New Internationalist

The Museum-going Cannibal

The Museum-going Cannibal

Upright specimen, looking to be fine-tuned
on weekends by the civilizing influence of beauty,
standing still and reflecting in the refracted light
of another’s encounter with the sublime.

All polite smiles and hushed appreciation,
sidling up to some mounted painting and tilting
its head to sip and savor the brushstrokes, yet
downright vicious throughout the week.

Hankering after a bit of meat and blood
in the shape of a live woman or a dead man.
Never mind that they know them or not,
at times, any old body warm or cold will do.

What a mixed bag of bones: when not frenzied
and teetering at the abyss of some bestial appetite,
turning around and donating blood to unknowns:
as charitable and vulnerable as a winged thing.

***

This poem was conceived in response to a strong and disturbing Francis Bacon: A Centenary Retrospective. It was also my first iPhone poem, finger-typed on my phone since I had to leave my bag at New York Met’s reception.

As those familiar with Bacon know, his work is a pretty damning verdict of the human condition, featuring nightmarish unravelings of violence and pain. But staggering throughout the museum halls for a few hours, assaulted by so much powerfully rendered unpleasantness, I also began to meditate on the deep contradictions inherent in human nature.

On one hand, there were these horrible paintings doubling up as giant distorting mirrors and, on the other hand, these deeply affecting and endearingly cultured museum-goers, straining to understand or recognize themselves in these works of art.

Hence, the hissing menace in this poem, war/bloodlust, versus the sublime, art/charity. While this is not an overtly political poem, as an Egyptian currently based in the US, it is nearly impossible for me not to be caught up in the fever of our Arab Spring. Obviously, much has already been achieved that is inspiring the world over.

But, at the same time, again because of the complexity of human nature and indeterminacy of politics, it’s far from certain which way things will go. Poetry, the will to create it and the act of reading it, I regard to be edifying and it is my hope that it may also remind us of our better angels: Peace, Justice, Liberty.

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