3 Sections from Mirage

by Basil King

Section XVIII


And having found it, you will find that it is real and because it is real it has a fault. The fault, if it can be called a fault, is that it thinks it is just like you. It does not know it is different. And if it knew, that wouldn't change a thing. If it knew its presence is a threat to beauty, if it knew its presence makes you jealous, it would simply tell you this shouldn't be because it believes everyone can do what it does. It forgets that its horn is a menace.

Lying between Red and Green
the weed incumbent of its place runs wild
lying between Red and Green
the weed waits and refracts through a prism
pruned of its space the weed
ground of its buttercup lies
and does not tell the truth.
The weed ignorant of what damage
it can do to cultivated ground
surfaces to face the sun again
again photosynthesis takes place.

Between Red and Green
Joseph Albers built his dream house
Between Red and Green
Mondrian said "There is no Green"
Mondrian said "There are no curves"
Mondrian said he wanted "A square orange"
Mondrian said he would balance the world.

I have never seen a photograph of Kurt Schwitters when he is not wearing a tie and a suit. I can't imagine him in a two-piece bathing suit lounging on a beach with a string of pearls around his neck as Cole Porter did in the photograph I had on a wall for years. Schwitters cultivated MERZ. Tazio Nuvolarils face covered in a mask against the fumes. Photos coming together. Photos, Schwitters' miniatures, Photos, the weed disfigures an exquisite surface. Photos, my grandfather's photo on the refrigerator door. Photos, the Polaroid held in my palm. Photos, how cells capture the energy of the sun. Photos - Spinoza - the Kabbalah is mathematics - MERZ - coming together - the machine. Photos, mounds of excess.

I was having a drink with an engineer and a philosophy teacher and they both got very mad at me because I said I gave as much care to my car as I did to the cleaning of my brushes. Photos, the three of us were in the same room at that time. Ethics, a question for Spinoza. A MERZ for Schwitters. A Yellow for the one who got away. Lying between Red and Green, Yellow is reported to be the color of cowards - Jews - treacherous Orientals. If you are jealous, pick buttercups, buy daffodils, and eat lots of yellow squash. Photos. Yellow cannot be seen after cataracts have been removed. Photos. Mondrian liked to flirt with other men's wives. Reginald Marsh's "Young Black Woman in a Yellow Dress."

It is good to be remembered.
It is bad to be forgotten.

Photos. Coming together. The German's have a word for it. Kandinsky, Schwitters, and Wagner too all wanted GESAMTKUNSTWERK, to combine all the arts in a synthesis or total art work. Romance,the auto-photo, coming together - new material - a happy future. Weedy as we are, what are our choices? Our primal sources are available. Schwitters' cleanliness, his MERZBAU, collects the sun's energy and naturalizes as Spinoza's ethic advocates science.

Good Iris, Goddess of the Rainbow, demystify the machine and radiate the systems that collect light - that collect data - that photograph the mystery - the nitrogen of all living tissue. I dig my hand in and squeeze your heart. Reason tells me not to summarize. To have loved God as much as Schwitters did is not easy. To appreciate what the machine makes is not easy. But Schwitters takes what the machine makes and makes his garden, his exquisite garden. There he, the gardener, plucks from its surface the unwanted weed. The photo recalls "The Glass Flower," 1940, and another war, another dada, another diffusion mocks our ability to photograph the past. The clouds are severed as the aeroplanes dog-fight.

In 1944, Johnny Haynes and I sat on the pavement on Alpha Road and watched a dog fight. We made a blood pact that we would become flyers and kill Germans. Photo-finish. I heard from a cousin of mine that Johnny joined the Air Force. I hate war. I see it all the time. It is very difficult for my generation to know the difference between propaganda and language. Modern romance has a large audience. Artifice is not always easy to spot. Europe degenerated because it did not believe its art.

Mondrian darning his socks and sewing his buttons. Mondrian on Broadway. There were no trees, only light bulbs. Mondrian looking at Jackson Pollock's painting. See the photo - the coming together - the division between spaces - a beautiful flower drawing by Ellsworth Kelly. A beautiful line. Minimal things are hopeful. Europe degenerated. Schwitters put his hands on Hanover, Norway, the Isle of Wright, the Elterwater MERZBARN. His hands are still there. The handprints remain after the animals have gone. The palm itches. Scratch it, it's good luck. It's not logical, but there are good reasons to do it. Scratch your palm. It is your garden. See the furrows. The life-line. The crisscrossing is tense. The depth of the bulbs you plant require you to state your intentions. Don't be afraid. You will get help. Schwitters has assigned himself the task of being positioned at every garden gate.

Section XIX


New York City is dirty
Garbage pick-up is frequent
There are a lot of restaurants
How much do you want to pay
There are a lot of places to live
How much can you pay
You could become a drug addict
You could become a drunk

Did you forget? I forgot. I
forgot something. Something
forgot. I forgot the conflict.
Forgot the story. There -- There.
I forgot. I keep forgetting. I
keep forgetting. That forgotten
story. I forgot. My mother
I forgot. I forgot.


Forgot to surface

Forgot the East End of London
is part of a city. The narrow
streets. The rain. The complex
business dealings.

Forgot to surface

DeKooning and Guston used a lot of paint. DeKooning came from Amsterdam. I met his mother after "Woman I" was installed in the Museum of Modern Art. Bob Rauschenberg told her one of his grandmothers came from Holland. I was there. But it wasn't my time. Guston went to high school with Jackson Pollock in L.A. Guston was a modern man. He put his conflicts into the paint. Onto the canvas. From the ashcan to the burning bush and back again. Children need to play. Red is a hard color. Think of how many things it makes you think of. Titian's redheads were all prostitutes. Venice was full of prostitutes. They all dyed their hair red. DeKooning's "Door" doesn't have any red. There's a lot of yellow. Another hard color. DeKooning was able to put yellow and blue in the same painting and not make green. Mondrian didn't like green. He pulled down the blinds when he travelled on a train so he wouldn't have to see green.


Ferry Street doesn't exist any more. There's a middle-class housing project on the ground of that old downtown neighborhood. Forty-eight Ferry Street was an early nineteenth century brick building. We were on the third floor. The top floor. The building was on a corner and it had many windows. The roof slanted. It went from seven feet to thirteen feet. It was a great painting space. Martha and I bought the loft from Jay Milder. The overhead gas heater spurted flames and it was very dangerous. So we stopped using it. George Stanley was with us that winter, and we used to take a lot of hot showers to keep warm. Until. Allen Ginsberg was at the party and he said he'd gotten a thousand dollars that he didn't expect. I asked him if he could lend me a hundred and fifty to go to LeeSam's to get a better burner. He did and we had heat. Before Allen went to India, he phoned and said he needed the money. I got it to him. It was like that then. But it wasn't my time.

I visited deKooning the first time I came up from Black Mountain. I remember a small round table with a bottle of Four Roses. He showed me everything and Elaine made a drink. It was like that then. Painting was important. Guston talked about having no money to buy his daughter's shoes. He'd buy cheap paint, red paint, and have heaps of it on newspaper to get the excess oil out. DeKooning always painted socks. Guston always painted boots. Guston painted top coats. Jim Dine paints bathrobes.

One of my first painting teachers told us to cover the canvas with a thin coat of ochre before we began to paint. I suppose it was to cure us of any violent acts we might deliver to the canvas. I suppose it was to help us produce a likeness that would look benign. But it wasn't of a gentle disposition. It wasn't gracious, or kindly, or gentle. What appeared on the canvas appeared to be primitive. But it wasn't. It was more knowing than Modigliani. It was not real. It was imagined.

nothing surfaced

Water Street. The street was old. The bricks were weathered. The building had no heat or hot water. There were fireplaces on each floor. There was electricity. That winter it was cold. The oil paints froze in their tubes. We gave a party. A big party. When we woke up, Dan's beautiful suede jacket was missing. My record player and records were gone. Something or some things were missing of Lynn's--I can't remember.

When he was in his twenties, Guston was invited to live in a producer's house in L.A. The guy told him he could have a room and paint there for free. Philip said there was a swimming pool. When the producer's wife was killed, the finger was pointed at Philip. But the police figured it out and Philip did not stand trial.

DeKooning has told us he jumped ship. My mother's brother got on a ship in England with a young woman who was coming to America. He never left. He told her not to talk to him or act as if she knew him. My uncle was twenty-one at the time. He managed to keep his blazer and white pants clean and pressed. He even sat at the captain's table for supper. He slept in a different place every night. He got off the ship in New York City by taking an Italian passenger's passport and. . . he said it was after he got off the ship and began to walk that he lost his nerve and became frightened. He kept walking. He didn't really see where he was going until he looked up at a sign in Yiddish. He must have been on 10th Street, because it was a sign for the Russian and Turkish Baths. He went in and told them his story. Two men took him across the street and gave him something to eat. His sister, my aunt, was contacted in Detroit and he was smuggled into Canada to meet her. As an English citizen, he crossed the border into the United States. He told Martha and me this story when we lived on Whitehall Street.

Cement. Fulton Street is always busy. For $40 a month I had a place to live and paint. It was my first studio. There was a sandwich shop on the first floor. The owner of the building ran it. Someone would come up from the shop five mornings a week and wake me. I'd go down, have breakfast, and work for five hours nonstop, on the grill or making sandwiches. Sometimes the owner would let me take the end pieces of meat. I'd take them over to Bob Rauschenberg and Jasper. It was like that then. Painting was important. It seemed like everyone was painting. But there were at most 200 people crowding the Cedar Bar and the 10th Street galleries.

Did you forget? I forgot. I
forgot something. Something
forgot. I forgot the conflict. I
forgot the story. There -- There.
I forgot. I keep forgetting. I keep
forgetting that forgotten story.
I forgot. My father I forgot.
I forgot.

Not everyone paints. Not. No. Not.
Everyone paints. Not everyone.
No. Not. No paint. No dirty hands.
No brushes. No. No. Not everyone
wants sex all the time. No. Not.

Parallel to the Williamsburg Bridge, 168 1/2 Delancey Street had housed many a photographer and artist. Bob Beauchamp and Jackie Ferrer were going to France on Bob's Fulbright, and Martha and I leased their loft. On one condition--that Bob Thompson could use the shower that was outside the loft, next to the lavatory, in the hallway. It was like that then.

Not everyone paints. Not. No. Not
everyone paints. Not everyone.
No. Not. No paint. No dirty hands.
No brushes. No. No. Not everyone
wants sex all the time. No. Not

Section XX

A documentary some years ago on Andy Warhol showed him with a movie star and three hundred Polaroids at their feet. She wasn't beautiful. She had a full set of large teeth that went from ear to ear. There are many American women who have that mouth. Long and sensual. There was Andy with her. Which Polaroid was to become the painting? Which one would tell her who she really is? There he was. And I had a sudden feeling of affection for him. Here was our courtier. He was our Vandyke. Here, without seeming malice, was a painter pandering to someone who was not his equal. But she was a star. Andy Warhol, grandson of Duchamp, the great early twentieth-century courtier, was on television. This was Pop - this was spinach - this was worth a headline.

"Big Mao" is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Marilyn Monroe is in MOMA. And no matter how many times Andy repeated the theme, Marilyn looks the best. Oh Watteau, my beautiful Gilles. What asses you have to play to. What white silks you wear.

Reminds me of a story my grandmother told me. She was a little girl still living in Russia. The Cossacks came on horseback, burning and looting her village. She was outside her house, away from her family. A young man in golden silk pantaloons and red boots, on a large white horse, reared in front of her. She looked up. She said he was beautiful. Oh Babel, she never forgot. She never knew it was history. She never knew she was a depository. She never went to court, but she lived her life with a formula in mind. Not one you would want to repeat, but one nevertheless that might be a miniature. A Chagall with no flying violins or cows. No faces in the pillows as we can see in Dürer, "Self- Portrait, Hands and Pillows: Six Pillows," 1493.

There was to be no nonsense in the court of Maximilian. Dürer knew that better than nearly anyone. Look at his drawings and portraits of the emperor. The emperor gives no favors. His rule is serious business. Being an artist is serious business. Dürer was to tell everyone that. A piece of wood in the hands of Dürer becomes white – becomes black. The lines between Adam and Eve are furrowed by Northern practicality. The rabbit is as important as a pious pair of hands.

All the clothes on Dürer's people stretch more than they fold. We aren't to see folds again until Rodin activated the Greeks. By then, the industrial revolution had woven yards and yards around Isadora Duncan's torso. The rich came to Rodin's studio, and Nijinsky danced for him, and Isadora danced for him, and Rodin held court. After years of being apprenticed to himself, Rodin crowned himself. Just as Napoleon had. The French have always said that they were important.

A court. An uncovered space. Where tennis is played, fashion dictates. Where buttons and buttonholes are styled and compete for attention. Satin is painted on, and all thoughts of hardship feather their way into the grain. There ballet formulates the court's procedures and breeds conformity. Position. A perfect fifth. Position. The button goes through the buttonhole. Position. Seeded first. Position. The court. An enclosed space. Do you know how you rank? Do you know your position? Do you know which court is in session?

Adolph Gottlieb used two wooden horses. Each horse was padded so that when the linen and the stretchers were laid down the linen was protected from the wood. All the threads in the linen were to be stretched straight. It was essential to his process that the threads be straight. If you sawed a piece of wood in his studio, the sawdust was to be saved. The floor was clean. The masking tape was used two to three times before it was thrown away. one morning when I came to work, it was raining very hard. "Is this the only pair of shoes you have?" he asked. "Yes." The next morning, he gave me a pair of wooden shoe trees.

Franz Kline said that Mark Rothko's stretchers looked like chicken coops. He also said that I was doing everyone's homework when I told him I was carving frames for a living. Piranesi couldn't become an architect in his native Venice because his father's ranking wasn't high enough. Rome was good to him, but he never became an architect. His arches and staircases are imaginative theatrical events.

Happenings. Whisperings in the corridors of the court. Find the vanishing point. See the angles. Do you ask how many angels dance on the head of a pin? Do you know what the secret is? Do you have an auger? Do you collect feathers? Have you ever made a pillow? Have you ever seen a face in a pillow? Do you smile? Do you make faces in the mirror? Do you narrate? Do you sing for your supper? Do you deviate? Do you say you understand things you don't? Do you, do you? Do you eat good foods? Do you use too much salt? Do you ask stars for their autographs? Duchamp said everyone could participate.

I once saw Saul Steinberg at The Club, but I couldn't talk to him. I was star-struck. I was star-struck when I mixed paint, stretched canvases, or ran errands for the abstract painters of my father's generation. I did what they asked and I learned. It was like walking on unknown territory. The advantage was that they had left their footprints on the road, and I could put my feet into their steps, and some fit and some didn't. It was a great way to be educated. To this day I know who I owe what to - and what I found for myself.

Rubens told Velazquez to go to Italy, and Velazquez got permission from Philip IV. He went twice, and once when he was there he fathered a son. "The Maids of Honor" has been called the "theology of painting." The princess, the dwarfs, the painter, his cousin, and the king and the queen in the mirror - in this one room, Veldzquez tells us about the court. Valdzquez abstracts. I believe he is one of the first. A Catholic court and their court painter abstracts. Compare it with England of the same period, Elizabeth and her court. Piracy has its own manner. The land became a first lady, a title without a voice, a depository, a mother, a Venus.

The caves had much wealth.
Their drawings remain.
Painting began much later.
Charcoal before dinner.
charcoal after dinner.
The teeth wear down.
                                      The women were the first to know.
The men knew what was to be said before they went
to sleep.
My penis, your need is as great as mine.
They hunted.
The circle.
Court is in session.
Division begins.
The chimney makes it possible.
Privacy - the ability to be alone.

The bedroom is invented.
Court is in session.
The door gets a lock.
The need becomes law.
Primate beware.
Everything is not beautiful.
We depend on nature.
The crucifix was an invention, not a holy order.
Grunewald loved his mother.
I am told that some families participate in their
         sibling's children's efforts.
Rome should be remembered for its portraits, its
         carved portraits, its funeral urns.
The Polaroid is limited.
The manner in which we divide three hundred
One - one -
All it takes is one.

Copyright © 2001 by Basil King

Light and Dust Anthology of Poetry