Today in the PEN Poetry Series, guest editor C.D. Wright features Genine Lentine. About Lentine’s work, Wright says: “Genine Lentine, whose ear is as melodious as her name, is the author of Mr. Worthington’s Beautiful Experiments on Splashes; co-author with Stanley Kunitz and photographer Marnie Crawford Samuelson of The Wild Braid: A Poet Reflects on a Century in the Garden, and now Poses which is being published by Kelly’s Cove Press with drawings by Richard Diebenkorn. As a former student of drawing and a figure model, Lentine’s perspective is especially expanded, so that before publication the writing of the text was also broadly drawn by hand. Her responsiveness to her environment is of the keenest, most immediate order—breath, pause, thought, phrase and her somatic awareness—unaffected, rhapsodic.”
The pose seeks to catch the model somewhere between where she thought she was supposed to be and where she thinks she is supposed to be.
The model’s bearing, in which no degree of expectation rests, makes the waiting in my own body fluoresce. The three-second delay. Last night I played pool at Vixen with an Irish snookerer. He wasn’t playing his best but he still had lots of fancy angles, or fancy English. In every ball sport, you stay down on the shot until you’re done. Miss, do you mind if I tell you something? You’re too high on the cue. Yes, I thought, as I watched him run the rack, Sight lower along the cue. That sounds really good. And I sank his sincere suggestion just off to the side of my body, in the delta inside the misregistered police outline where I stash everything I’ll do when my actual life begins.
Speak into the good ear. Breathe into the good lung. Break the good rib to keep him going a few more years. Break the bedpost so death will forget where it left off.
At first I didn’t think it was Paula. She seemed blander. But then she breathed into her back and became Paula again. With Paula there is no sense of back and front. She has a radiating regard, a 360-degree panoramic presence, like the eight eyes of the tarantula. She’s bent forward with her hands gripped on her head. On her way to that, she passed through a batter’s stance. At this, Joe asked, Are you good? O yeah, I’m a slugger, she said, her gaze trained on the far wall. Every statement she makes induces in me a nostalgia for my own 3-D life, which I suspect I have somehow forfeited. Fuck, I slept through my death again.
Ten-minute pose. Some things have been decided for me: the placement of his palm against the belly of his hamstring; the forward movement of his leg; cant of his head; torsion of spine and ribcage; how much time I’ve been given to study this arrangement. Sometimes it takes your own hand to move your leg forward. [The lead line wrapped around Buttercup’s back legs coaxing her across the paddock, how she hopped her hooves ahead with the pressure of the lead.] Where is the model trying to go that he needs a leather lead line looped around his leg? Or trying not to go? Where is he trying to stay? I told Richard, You were my guide through the underworld. He said, Where are we now?
Pinky ring. Signet. His hand drapes over the edge of the chair. Totally languid, except he’s flexing his toes on his left foot. Is this part of the pose or a reaction to the pose? A leak in the pose? The place where his thought has eddied. A reminder for himself, for us, that he’s still there though he may have disappeared into the five-minute seam that has opened in time. The ring speaks of a history. As does the path the comb made in his hair before the mirror. The powder along the crescent of his [ass], how it whitens the skin there. Eclipse. I can see him getting ready this morning, the back edge of his palm sliding talc along the seam. Preparing the body. Chalk line. Buffer. Dusting. Rogue snowfall.
The model’s head tilts up in profile toward the exhaust fan and a fly circles above. Actually, not circles – please forgive me my one-planed sight bias – a fly darts the polyhedral geometry dictated by the jeweled surface of its eyes. What I can see of her is far less than the fly, who would view her through facets even if it were standing still. Which it is not. Which she’s not. Which I’m not. The fly is long gone, and still I mention it here.
Seated pose. Stability of squared shoulders, hips, knees and feet. Dreamed this diagram: a line drawing, as in a dictionary, of a woman seated on a straight-backed chair. A double dotted line, indicating a band, starts at her pubic mound (and mound is somehow stressed) and ends at her mouth. Alongside it, a dotted arrow points up with an animated instruction: one firm swift lap of the tongue straight up the dotted line. All One Stroke, it emphasizes. Under the drawing, this brass label: PROSE.
Covering the paper in charcoal and drawing by erasing. In conflict, scour your sense of your own accountability and if still there’s something left in the other when you’re through, address that.
There’s a decorum in not looking over at the person’s page next to you, unless invited. But all morning l can listen to Bob seeing. I don’t have to look at the drawing to see how his line lets us see the model with the same kindness he does. The exhalations of the man behind me deepen as if he’s falling asleep. Steve looks up from his ink wash, and over at me, his expression tender and inquisitive, as if he is the dozer’s parent – and with a note of amusement, as if he’s the dozer’s child. I’m conscious of the sound of writing being different from the sound of drawing. Bob said, Let the drawing be as familiar as signing your name. I’m thinking of the idea of the line as record. Report. My line so far with this model has been very tentative. A report of almost nothing. I feel myself wanting to skim energy from the model. Waiting for a good song. At some point, you just have to move.
Today’s timekeeper is Hale. He goes by his last name. He keeps consulting the wall clock, and for each pose, the egg timer rings a solid minute before he calls time. It rings, then it ticks a bit longer as it winds down, and then stops ticking. Hale doesn’t hear well, Violet explains. The person in charge of time can’t hear the bell. He does sense unerringly when the timer stops ticking. Each time, the bell rings, then about a minute later, he calls, Time. Now another reclining pose. On her stomach, ankles crossed. Now the bell again. He turns toward it, but only to get his chamois. Another minute passes, and Time! Now a ten. Seated. The model’s cell phone rings. The most grievous model gaffe is to puncture the timeless agreement of the pose. But now suddenly the pose is interesting. Avalokiteshvara, in the God realm, holding out a clock as a remedy. Blake: Eternity is in love with the productions of time. She breaks the pose to turn off her phone. The timer rings again. Not a budge from our timekeeper. We’ve all learned this system, foiling the insistent Pavlovian response to a bell. We wait for the timer to run itself down. The absence of the ticking is what we listen for. The bell means nothing.
White pencil on white paper. The kestrel can spot a green grasshopper in green grass from sixty feet. Three-point perspective, from above. I’m seeing the model’s nose in three-point perspective from below. One-point perspective: all the lines of my attention extend back from wherever I am in the city to M’s apartment on Franklin, the vanishing point.
This morning M was playing with his sleeve, pulling it up over his shoulder. I survived the whole spectacle, the effort of the cloth, how it stretched as it cleared the crest of his muscle, by turning my head a few degrees to the right. Maybe I need to make a viewer, a cardboard rectangle I can prick with a pin and see him only as a shadow on a white card. What if I didn’t have to shield myself from any degree of his beauty? What if I could just feel want without it then posing a problem?
The Parable of Peter’s shirt. One August afternoon, Peter arrived for lunch on the Tofu a Go-Go patio, wearing an excellent t-shirt, which, for the duration of our lunch, I coveted. Water on three sides of the spiral of land on which this patio was situated cast onto Peter’s shirt a pinkish light. I struggled to hear Peter through the din wanting his shirt created. I think a large capital L ran the length of his chest, but it doesn’t even matter; that was two summers ago. It remains a little grain; even now I can feel a rising of desire for it without remembering what it was.
The mouth. The black box. The model moves his lips as if he wants to speak. This exhalation will not contain anything we recognize as language. But the orbicularis oris, with its interlacing strata of fibers, practices forming around breath. Something just before speech. Moon jelly, almost shy of form. Early this morning, lying in bed, hearing a person on the deck stairs breathing, trying to turn my head, exhaling, trying to say Hello, but only managing hell, or only the [h], only the friction against my velar ridge. H, the breathing beginning of the [h], wanting to turn my head but it was weighted down. And then snapping out from under the hold, turning my head, watching the world of the dream dissolve, so that I could no longer see outside and around the corner to the stairway. It took a millisecond longer for the breathing on the stairs to stop. The tortillon-blurred dream edge. Leonardo, The Head of the Virgin, sfumato, in the manner of smoke.
I never tire of traveling over Paul’s surfaces, following the skin of his inner wrist down into his sleeve, where he becomes clothed. Looking at him all morning becomes a reasonable proposition. What else is there to do but linger at his throat, the throat housing that voice? His almost mineral austerity, and still so much warmth. The ostensible tension of that. I can feel the pressure between his hands when they’re not touching. Tapas. If I walk into a room and he’s there, my eye will go directly to him. We select what, within what we see, we want, or need, to see. Encountering any swath of sound on the street, we have a genius for sorting out what we need to hear from what’s there. This is why speech recognition is trickier than speech synthesis. At Bell Labs, the voice response system is learning to recognize “cold anger” in the calls to tech support. When the customer sharply punctuates her phone number—Six. Two. Six. Five. Two. Eight. Four—the system trips the call to a living operator. This morning Christine said to me, Can you come help me find that book now? I paused for a beat. And she said, Why don’t you come get me at a time that works for you.
The drawing wants to lay down in lines the complex of perception. What if we all just looked for three hours? Didn’t move a pencil. Just became, each one of us, a reservoir of regard. And then, we return to the street, not with pencils, but with our hands empty, open, ready, our—our what?—I don’t want to name it—vow—whatever it is that overflows—overflowing.
During the break, Ellie stands facing the wall, scanning The Banner wearing only her rabbit-fur jacket. There’s something about the nudity continuing through the break that exhausts people, like falling asleep with the light on. When the model puts on her robe for the break, it’s not only for the model’s comfort. The fur jacket ending just above the tan lines from her string bikini creates a zone of attention that peripherally pulls people from the conversations they’re trying to have, and causes them to look into their beverages as they talk, rather than risk looking in Ellie’s direction. She takes off her jacket and resumes the pose. It is as if a hot fan has been turned off. Everyone resumes drawing. And Ellie starts to sing.
The model’s fist pushes against his thigh. He’s working at something. From the woodshop next door, hammering, and Bob and Selina’s grandson’s hamsters stir in their cage. I want a white stripe down my chest like Orble. Which means I want fur. Which I do, and to walk on four legs, especially when going up a hill.
Now what? A nude man crouches on a quilt in front of me. His body is moving through its paces, joining the carbon cycle, doing his part for the plants. As is mine. We have these forms people recognize us in. We show up in a body and someone says, There you are. The other day, John appeared at my door and almost sang, There you are, as if I’d been missing.
To hold the pose all morning is to feel its decay. You take a break and someone remarks, Your arm was higher. Then he comes and touches your wrist delicately—with two fingers, as if conducting a séance—and asks, raising the arm, Do you mind if I move your arm? When Hanneline placed her pencil on my sternum and then lightly, in illustration of a point, drew a line down from my clavicle to the peak of my rib cage, I did not mind. I can feel the line even now, the pencil, in her hand, torching the follicles.
The model is lying on her back with her legs slung over to the right and her head turned to the left. I can feel the release of it, the opening of the chest, the twist of the spine, the stretch along the side. Haptic knowledge. How does the drawing record that knowledge? What are the traces of subjective experience? Yesterday, when we did handstands against the wall in yoga, I loved pitching forward onto my hands, the feel of my legs balancing above my hips, the exchange of weight, inverting the usual traffic of blood and gravity. All day I kept replaying that action in my mind. All that was left was actually to do the handstand right there on Fifth Avenue. Now my hand is on Louie’s head. Dog of miraculous comebacks. In my hand, all the dogs’ heads I’ve held. Sweet tilt of his face. Maybe Selina can tell the neighbors he would have fewer problems if he weren’t so good at living. Now he’s pushing the full weight of his will into me. Right under my hand, what keeps him alive. Petting Louie has become my drawing.
Once a week, the PEN Poetry Series publishes work by emerging and established writers from coast to coast. Subscribe to the Poetry Series mailing list and have poems delivered to your e-mail as soon as they’re published (no spam, no news, just poems).