More of Gibbons’s poetry in our Summer 2001

Fall 2000

Winter 2000


Photo of Robert Gibbons by Joe Schuyler. All rights reserved.


This Vanishing Architecture, has just been published by Innerer Klang Press.

Lover, Is This Exile? and OF DC are still in print from InnererKlang@aol.com


New work is online at:


Linnaean Street


Recursive Angel

Slow Trains

Tatlin's Tower

His work is forthcoming in

Evergreen Review

Janus Head

and In Posse

He writes a column, "Observations," for www.niederngasse.com, an online magazine out of Switzerland

Robert Gibbons Robert Gibbons

A Delicate Subject

Delicate. A delicate subject, all the way around. So, approach cautiously. Subject, Woman. Not, subject woman. Cannot abide subjection, let alone mere objectifying.

Daughter in Paris cannot abide Manet's Olympia, “Screwed up!” she responds. I laugh. She may be objecting to the black maid, for all I know, what with her own half-black skin she labors to carry, a skin she says surprises her in front of the mirror, often. She & her sister move fast past that white flesh made of paint. Paint & the word made flesh, where I live, I live there. Now, we're in the Gauguin galleries, of the Musee D'Orsay, where they slow down a little, & start to relate more to these Tahitians than Parisiennes. Pleased to find brown flesh immortalized.

If Delphi is the navel of the world, Paris, depending on how you hold her, is breast, or sex. (The Seine is feminine.) We leave Gauguin, reluctantly, but Gauguin accompanies us for the rest of the trip, showing up in reproductions on our own hotel room walls, & making the girls feel better about carrying half-black skin through yet another white, western world. Downstairs, we seek out Courbet. We want to see the man in his work, so little difference, the artist from his work, we look for the monster who was Courbet. When I think of the giants who roamed this city, I hear their footsteps, & am dwarfed.

I am small before the studio of the artist, this allegory of painting. We are a family of four in awe of such majesty. It's really the kind of thing that is so all-encompassing, that if it weren't for courage incipient, inchoate in those hearing his footsteps, Manet, Degas, Matisse, Picasso, Ernst, Rothko, de Kooning, Rauschenberg, Basquiat, Art could have ended here. Right here! There is really nothing static here in this grand canvas. If someone is sleeping, he is dreaming. The man behind the landscape canvas the painter works on, wants to step down from the cross, of his own volition. The dogs smell the meat of men. The model longs to equal nature.

We move further along, reluctantly. I say goodbye at the far right in the painting to Baudelaire, the poet accused by Rimbaud of being too close to the artists. Rimbaud was wrong. Rimbaud, who may have filled the footsteps of his rival, Rimbaud, to have a pair of Rimbaud's shoes, to be able to hold Rimbaud's shoes, those with courage enough to write poetry had better want to hold Rimbaud's shoes. The leather tongues of Rimbaud's shoes rival the ancient soles of bog men. We move on through the blacks of Courbet. Has anyone put black to better use than Courbet, say, Picasso, Kline, Motherwell, Basquiat? We move on in the brilliant light of the blacks of Courbet.

We enter the frame of The Origin of the World.

My family disperses. This is something no one can prepare for. Granted I'd already written on it after seeing reproductions. Michael Fried's, Courbet's Realism, illustrates it, & points out that until recently the painting belonged to Jacques Lacan. (That's a provenance one should trace!) I am alone. My loves have fled, all but one, who lingers fairly near. Youngest daughter calls. I hear a noise become my name. I turn. My daughter stands motioning to me that I am blocking the view of a woman sitting on a bench taking notes, or sketching.

I'm not sure, but get the drift when I notice the woman sitting, smiling, nodding, in fact, chortling, (what an invidious cacophony!) scratching her pen on, or just above her notebook, a gesture, signaling, I am in the way. I have to be cautious here. Standing in front of L'Origine du Monde, in no one's way.

Say so. In answer to her, youngest daughter. Say for all to hear that I have come a long way to stand before the world's source, or some similar response looking one third at her, two thirds at the bossy scholar. I stand. Turn. Look. Examine. Alone, but I want to share this experience with my wife, who's disappeared, has fled from the possibility of some feminist wrangle. She's not hard to spot. Honey, please come see this? She agrees. We stand. Forget intrusive scholar. We stand, my arm around her. Other than magma, other than cell, look at the beginning of the world.

The world. We stand together before the world. She, more sensitive than I, feels the pressure of the woman taking notes or sketching behind us. Has seen enough. Tells me where I can meet her. Leaves. I turn back toward the image that once defined itself in a dream with the outrageously correct phrase, “The cunt is a cuneiform tablet.” Turning to look at her go, I see the scholar turn, blushing, away. She can't believe a woman stood arm & arm accompanying me in what she thought was her way. Before what she thought she owned? She frets, she red. She could have stood, gotten off the bench, if she wanted to see, past me.

See here. The painter ends the illusion that this is sex. There, at the truncation of splayed thighs. (This is no pipe.) The artist stops short of creating Woman's sex. At the bottom of the painting leaves the canvas free & open to swabs of paint, gestures, mixtures, tinctures, dabs, reminders that, in addition to Woman, painting is his subject. Woman is the issue of the world.