TO FAIL AND FAIL AND STILL GO ON
Sunrise. Tight roads
hew to a line
of Sitka. Gatekeepers, gray scaffold.
Agnes Martin burned her paintings.
For twenty years, she painted and for twenty years
she made them
ash. Someone in the kitchen called this ambition.
Tonight, we build a fire.
Sit on wooden chairs, a wire bench.
Where a mouth might enter
one solitude follows another, ready to loosen.
A man smokes a cigar: fingers the fume.
In the pit, flames bend
and funnel. I say very little, watch the red
sparks spit. Bright scatterings.
What if ambition is stopping? How immediate
it feels to scent the air.
When minced by dark all those taut months
of exhaustions she had
to align what was falling
between. Vulnerable artist after those clanging
years wanted only
to render content in parts put long
as her hand. Forth, back
with the line to wrap
to the stillest nesting. She wanted
to return her mind through restraint. The self
couldn’t carry a thousand
windows, but soft
graphite could write a proximal better.
She wanted to praise the well
of repetition. Say grace
to the everyday. She was drawing a cure.
AGNES REPEATED WHAT HURT
She had finally begun
troubling the straws of her body to observe
what she favored as refuge. The first voice told her
she was lucky. The second was
She made a choice
to wash to faint traces.
Nothing is bare if the utter inside
has substance. Look—
paper birch branches collide in wind,
the cold points straight forward.
-from An Eye in Each Square (River River Books), selected by Assistant Editor, Karen Carr
Lauren Camp is a 2023 Academy of American Poets Laureate fellow and the author of seven books, most recently An Eye in Each Square (River River Books) and Worn Smooth between Devourings (NYQ Books). Honors include the Dorset Prize and finalist citations for the Arab American Book Award, Housatonic Book Award and Adrienne Rich Award for Poetry. Her poems have been translated into Mandarin, Turkish, Spanish, French, and Arabic, and have recently appeared in Missouri Review, Poem-a-Day and Mid-American Review. She currently serves as Poet Laureate of New Mexico.