Size / / /

You cannot find his pain inside immaculate lines.

You cannot find the sleepless hours spent alone.

His brush moving non-stop till his fingers blistered;

a pause to double over in dry heaves; when done,

begin again, breath hitching; snot and tears

as unyielding stripes forced order on the primal;

sketched first on the page, each new cage designed

to perfect the prime balance.

                                          But never perfected enough.

By the end, too much hung inside the scales for

his thoughts to ever rest or his hands to ever pause

as the sickness slowly thickened in his lungs.

When did he first discover this gift for equilibrium?

An urgent revelation in a haystack-mounded field?

Wind-swept grass arrayed behind his eyes in

primary bands of power? Lines like those that in

the next decade boys who lied about their age

would dig in mortar-scarred earth, premature men

doomed to spill their lives in mud.

                                                 As war raged,

he fought to smooth and contain; believing still

that harmony could be truth and truth harmony:

general beauty with utmost awareness. Abstraction

his new alchemy, a quest to reveal the bones

of the sublime, skeleton of black borders and

color fields; but the formulae eluded him;

ebony dulled to gray, lines retreated from the fronts,

forms refused the restrictions he imposed.

The war ended on its own, the shape he sought

still unknown.

                     But the urgency, the need, never

abated, never relaxed its guard. He polished and

polished in Paris until the columns and ranks

held their place and refused to back away from

the boundaries. Endless variations inside diamonds

and squares: were they all pieces of larger patterns,

fragments of a design only his head could hold

in whole, these thaumaturgies schemed in paint?

Step up close and learn the fury of plain and plane.

Images that fool the eye into mistaking white space

for emptiness; but the brush strokes, running

in so many deliberate directions, explosive

kinetics craftily restrained within the bars,

energies controlled and composed, regimented

shards of the Great Order he strove to make

real in every line, but not in time; not in time.

Germany spilled out beyond its designated

shape and forged new emptiness from order,

drew vectors that would tear through fragile forms and

make colors bleed.

                            Fugitive in New York:

each new painting a terrible labor, but his

efforts in between just as panicked; the panels

he hung on the studio walls, a set of eight

that he moved and moved and moved, and

constantly rearranged the colored squares

tacked within, searching for that balance,

that optimum interlace of energy. As the world

tilted further and further, he fought to tip it back.

One slender man in a draft-plagued room, battling

to flatten the violence, the vileness, even

as the effort turned to poison. Slowly dying, still

he arranged his squares until something resonated

in the very air, something he could feel

with his palms and call beauty, call pure.

Then, he would paint and paint until he wept.

The last, unfinished work: black lines replaced

with marching color, every simple square a shout

of joy. Had something shown him, even then,

the war's end he would never live to see?

Mike Allen is president of the Science Fiction Poetry Association and editor of the speculative poetry journal Mythic Delirium. With Roger Dutcher, Mike is also editor of The Alchemy of Stars: Rhysling Award Winners Showcase, which for the first time collects the Rhysling Award-winning poems from 1978 to 2004 in one volume. His newest poetry collection, Disturbing Muses, is out from Prime Books, with a second collection, Strange Wisdoms of the Dead, soon to follow. Mike's poems can also be found in Nebula Awards Showcase 2005, both editions of The 2005 Rhysling Anthology, and the Strange Horizons archives.
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26 Jul 2021

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