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Site design: Skeleton

Sample Poems by Joseph Hutchison


From "Colon in Extremis":

I
The artist sits back, brush in hand, to take
his progress in. Yes, yes . . . the Great
Discoverer arches in his twisted
bedclothes as he must have; sweat
jewels the fleshy, whiskered jaw, slicks
the tangled hair made thin by grim ambition.
Do the eyes, rolled back in anguish, catch
more than the lamplight's soiled yellow glow?
The artist dips up a bit of pigment, daubs
at the inward corner of each eye-two ticks
of white. A magic touch! For suddenly
it feels as if Colon can see beyond the wall
on which his murdered Savior hangs,
beyond the Ocean Sea; it seems his vision's
found (at last) the gold-paved streets, walls
and roofs of gold that hover, shimmer, breathe
their whorish promises-toward which Colon's
whole body stretches, every muscle clenched,
each tendon taut . . . the succubine dream
wetting his mouth with its syphilitic kiss.
The artist smiles. It works. Especially
the way the hazy vista of Castile
outside the window seems to dwarf
Colon's death-throes. The season's Spring,
but the colors are impoverished-dusty blues,
bleached siennas, a greenishness suggesting
fields of stringy ryegrass, sullen reds.
One can almost hear the ill winds
keening through the clay-tiled belfry
of the Church of San Francisco (a spire
built of grays and browns, a shadowy slash,
a hint-no more, no less). The artist, deep
in hard thought, digs in his kinked beard,
pinches up a louse (fat with his own blood)
and crushes it on the edge of his palette:
another color he'll need to work in.

III
Hold the secondary figures back,
the old man says. The artist knows it: let
the context speak, the balance (or the lack
of it). And yet Colon's two sons resist-
sly Diego, craven Fernando . . . they kneel
beside the bed and claw the sheets, groan
their ostentatious prayers. They almost wreck
the composition, almost break the heart
of their creator-they who in life created
him, they and their brutal ilk . . . the scum
who split Taino women with their pricks,
Taino heads with swords, who killed for sport
the brilliant island birds and porpoises
and island children too, who worked to death
so many slaves, clawing up their gold
from the butchered earth. Hold back? he thinks.
Would Bosch hold back? But you're not Bosch, he hears
the old man croak, laugh sharp as a crow's. Christ,
in Spain you're barely a man. Get used to it!
The bastard's gruffness springs from fear: the whores
gossip that his manhood's hoodless, bald
whether soft or hard. Circumcised,
they whisper-meaning Jew (not that they care:
at least Jews pay; the Inquisition's spies
pay with blows, with threats): the old man dreams
of sword hilts knocking at his door in the dead
of night, of being dragged off in chains.
He also covets El Picante's Basque,
who poses nude for nothing more than meals,
a jug of wine, a laugh, a breathless roll
in the grass beside the Duero. And here she is,
a fragrant silence at his shoulder, wrapped
loosely in the sheet they tangled in
last night. "Look," he tells her, points his chin.
She's in the scene as well, as old Colon's
second wife, Beatriz. Leaning close
as if to sniff the paint, she says, "I see."
She's not impressed. She's been Athena, blithe
Aphrodite, nymphs and gypsy maids-
but here she's older, faded, grim-mouthed,
staring out a window with a look
of dim confusion. "What's that in my hand?"
she says. "The will." Colon, he tells her, left
Beatriz more than wealth-an insult,
an implication that she'd sold herself
while he was plying the Ocean Sea. "He left
her there to starve," he says. She nods, then shrugs.
"Hunger and morals seldom mix." He smiles.
"The old man says he'll be a saint one day."
"We live in crazy times," she laughs and leans
against him. Always a shock-her candid warmth.
He slides his hand inside the sheet, dips
a finger into her gently, like the tip
of a brush. "I need to get to work," he says.
She lets the sheet fall, breathing, "So you do."