John Estes

By intuition alone can man love and know either woman or the world,
and by intuition alone can he bring forth again images of magic awareness which we call art.

For $2 paid to New Mexico’s last living
witness to his town square
(she works behind the desk of the Hotel La Fonda in Taos
and will reluctantly chronicle
Lorenzo’s pale-faced rages, how he’d knock
Frieda in the dirt for smoking)
admission to his unexpurgated gallery
and the privilege
of ruminating
on canvas after canvas of
plump asses
fat and loafy
body upon body
upon trees upon beasts
the realism of a father’s hand instinctively pressed
against a wife’s fleshy breast as child looks
blithely on is mine.

Whether artistic merit (if any)
can transfigure
foreplay with a goat
the washing and kissing
           the raping and masturbating
that phallic monument
seen on a high hill through an open window
or elevate
groping and devouring
to ravishment to nourishment
to religious devotion
all as worship
as male domination
           as spirit-engrossed
remains the bright particular corpse
the exhibit proposes to buy.

All which (probably) depends on whether
—as he claims—
sheer sensuality purifies and quickens the mind,
whether art is even the real
nature of the enigma
—the root and quick of any darkness—
or just a collateral distraction.
When any curved line can suggest the feminine principle
bending prosaically toward rebirth,
when endless circle after circle of holy disgust
sputters to a halt
at the horny feet of biography,
we fumble, relativists in search of the original cold dark state,
backward toward resolution—

As a matter of conscience
Frieda would rage
           and find strange men to bang and with vengeance
be made whole.

John Estes lives with his family in Canton, Ohio, where he directs the creative writing program at Malone University. Recent poems have appeared in Tin House, New Orleans Review, Southern Review, Iron Horse, and AGNI, and he is the author of Kingdom Come (C&R Press, 2011) and two chapbooks: Breakfast with Blake at the Laocoön (Finishing Line Press, 2007) and Swerve (Poetry Society of America, 2009), which won a National Chapbook Fellowship.

“When I think about the front porches in my life, most of them are associated with women I’ve loved. Here is one, a site of initiation, with a girl sticking her tongue down my throat; here is one, in Ohio, holding a sight for insecure eyes as I roll into town for a visit; here—wait, that’s a balcony—; here is a much-regretted break-up scene (can we move along?); here is one, a stoop really, that frames a crying mother and child as I drive away; and here, archetype of them all, my grandmother’s, the chains of a chipping mint-green swing creaking its slow creak outside a silent house.”