Here is an empty chair, facing hers.
You may sit in it.
Come, take your seat.
Gorge upon the violence of her vermillion dress,
the snaking seduction of her long, black tress.
Austere pale skin. Clear brown eyes.
Settle on her eyes.
Realize: She is awake.
Consciousness cannot be faked.
Soon you will be wondering
if you are, too: Awake, awakening,
awakened. You will know that you are,
too, if you are capable.
If not, you’ll stay only a short time,
and move on, shrugging.
But if you are not the sort
to complain, knee-jerk, of performance art,
you will feel a nest—the intricate twigs
and eggs crackling—in your chest,
feel the hatchling notions,
the wings of emotions, the hungry-beaked ideas,
the mother’s return with a warm worm.
You will open your own small beak
and squawk for your morsel, downing it
whole. You may laugh.
You may squint against tears,
hold a thick sob in your throat, or cry.
You may wrestle with the observable—
the comportment of your face muscles,
your posture, what you give away
or what you think you keep
by shifting in your seat,
controlling your breathing,
managing your expressions
and the thoughts that you think
might be thought to express them.
You will begin to consider the passing of time,
the possibility of composure under silent pressure,
what is artifice, what composed, the composer.
Your mind will reach out for words
as though they are suspended
in the space between your chair and hers.
Imperturbable. Placid. Tranquil.
Implacable. Compassionate. Impregnable.
Porous. Perfervid. Formidable. Waxen.
Perhaps: vixen. Words will plump
and drop like ripe fruits falling to the floor
between your chairs. You’ll smell their smattered pulp,
see the glistening of their juicy guts,
oscillate between what’s remembered
and what’s forgot,
all the connections tying knots.
She may remind you of your mother,
her shiny hair. Or your father,
the way he would just sit there,
saying nothing. Or your lover,
her direct gaze. Or your brother,
who you haven’t heard from in years.
Things may become dislodged.
A bird may suddenly mature, fly away.
You will begin to wonder how long you should stay,
when you should leave, how long it’s been,
whether something was supposed to have happened.
You may think it already has
or that it won’t
or that it did, but you missed it.
You’ll know you can’t get it
wrong. Or right.
You’ll feel lost with your feet planted.
You’ll depart. Or you’ll wait
until something unidentifiable in you
gives you a permission.
You’ll feel the glimmer of humanity
interspersed with sparks of insanity.
Such is the reduction
of person to person.
Without speech, without rule,
absent the sacred, all ritual, and profanity.
She is real, not representational,
not an artifact, not mere concept,
not abstract. The artist is present.
Note on the Poem
This poem comments on the performance art piece by the eponymous artist, which was presented in 2010 at MOMA in New York. Although I was not able to attend, I was fascinated by the piece, which was chronicled by photographers and journalists. The performance itself was collaborative in a provocatively minimalist way (strangers sat opposite the silent Ms. Abramovic for as long as they liked, hour after hour, day after day, week after week), and, in a sense perhaps attenuated, my poem is an extension of it, as I imaginatively observe the scene of (non-)interaction.