after Joseph Cornell
He spoke of neighborhood thieves and his passion for a singer
whose name we’ve long forgotten.
He lived on donuts.
He prowled junk shops for pictures of exotic birds
and ballerinas, old maps, a tarnished figurine.
He looked like a haggard tramp. Tramp thin.
His house was a firetrap.
He kept notes on his fixations. A naughty little man
was how Duchamp’s widow described him.
The magician of the second-hand.
He was obsessed with the young girl who
lived next door. There will be many loves like this,
the gypsy fortune-teller would say
until her machine went on the blink.
Her predictions were always the same.
Years ago he gave my mother a small gift,
inscribed and tied with a bow. She never opened it.
He took it back feeling unloved and bitter.
Back to the shoebox theater of his mind to rejoin
a vast collection of odd souvenirs: a rabbit’s foot,
the pocket atlas, a defective compass, the tiny hourglass
from some shabby penny arcade.
So goes the revolution. To turn the wheel,
to rotate, revolve, turning
the turn, the turn of a hair—and it’s the loss
of all composure. A hairpin turn, to turnabout, to look…
Now it’s your turn
to turn down, to spin, swivel, swerve,
to take the curve that turns
the stomach, to veer and arc,
with the turn of a screw
the turnbuckle of the body is fixed.
Turning the tables.
You’re never turning back.
Turn the key as all heads turn,
when nobody is looking,
the body turned loose no longer impounded.
Turn up the music.
Turn off the lights.
Turn on. Turn over. We take turns
twirling before turning-in for the night,
to return to sleep,
to turn out with the morning riders
who, in turn, turn their pages.
Turn around and we turn a certain age.
Turn around again and the sunlight is turning,
turning this dim room bright.
Outside the Embassy
They are statues side by side.
The young guards, elevated slightly,
to suggest who’s in charge.
The one with the rifle and bayonet
could give anyone pause
who might think otherwise,
with the sheen of a twelve-inch blade
and its uncompromising glare
paralyzed under a fierce August sun.
The cicadas throttle the air,
chanting their summer war song to survive.
Plane trees and yellow cinnamon
provide barely enough shade. No relief
for the lonesome uniforms
as the novice diplomats dismiss
the disgruntled foreigners
who arrive too late to conduct
their banal and unworldly business.
Arthur Solway is the founding director of James Cohan Gallery Shanghai, the first gallery from New York to establish itself in mainland China. He has also written poetry and essays, contributing to literary and cultural publications since 1978. Most recently his poems have appeared, or are forthcoming, in The Antioch Review, Boston Review, and Salmagundi. Shanghai has been his home since 2007.