
industrial production? Will Narasimha
cast out the blight from Toledo? Or will
the demons continue to reign over
her dead factories, liquor stores, and porn shops?
I’m talking about one bookstore manager
the one who somehow mistook
Cervantes for de Sade
when he saw my copy of Don Quixote
in the breakroom.
It was the Edith Grossman translation—
a red behemoth of a book
with a photo of a medieval helmet
on the cover.
“That’s the Marquis de Sade right?”
“The guy with the whips and chains?”
“No,” I said. “It’s Don Quixote.”
“Really,” he replied with feigned interest
but when I explained to him
what it meant
to be “tilting at windmills”
his gaze wandered off and his mind with it.
He wasn’t the most literary guy
in the world.
His previous line of work
had been supermarket management
and the particular chain
for which he worked was known
for sticking new date stickers on old meat.
To keep the bookstore looking N.C.O.,
(He’d been a Marine in Vietnam)
we sent many books back
to the publishers as soon as they arrived.
The unimpeded flow of product
through the supply chain
was first and foremost on his mind;
he thought of booksellers
as so much readily replaceable product
and he didn’t hesitate to tell us so.
His outside interests weren’t entirely
out of the ordinary, however.
He enjoyed the commentary
of the stiff white males
on Fox News
and he frequently fixated
his conversations on bizarre sexual fetishes.
I needed a promotion to improve my CV
but when he forced me to work
a six day week
or demanded that I complete six hours’
worth of work in two
(to cite just two examples)
I sabotaged my prospects
by exchanging angry words with him.
It was somewhat quixotic
I must admit
wanting a promotion
in a management regime
straight out of de Sade’s Justine.
Srikalahasti in the indian state of Andhrapradesh by రవిచంద్ర. Own work via Wikimedia Commons