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  • Ontario Creates
  • Ontario Arts Council
  • Canada Council for the Arts

Self-Portrait, 1864 Self-Portrait, 1896 Self-Portrait

From Brick 104


I started dragging Cézanne

on Twitter—the bot posting

canvases, no discernible order—


about a year back, on his

birthday, which is my birthday,

making us each as earthy, as


stubborn, practical, not given

to extravagance, self-reliant,

detached, unfussed by material


goods, prone to morbidity,

patient to the point of inertia,

unmothered, emotionally


avoidant, driven to infer meaning

from context, overly fond

of a sardine and whites


from the sandy Languedoc,

anarcho-syndicalist by nature

though homebodies in the event


of actual rioting, affronted

by whiffs of the transcendental,

afraid of dentists, sexually


omnivorous, fiscally infantile,

unready to renounce

psychoanalysis in toto


while alternatives remain

limited to CBT night classes

and homework, disinclined


to afford the benefit of the doubt,

doubtful of benefit, slow to open,

open to indolence, solicitous


of others’ esteem in private,

private, piratical in the aesthetic

realm, domestically recursive,


allergic to church, interruptions,

and gambling, devoid

of long-term episodic memory


rendering sense of the self

chained to the present

tense, gun-shy, importunate


in pubs, hyperpareidolic,

ornery, saturnine, vengeful,

glum, and given to huffing


the turps as the other, being

capricorns. Though here’s

a thing, we’re on the cusp


of aquarius, Paul and me.

You know what that means.

Everything to play for! An open


concern in the late ’90s:

immediacy as a poetic practice

might be a reification


of the status quo, as in, hey,

friend, I can hold your compact

mirror while you touch up,


sing to you from behind your

ovoid reflection, if it’s all the same

to you? I have a screen grab


from spring showing Rocks at

Fontainebleau squeezed between

Roma’s De Rossi screaming


at Samp and Sontag’s diary

from 4/6/49 below:

“Nothing but humiliation and


degradation at the thought of

physical relations with a man.”

Why did you ever go near


the human form, Paul? I mean,

your bathers are atrocious,

atrocious in your eyes


even as you painted

their buttocks and lumpy torsos

as turnipy, waxen, over-leavened


pains de campagne, arranged

their intimacy to exclude

you, us, leaving them talking


and damp against the damp

grass and river rock

in cool evening shadow pinks.


They pass by periodically

along with Hortense, a few

black suits, men in a bar,


a boy in a loincloth, not one

of them fully convincing.

Perhaps you wanted release


from the mountain’s chronic

dissembling, the unfinished

trees and outcroppings


pounding their dumb note

of mass and relation. Perhaps

you were lonely and knew


of no working ameliorative.

Perhaps you were lonely

in the face of stone and bough.


Good, though, that a supportive

community has formed now,

so many subject-slices


you couldn’t have known

in the south, and Sontag again,

“Last night I said in my drugged


post-migraine sleep, ‘I hate

your mind.’” By which I believe

she meant the very weather


framing the horse chestnuts

west of Marseille was

the phasing of catastrophe


in and out of your filtering

front brain, set up en plein air

three-legged and fingertips


made of horsehair. Do we

find ourselves wanting to spit

the chewed pigment over our


hands again held over our

heads as the captured do? Crocus

midwinter the very cave wall


and canvas and standard

of a crushed comprehension—

another death after the farewell


to an idea of a charnel house

we live inside as sentry, nurse,

busker, and tenant. You


had me at tree but I’ve lost

me again, back in a tide pool

totting the money in a pinned


crab’s purse, the chest plate

folded back on the four or

six discs as the hydraulic


peel grab of six legs detached

from a jib leave their impress,

weaken, twitch, and let go.


Abject, a cancer would say.

Little fan-and-bubble drama.

Little expiration of walking


rock; the mountain never

returns whole from having

been worshipped to pieces.

Ken Babstock’s sixth collection will be published in 2020 by Coach House Books. He lives in Toronto with his son. 

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