Holy Pictures: Poem for Robert Mapplethorpe by Paul Schmidt

BOMB 27 Spring 1989
027 Spring 1989

1. Verdict

Stand and look up. There’s another world up there, not ours, not this one locked into language. We stand here docked and defenseless, waiting for something unthinkable moments ago. Now no one can help, not even the advocate, gulping his grief, tears dissolving, staining his briefs—least of all him.

They call this the summation. No wonder we stay for the voice of someone pleading for justice, stained with sun in the late afternoon, his voice drifting out from the sun-shadowed benches and over the fields, the bright salt marshes of our Massachusetts. No one anymore to listen, no one to tell us the long day is dying and we none the wiser lie gasping like fish, astonished by evening. Still the advocate weeps and gestures, catching his arms in the sunbeams, they slow him down: fettered by motes of eternity. Nothing remains.

Silence. Is it all over then? Not when the disk of an unknown planet shines at evening’s edge, horned mask, witness whose sharp knowledge might even teach us to cry again, might make us whole. But its white vibrations are mute here where we wait as we must between law and justice, between the land and the sea.

Down the beach in the sharpening shadows a child in rags leads a man dripping and hesitant, shaking, he keeps calling “Son of God, come find me.” Beyond them a boy with a pail, and a hard-faced woman smoking. And still it is daylight in every direction, night seems impossible, though the sky has always deceived us.

Night will come, it was what we expected. It will bundle up mist and distance, bundle the sea foam, bundle up everything into one great blind fold. But the mask still glimmers, silver and white by the dune line, barely moving. Prevented, it mutters, prevented … And then: forfend … forfend … And out of the darkness an ice sheet from nowhere is pulled up over us all.


2. Vigil

BURN! Weave me into a wick of faith, make my skull a globe of hope, impale me on the dumb post of desire, and set me on fire! I will burn as late as I have to, into the acid finale of this black night. Whispering snow and slumland, hollows beyond the wall where houses stand drugged by snow and shadows, indifferent to the fluctuating moon—I take it all in. Let them come. My fire will make them find me.

This garden is frozen, but, roots are always alive and the ground would heave and shiver if it knew what was approaching. Here in the dripping darkness need and desire find voices, faces, possible acts. All that can fail has finally failed me; only my muscles remain, stretched to kingdom come. But what act was left unexamined, unwatched for weakness in mirrors and photographs? Re-act was all I possessed, my only possibility.

Daddy, it’s cold. I will burn until they find me. See where the weavers sit weaving my shroud, my long-legged image, my photo, my sign in the world. We have few enough signs, and must question all images, now that our mirrors begin to show what cannot possibly by there. All things are sacraments. We are hollows of time, cups of its containment: eruptions of blood, of milk and sap, of cum and corruption spatter us all.

The fire goes out. My muscles lie knotted like roots in this icy landscape. Make me your garden; my pools are full of stagnant water, they breed what’s unthinkable. Prune me to your will and stake me, lay out your paths upon me, dig where you have to. I am empty country. Searchlights and voices; they’ve found me. A man I remember comes toward me; he smiles, and we kiss: I out of need, he for salvation. Abba, I’m afraid. Find me, Daddy. Make me grow.


3. Vision

(The Sailor on shore leave is picked up by two Leathermen)

This is candy-ass training, you bastards, Not like our wet workouts back at the ship. I need denial, and spit and slobber and sweat. I have faith, faith is easy, it’s good works I want. So work me over, marrow it into me, man, I can take it, I’m strong. I got muscles of iron and rock. Christ my Master has laid my foundation, so tear this temple down, you lousy fuckers, go ahead! By Christ, I’ll have it up again in three days, wait and see!

Try me, you assholes! Your best is my passion, your worst is my pain, so tighten your tempers and I’ll sing in my chains like a seaman:

                                  Brace me and lace me,
                                  tie me, deny me,
                                  Cockhead and Godhead
                                   is all one to me.

I am stripped for salvation, ready for everything. Rack me, bastards, rivet me open and I’ll sing through my gag like a seaman:

                                 I worship God’s jockstrap,
                                 He’s my man.
                                 We get it on heavy    
                                 whenever we can

You want to be engines of heaven, get going, I need it! String me up, fuckers, and I’ll sing as I swing like a seaman:

                                  I suck Jesus’ juice,
                                  it’s the bootleg I love.
                                  If you fuck me below
                                  my reward is above.

Cut me up! Keelhaul me, cocksuckers, under the barnacled hull of the world! Hang me between you. I dangle and drip and why don’t you speak to me! No smart remarks from thrives after all, just fascination with images. OK then. See, Christ’s reflection streams in the mirror! One on each side of me, trapped in a trinity, inseparable: that’s what I wanted. You have made me His image. We are made in His image I worship Your flesh and My blood.


4. Finale

Spectacle, oracle, manacle, testicle. This must be the end of the line, I don’t know any more numbers. But worship you in what, in black, the way redemption always comes—too late, but not soon enough to stop us in our tracks. Which is what we need and look for.

That’s enough, what do these voices keep saying— everything is over, mindless, friendless. It’s all black, and out of the blackness stalks salvation, wearing a white mask, speaking silver. But that’s not what he said. He said: “Honey, you fixed? You hard up?” And I told him: “Honey, I mean together, like the kids used to say. Within myself finally, for the first time in my life. I have taken the rule, the vow, my tongue in holes and out of trouble. Talker, talker! But they will be heard, and fragments of flesh will sing unto you: These are my dearly beloved in whom I am very well pleased. Yours sincerely, Christ.”

From nothing, from congealed cum I come, ready to serve, if serving is enough. When to these sessions of everything mortal, all fabulous flesh, and no more bids for the taking— but the taking is over. Receiving is all. What more could a poor shepherd wish you?

Silver speakers, snowy maskers, come disturb my dazzling solitude! Rouse these rowdies from their slept-out bed! Come on, my soul, see what the cunt of the Queen of Heaven looks like! And I, goddam, I saw! I haven’t the faintest feeling for dimension, but this cock was big. It was the polar attraction, all icebergs, all shards, a long line of lights winking in chunks adrift, a shadow adrift, at an angle everything ready to sink in the starlight down, down, with the ropes and the papers, the flowers and promises, losses and gains, even the shrieking domestics, who should have known better behavior.

Now I am nighttime, and better than daylight for brightness. I am the King of Street Light Land! Over my head the howlers howl, but nothing comes. I am the last of those who speak this language. No harmony now, only the string of life can re-tune us. Let go, let go. It all dissolves in different places. Streets and avenues glitter, we know that. Too bright, too bright. If that isn’t power, what is it? We bleed more than we ever expected, and the sight of blood is not so moving now, it flows too fast, too fast, from our insides, and at last we must listen. Forever begins to darken. Release into bondage finally, out of this slavery to syntax!

What moves us is only how fragile we are. We never expected a shower of blessing! But we wanted our stand-still, and got it. All we have now are these tiny red volumes, packed in a case, sent from west Texas. Drier than cactus and dust. No springs in sight, no shadow, only a cloud, flickering fast in the wilderness. Flicker my ass. My insides are empty. Empty. To fill me seems almost beyond desire. And desire is distant, Half the things we expect it to, God set us free. We can sing in our chains, but not always—only for maskers, white maskers, and masters, black masters, and cock. Then we vibrate with everything human, and even a few things divine—those flowers, for instance: divinity there, as they open and darken; those are the roses of riot and lavishness. Fill them with sap. Pry open their petals and fill, fill, until all of it heaves and overflows. Then watch: the shadowy trickle pushes cool cum over the stickiness into our sight, and we watch it fall as it scrawls the drifting slogan “come fuck me,” the image of God in myself. Nothing but centers remain. Edges are hopeless, and gone.

There should be an answer to all we say, but echoes deceive us. Decay, disappearance. We cannot move forward. Only the presence of something unique, and that’s not easy either; one is one and all alone and ever—remember? So there. I have never looked so good before. I flourish on abstraction, and light, and these white walls. The sun stops overhead these days, I raise my arms and it stops, and slowly everything changes. Shadows thicken, I smear my face with the sticky evidence. Shining tracks, God’s blessing, an anointment. Everything flows.

It’s hard to feel it
happening, but here it is.

January 1983–October 1986

Paul Schmidt is a poet and playwright living in New York City.

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Originally published in

BOMB 27, Spring 1989

Salman Rushdie, Polly Apfelbaum, Dennis Cooper, James Nares, Penny Arcade, Mats, Alexander Kluge, Robert Greene, Nancy Shaver, Abbijane, Terry Kinney, Michael Tetherow, Bill Barrette, and Carmelo Pomodoro.

Read the issue
027 Spring 1989