The Brooklyn Rail

OCT 2022

All Issues
OCT 2022 Issue


Step Inside Van Gogh

Night, for $65, will froth and flow,
and shapes between the orbiting clouds
intensify their indigo while doleful

chipper Imogen Heap cools the moonlike
fever of the stars in ambient warble—
the sound’s the shake between you and me.

A foothill village: Lifted by its glow.
The tree’s a knife. It’s not a flame.
That’s not Saint-Rémy. It’s in your head.

Immersive spectacle, take me in, take
from me my disease-and-sorrow dream.
“But Bosch immersive might be fun,”

you, riffing, say, and we begin to joke
of pokerings in orifices, of bodies
stretched on racks like hospital beds.

Never mind I like the godlike feeling
I get peering in on all that suffering
contained in smallish frames

in smallish galleries, a scale
to reiterate proportion and intensity,
never mind I love looking, like deities,

at what humans do, eschewing intervention.
Imagine what spectacle could, with Kahlo,
cause, per ad copy, to “come to life”

(this is really true). Ice pick
they got Trotsky with? Impalement
by trolley bar? The limping legs,

that brow. Or a version, augmented
of What I Saw in the Water: Enter
this scenario between her thighs

as if she’s giving birth to you,
lacquered toes propped on tub slab,
stale water into which she farts

scenes of autobio: skyscraper—
the Empire State—burning inside
a volcano. Conch shell full

of bullet holes, woman strangled
with a rope, blood that drips
from bathtub plug and, curling,

caresses hallux, joins the water.
No, put her away, her disorder,
possibility and pain: Give, give me

Goya’s blackwork instead to walk in,
that I may drown with dog in quicksand
while an old man starves with soup,

while crones, circled for a sacrifice,
quail before the goatgod, and Saturn
eats my head. Else battles, redemption

(no such thing), else rebellion
in the streets. A man hangs from a tree:
dead sticks. Life:

Cast it off! A rifle blooms with death.
Only $65! To sever from me remembrance
of kisses and embraces. Let me live far

from fading shadow of my dead,
stupidity, dull and bright,
a long way from my ombre dread.

New Deal Photography1

      1. “Pie Town, New Mexico, October 1940”: Russell Lee

Against plywood
papered to halt
wind through the chinks
all five kids
have the same hair
puffed above jug ears
clothes faded floral
prints on girls pink
or graying white with
boys decked in patterns
suggesting life forms
single cell or piscine.
Blondies. Ruddy.
Plastic over the bible verse
framed the light shows
not what it says
just the wrinkles
in the wrap
above the head of Father.
A hacksaw’s hung on the wall.
Mother carries all
worries of the family
you can see it
in a droop and bulge
in the one jowl. Father’s
intelligent nearly
literate also easy-going
to judge by his face.
On his lap the youngest.
It’s Father will go out back
blow his own head off
with his shotgun
should things get desperate
but it’s oldest sister
despite coaxed curls
and alert look
who’s most doomed
to grinding responsibility—
upward mobility?
saves it for her sibs.

      2. “Turkeys on Schoenfeld farm, Sheridan County Kansas, August 1939”: Russell Lee

Stuck for months,
virus 2020,
not sure of fall jobs
or any future jobs,
husband in his last sickness,
people rising up
all over the country,
president turning the military
on his own citizens,
I can’t stop looking at a small
silver gray photo
of dozens of turkeys
in a dense mass
at a hardship dustbowl farm,
some birds leaving
some joining the rafter,
a plump whorl
their testicular wattles
the whitest tonality
in the graduated grays.
Some worker’s
recent grainshower salts
the hardtack ground
they peck by pecking
their shadows that
blur at the edges
to other shadows
of other pecking turkeys.

      3. “Cotton pickers, Pulaski County, Arkansas, October, 1935”: Ben Shahn

In which skin—
a face in profile, an arm,
a back—calligraphy impressed on
paler ground.
Sparse the cotton.
(Denser at the top like
a density of stars
in a country
with lights turned out).
Bent the backs.
Their bodies
near pure composition.
And the.
Google the. Ok.
2-3$ for 100 pounds picked.
Long sacks they’ve
just begun to fill.
In the book
New Deal Photography
some pictures
show some subjects
to be individuals, others
as arrangements
of volumes. As in
“Tule Lake Internment Camp,”
1942: Russell Lee
The soft grays of men
bowed among the furrows,
like musical notes
installed in a stave,
trapped by the earth,
horizon a clamp
and barrier.

      4. “Children of destitute Ozark mountaineer.
            Arkansas, October, 1935”: Ben Shahn, who
            said “I felt completely in harmony with the

A quite small boy
with two kittens
cuddled to his overall
bib. The photo ends
at the rise of his cheeks,
eyes cropped. It’s as if
he’s sightless, just a hug
of kittens and a grimace.
But there’s the shapely
tangle of boy arms,
tails, and holes
in clothes that talk
almost as eyes talk
and there’s his
lovely mouth. The way
he holds the cats suggests
he’s no bully. Four
other eyes: little sister’s—
solemn, dull,
a matter of genetics
or of malnourishment—
and her raddled doll’s
demented ones. A hint of hill
far back suggesting breath
and elsewhere, a surround
they’re hemmed from.
Tree stump. Shack.
The leaves of oak.
Some ground. Rotten
clothes the kids don’t
care they wear.

      5. “Family with supplies in wagon ready to leave for the farm, Saturday
                    1939: Russell Lee

A moment of change
is a moment of individuation:
woman and four kids
as if in a post-impressionist painting
look five different directions,
the woman’s body strong,
dose of pale blossoms
on her blouse,
face a shattering
protection spell,
the youngest boy
cherubic, intelligent,
watching … backfiring
car? another
child’s game?
leans on a grain sack,
arms dangling;
the eldest two comely,
well-groomed and spiffy,
pubescing into displeased
and permanent unsoftening.
But the middle child
turns his head
to look over his shoulder
like Vermeer’s
pearl earring girl,
that twist and blur,
his cowlick a frizzed tiara.
I think there’s chaos in him,
it makes them all less
symbolic, binds them
well together.

      6. “A very blue eagle”: Dorothea Lange, 1936

Blue eagle—
symbol of Roosevelt’s
not the venal
gun gang, but
the Recovery Act—
had one claw on a widget,
other shot lightning,
re-electrifying all the land!
In Lange’s photo,
a real eagle, golden
by breed, ensilvered
by photography, wings split
to harm,
bowed head
on the starred wire,
talons dangling, dry
dead and spreading land…

Bible Study

At the Y, day before Thanksgiving, two burly men, overweight but not too, 60 or so, a little arthritic, galumph along on adjacent treadmills, arguing about the Bible. They bellow cordially, joshing each other. I think it’s about whether you can be a Christian and drink alcohol because the one guy says “I’m going to go in there and face the altar and then I’m going to go back out and take a drink?” and the other guy says something unintelligible but clearly derisive around the toothpick he’s got on the corner of his lip, and the first guy stands on the sides of the treadmill, pausing as it runs along between his feet, to make his point: “Read Corinthians on the drunken fool,” he says, then steps back on the moving treadmill, at which point the gorgeous young woman behind them on the rowing machine, sweat silvering her muscular shoulders, bits of hair popping every which way out of her pigtails, says coolly, “Gentlemen, the Bible is full of contradictions. There’s no point arguing.” Pause, then the men carry on, treadmill-walking and arguing, same subject, till about 10 minutes later, when they abruptly switch the subject, with no shift in urgency or pace, to football.


Daisy Fried

Daisy Fried's fourth book, The Year the City Emptied, adaptations from Baudelaire, came out in 2022. She is a member of the faculty of the Warren Wilson College MFA Program for Writers and lives in Philadelphia.


The Brooklyn Rail

OCT 2022

All Issues