Two Poems by Stephanie Ellis Schlaifer

Paul Cornoyer  The Plaza After Rain

The Plaza after the Rain by Paul Cornoyer, via Wikimedia Commons. In the collection of the St. Louis Art Museum

The Plaza after the Rain
after Paul Cornoyer’s painting after Saint Gaudens’ “William Tecumseh Sherman”


All monuments commemorate the same
falsehood          The gilt is genuine and we feel it right

at the surface of our discontent
Anger    like so many lustrous mounts     softens

in the rain          And stallions and generals must periodically be
re-gilded      recommitted to    as if

as an abiding law of man
Though    if we are honest    it is the law that fails us

along with what we can abide           The fiction
that what prevailed was      thence purifying      thence pure

thenceforth glint and glistening—see how your face shines
in thy horse’s arse!      See how the lie defines

a nation ever after  North & South    brother from brethren
boots from pavement ideals from dirt

all heaven in the sky     which all falls
raining if Cornoyer’s brush is on the level    Just

cobble    and cornice   and hoofy mount   
opaquely bronzed behind us             Aforehand   

sooty   puddled shadows      God    standing in the laws
we made       God     standing in the light



We all wanted the same thing       but things ripped


open      pink flesh on
gold thrones         the bones of
empires        Golden avenues of sunset-

light       gold in every
helping     of rotting
flesh       that birds came to

feast upon            They called
and we
feasted            We feasted

on it            We pushed our beaks into
eyelids    into follicles    into
yolky membranes         We pecked things
down to the socket        and mellowed

at the yellowing edges        We memorized
what we’d cannibalized        (selectively
in pictures)            at the backs
of our eyes

while everything     looked like    smelled like      tasted like
butter     everything with an odor

of fat       The air inside us was thick     
with riches     and we lapped    
at it       we gnawed ourselves     
from rib     to nipple
to bloody breast    until    

we couldn’t tell     one thing
from another

Stephanie Ellis Schlaifer is a poet and installation artist in St. Louis. She is the author of Cleavemark (BOAAT Press, 2016), a full-length collection of poems selected by Shane McCrae. Schlaifer has an MFA in poetry from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and her poems and art have appeared in Best New Poets 2015, Georgia Review, Harvard Review online, AGNI, The Offing, Denver Quarterly, LIT, Colorado Review, Smartish Pace, and elsewhere. She frequently collaborates with other artists, most recently with Cheryl Wassenaar on the installation The Cabinet of Ordinary Affairs. Her work can be viewed at criticalbonnet.com.

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