American Master

Though his paintings hang famously
in the world’s galleries and museums
and though critics elaborate in The New Yorker
and biographies, textbooks, and classrooms,
no one can remember a single painting they’ve seen
by de Kooning. It’s enough to spell his name,
we think, enough to know we’ve seen those works.

We swear we have, and we’ve a good memory
for art, can quote lines of modernist poets,
I would like to go there and fall into those flowers
of Chaucer, of Herrick, Clifton and Millay,
it is hard to remain human
can describe for you any number of Van Gogh,
(pronounce the name with “ock,” Van Gogh),
recall the precise fruit renderings of Merriam,
horned insects crawling dissected bananas,
sketch copies of Mondrian, Modigliani
or imitate the colors of Kahlo, Gaudi, Picasso.
For key artists, we can even recite the periods,
parasols or darkness, the blue of a washed sky,

and yet not one of us recalls a single painting
by de Kooning. We wish we could, feel badly
for him, singled out among all artists. Sad,
it’s not quite like thinking of Milton, Rukeyser,
or Harte, someone you know you should know—
Landseer, Frankenthaller, or one of the fauves—
and have simply neglected to adequately study.

No, we haven’t kept a glimmer of de Kooning, just
dark brown punctuated by yellow lines,
memory ruined as an overexposed photograph.