When John Berryman faints in front of the Picasso
in the Museum of Modern Art,
it’s because he’s so tired, he’s strung out, or,
according to Delmore Schwartz, jealous,
Berryman feigning, pulling focus for spite,
having not been invited, as had Delmore,
to Auden’s. Which version is true?
Delmore had a tendency to exaggerate.
Or maybe it’s better to say
he dreamed about things in midair,
and why not swerve from truth’s constant voice,
from the grievance so steadfast it’s practically stone,
your gravel path of childhood, so absolute it’s ontology.
His mother Rose insisting they pull over the car
to run into the diner where father is philandering again,
with a pretty piece of ass. Oh the shouting!
She hold’s Delmore’s captive hand
the whole time, little prison. Love,
he begins, in his mind, love, love. . . He embroiders,
he makes a bible story. He was seven. So
he’s used to melodrama. So when Berryman faints,
the New York story deepens, something happening
to the poetry of the early twentieth century.
They move through the present tense in bits and increments,
in imperceptible sighs, and differences,
in pigments, and by degrees,
Delmore standing, Berryman turning
to the cool museum floor. On the wall the painting
proceeds into the future tense.
It was from Picasso’s Blue Period.
Everyone had had enough of that kind of sadness for a while,
but it wasn’t going to disappear.
Copyright © Persea Books 2016
Used with permissions of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of Persea Books.