Mudlark Poster No. 127 (2015)

Suite for Basquiat and Other Poems
by John Valentine

Suite for Basquiat | The Pool Shooters at Burly Earl’s | The Sophists of Savannah
To a Nun in Perfect Solitude | Trillium | Instructions for Translating Homer

Suite for Basquiat



Better this immersion than to live untouched.
                    — Lynda Hull
So many derivatives. You knew
them well: the needle’s rough
delicatesse, flowering ecstasies,
its promise always falling back to
earth. Never a new beginning.
Never. The gravity of it all. Some
kind of grace, though, in the ruins. If
I say tonight I love you, it’s no more
pointless than the pain. No less. 
Sometimes I think I sense you in shadow,
the breath of another world. Seized,
who knew the wages, the cost of things
better than you?



The needle was your imprimatur,
flowering rush turned roseate,
spreading like testimony to your
face, and beyond. Those were the
dying days, each one a document,
signed with the fiery ink of the
spoon. Simulacrum. Only the ring
of truth. So many ways to 
authenticate. So many. You made
your own heaven. And hell. I always
wait, look upward for the moon, that 
seal, the night’s neon that burned
through your veins.



Thirty years later and I’m still
getting the lines. Tags kick
around, like you did: come and go.
Withdrawn, it says. Release-stamped,
sold: some Florida gallery. Strange how
paint can flicker, shift. But never shimmering
spirit, incandescent. Utsuroi, you called
it. How everything’s luminous, the most
beautiful, just before it’’s gone. Just at that
exact moment. Just then. I don’t have to be
hooked to feel the pain, the empty rooms.
I don’t have to be there to touch your
hand. But I am. Sitting on the floor with
your last hit, pain trailing away to some
other world. I think I’m a little in love
now. Maybe more. It’s hard to hold a
shadow. Put my arms around the past.
You knew it: everything scatters, moves
away from everything else. Everything’s
just a bit behind itself, falling behind, always
falling. Withdrawn, not even you could catch it.

The Pool Shooters at Burly Earl’s

Down to the nub. Grace of alcohol
gone to penance. Sweet consumptives.

Tangle of smoke in the air. No one
keeping score. Only Death taking

down names. The soon-to-be late
shooters. The early hours of eternity.

Closing time scatter and melt into
alleys, interstices, moons of the

neon night. Diaspora, like the whip-
crack snap of the last break, balls

clicking, flying, settling close to
nowhere, pockets still empty, the rack

broken now, the run almost over.

The Sophists of Savannah

for Borges
Rhetoricians of singularity.
Disdaining dialectic, they have

come not for logic, Socratic
beauty, the essence of all

azaleas, but for each blazing
blossom, taken slowly, one by one.

Incommensurable, the unnamed
secret names multifoliate,

magical, whispered softly
only once by the wind, then

gone. The mourners, like passing
shades, tremble in the wake of

purely and precisely the most glorious
gods that will never come again. 

To a Nun in Perfect Solitude

Reclusive, almost as if she knows
the glowing habit of desire is merely

memory, a path one cloudy day
long ago she could not take.

The dark raven she’s become.
The silent shadow. She sometimes

dreams. Her dress, crackling blue
fire. Her eyes, ravenous. That

burning communion. That vault of
heaven. Those stars, just beyond the moon.   


You are not the crown of creation. This
you speak to me without a word. Or

malice. Only root tongue and leaf laughter.
You argue with your sway, the light

encircling you like a lover. From out of
darkness you bring your bright star

and glisten. Gently, without effort. Come
now. Teach me more. How you rise on a

ladder to the sun. Words you whisper to
the wind. Hold nothing back. The mystery.

Grace. That secret journey from seed
to stem to dying light. 

Instructions for Translating Homer

Pyrotechnics, yes, the sharp cymbals of
swords, the flash of brilliant armor. Never

forget the gods, their charm, and treachery.
The sea is best. Sit down by the shore and

listen. In the restless waves the story of
mortals. Great ships attacking, wandering,

following currents home or to Hades. Courage,
betrayal: how the moon glistens on the loved

and lost alike. The rhythm of the words, fluidity,
dispassionate compassion. Nobility. Strength

of resolve in a time before evil. Follow the pace,
like dolphins in the wind. Racing, shining,

jumping now, rising to raise their heads,
as if to say, in sunlight or storm, everything eases,

everything’s beautiful. Never rush. Lose yourself
and you will find him waiting for you in a world

of water, ebbing and flowing, nothing forgotten,
nothing overlooked, the great and the small, the

ocean coming in, going out, the endless story, the
timeless tides of our lives.

John Valentine teaches philosophy at the Savannah College of Art and Design in Savannah, Georgia. His poems have appeared in various journals, including The Sewanee Review, The Midwest Quarterly, Southern Poetry Review, The Adirondack Review, and Rock Salt Plum Review. He has had five chapbooks published with Pudding House Publications and one chapbook with Big Table Publishing.

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