KYSO Flash
Knock-Your-Socks-Off Art and Literature
Issue 12: Summer 2019
Ekphrastic Poem: 200 words [R]


by Devon Balwit

Twenty times the artist revisited the wreckage of his face 
the way I do certain photographs—the dead stacked like 
cordwood at Buchenwald, the naked girl running from 
napalm at Trang Bang, the suited man plummeting on 9/11. 
These people knew death first hand, were its messengers. 
Like Terence, Albright claims through his blasted faces: 
Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto. “Nothing 
human is alien to me—even if I have become an alien 
to myself.” I bow to Albright’s bravery. I stagger 
when I face my corruption in the mirror—my waist giving 
out like rotten elastic, my skin creping, my once thick hair 
a razed field. Each of his portraits catalogues the horror anew—
age spots, puffiness, wrinkles, balding, fear, rheumy eyes. 
Each bellows: I am staring down the worst of it and still, 
Homo Faber, I create. In a world that worships youth, 
what is more gruesome than an old woman—unsexed, 
blown? Yet, I would revisit my demise in endless variation, 
even as he did until his final days, reduced and reduced 
until all that remained were his fierce eyes. Perhaps, like God, 
I will distill to a single word, my own yod-hey-vav-hey.

—Published previously in Balwit’s collection Motes at Play in the Halls of Light (Kelsay Books, Aldrich Press, 2017); appears here with permission from the poet.

Publisher’s Notes:

1. This poem is written after Ivan Albright’s self-portraits from the final three years of his life, one of which appears in this article: Ivan Albright’s ‘Seductive and Repellent’ Art Draws Viewers In (Chicago Magazine, 2 May 2018).

See also Self-Portrait 1982 at WikiArt:

WikiArt includes 78 of Albright’s artworks here:

2. Devon Balwit’s essay Ivan Albright, to Whom I Keep Returning appears in The Ekphrastic Review (29 October 2016).

3. This issue of KYSO Flash includes An Interview With Devon Balwit by Jon Riccio, republished here in its entirety. At just under 3500 words, it’s a bit longer than flash—but engrossing and well worth the read.

As Balwit tells Riccio, “Science, Art, Literature, and Philosophy provide the major currents of my poetic inspiration,” and she provides examples of books and writers that have sparked her imagination. Among other topics, their discussion also ranges from how hard language must work in the pressure cooker of the prose poem, to writing as a way to deal with pain both physical and psychic, to Balwit’s fascination with ekphrastic poetry.

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