[Poetry] — Adam Tavel

No. 6 (Violet, Green, and Red)
Rothko, 1951

because the land is blood

(concede we make it bleed)

our gaze makes this a shore

(your eyes I’ll never keep)

an algaed lake of jade

(untamed you beaming twirl)

too sore to swim we float

(our mouths bloom up the rafts)

beneath a sky unsplashed

(your arms in droplets gowned)

we drift like breeze-blown nests

(whose hatchlings saved the storm)

outside the weight of names

(each summer glints its grail)

your lips a crimson sand

(two shores that shape the sun)

so time forgets us still

(without these rafts we drown)


On a Photograph of Archeologist Howard Carter, 1924

He peers his Christmas morning face
inside the monumental linteled door
that hides the second shrine for Tut, a boy
who failed in everything but death. One lamp
alights the scene: hieroglyph reliefs,
a dig team’s hasty bracing, the slack
of wires worming down the limestone wall.
Crouched low and leaning in, all brow and chin,
Carter gazes at a thousand shadow treasures
he’ll loot to catalog in haughty solitude
until the war, until his cancer comes.
Vaunt chariots. Gilt chalices inscribed
with verse. And statues of the teenage king
whose mask will take a crowbar to ascend.


Figures on a Beach
J. M. W. Turner, c. 1840 – 1845

their bodies blown parentheses
wind-whipped atop the whitened dunes
in snow or heat it’s hard to tell
the season of their suffering
but wind: it makes small sails of rags
these six with billowed sleeves all wear
forever in unfinishing
among the jagged fencing downed
by storm and salt in monochrome
of feathered brushwork where the sand
gusts through its split posts splintering
to rot: the world is spilled champagne
that Turner swirls and storyless
we dream our own of immigrants
or laborers these hungers lost
who trek the landscape destitute
a landscape that the gallery
regards as sketch as misplaced whim
among the vast bequest too near
the painter’s death for us to date


Adam Tavel (USA) is the author of four books of poetry, including the forthcoming Sum Ledger (Measure Press, 2021). His most recent collection, Catafalque, won the Richard Wilbur Award (University of Evansville Press, 2018). In the UK, his poems have appeared in Oxford Poetry, New Welsh Review, The Manchester Review, The Nottingham Review, and Crannóg, among others. You can find him online at http://adamtavel.com/ and on Twitter at @fawnabyss.