Title: Museum Pieces

Author: Chris Price

In: Sport 40: 2012

Publication details: Fergus Barrowman, 2014, Wellington

Part of: Sport

Keywords: Verse Literature

Conditions of use



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Sport 40: 2012

Museum Pieces

page 353

Museum Pieces


21 April: Museum of Natural History, Oxford

Feathers, bones, beaks and feet

In the drawer’s forest-scented
darkness I lie on my back.
An impossible posture—
claws grip dead air
where no branch could be,
head thrown back beyond
the reach of song.

According to inheritance
I should have been
an evergreen bird;
instead I flare this rare
and fatally desirable
sun-yellow. Even so,
even here, there is reason
to be thankful. For example

the display case titled
Feathers, Bones, Beaks and Feet.
Someone out there is resurrecting
viruses from the Pleistocene.
One day surely useless beauty too
will stage its comeback:
bigger, better, cosseted,
and harbouring one vengeful
and unseen disease preserved
page 354 and nurtured for millennia
by my unforgetting half-
sisters, the harpies.


9 May: Musée d’Art Moderne et d’Art Contemporain, Nice

Haematoma of
the blood orange.

Bodies painting with
International Klein Blue.

A calligraphic swan dive
towards oblivion

is not something to desire—
but if there is no exit why

not make it elegant
stop motion or

get carried away with
grim panache on

Grünewald’s motorbike,
in Geronimo’s Cadillac?

page 355                

7 June: Musée Marc Chagall, Nice

Inside the ark it was at first all white
and green. He seemed to be targeting
the churches with His fire-power;
even out here on the new
fomented sea, a self-annihilating
fury, the atom boom of light-struck spires
and temples echoing as they fell. The lack
of a gap between thunder and
lightning told Noah’s menagerie
that God was on top of them, shouting,
out of control and fit to break his own
fair universe in two. So Noah rolled
into a ball and held what was left
of his breath and the small wet
creature nearest him, a marmot,
as the ark was pushed under
into green and bruise-dark blue.
The giraffe’s puzzled face
spun past on the pivot
of its neck, and even the hippo
couldn’t tell which way was air
and up among the roiling
bubbles. No reasoning
with a creator in that state,
best make like the hedgehog
and wait for him to blow himself out
of the water. And sure enough,
after everything was good
and broken, the air did clear,
and the sky attained a glorious
stained-glass shade of blue
above the calmest
emptiest mirror ever seen
on the face of the deep.
But Noah was not, never
would again be, fooled.

page 356                

14 July: Musée du quai Branly, Paris

The mask is ironred, charblack,
its eyes outlined white
with porridge and birdshit.

I disappear when I put
it on, invisible even
to myself as I step

into firelight and voices.
Your drum may talk the rain
down from the clouds but I

am weaving the world
with these words.
Do not get in my way.

With weapon-shaped money
I will conquer my enemies.
With the cicatrice

of song I will reanimate
the dead for an army.
Do not get in my way:

I am weaving the world.
Step back from the mask or
with stone blade and spear-tip

with thirst, famine, warfare,
it will carve the lost
world on your face.

page 357                

18 July: Musée Picasso, Antibes

Song of la chouette

The bird in the hand is an owl.
The owl has the artist’s eyes.
With them across alps and
over cliffs of sleeping women

it flies, looking for fissures and
platters, chair-backs and shoulders
spotting and looking and taking
in what cowers among the boulders.

At night the small round bird
balloons to voodoo mask,
a stringless kite, no jess or trace
to draw it back—yet faithful

it returns to the hangar and the man
who recalibrates the sights; grateful
and silent, he builds le grand hibou
in black and white. One night the owl

drops the eyes in ancient Greece.
They calmly lie and see for weeks
until the bird, on another hunt,
plucks them up in its feet.

The bird holds the eyes in its claws.
The man hoods the bird in his palm.
The blind mice run at night. The owl means
no harm. The artist it darkly serves

paints under cloudless skies.
I am the owl. You are the prize.

page 358                

31 July: Chapelle Saint-Pierre, Villefranche-sur-Mer

Religion (ii)

This small stone chamber on the water is
about the size of it, and this Peter, human,
foolish, fallible. Forget the pile
of antique treasure on the Roman
hill—my religion stables only
the locals: astonished fish, and gypsies, and
two seahorses in love can take
their place amid the drawn out story
where the eyes of the pêcheurs swim upwards
in surprise as one of their number
becomes the catch of heaven. In my religion,
even ghosts of colours shed their light,
earth sun and water filter into lines
that leap skyward with the flying
fish, and as I turn to leave, two
pairs of eyes on bright green stalks
either side of the trompe l’oeil door
will give the older gods a look-in.
I see no higher than these low-
ceilinged angels, whose flaring white
sails spread above the fleet that’s sped
by human voices—the one and only
prayer, safe home, each family makes
before the loved one steps from stone
to blue, and the pêcheurs’ version:
let me walk on the glass roof
of the fishes without falling through.
As the boats come in, a glass
of sangria, blood-red and orange,
is offered on the quay. Succour
enough. The waves can have
and roll and chew over the body.
page 359                

5 August: quai Branly (ii)

In the days when we ate what we wanted to be
and appearances took us in
completely as houses

we asked the gods to visit and they came
with their animal faces, shaking
their manes of feather and fibre

and making their repeated claims
on us to honour and obey and feed
them some of us. Back then

it seemed a fair exchange, today
they give us nothing, not even
a song. We are grown thin with

not knowing what to want
to be: something swallowed stuck
in the gullet and will not move

no matter how we stamp
and clap each other
on the back and make the sounds

to call them down, they do not come.
What can we raise in their place?
The earth does not care

for our praise. Not one
face here will do the trick.
Whose hand will hook

the fishbone out? Who
can unblock the airway
between the gods and us?

page 360                

20 August: Galerie Pictural / Villa Paloma / Jardin Botanique, Monaco

Dali’s greying waxed
moustache. His high life photographed.

Starfish, Nemo, purple
resin shark—then
cacti, cave, prehistory.

Unreal city,
cleanest on the coast,
your bankers

frankly advertise
wealth management.
Death and taxes

have their ministers
here, the deep’s
contained and

on display and
Dali in his diving bell
dares you to question

his papal status
in this haven.
You can’t deface

the currency he has
already brazenly
defaced, but deep

in the dry hill
the cave retains
its answer.

page 361                

12 September: Galleria Doria Pamphilj, Rome

Pope Alexander VI prepares his benediction

The diamonds are pulverised;
the bear has had his arsenic.

The dinner guests are due
at eight. What did not work

at lunchtime will not fail
at supper. No need for the blade’s

straight talk; the stomach
is the place to set up roadblocks

to the heart. In circulation
my plan proceeds its round-

about way. I am death’s diplomat,
sugaring the inevitable with my

glittering tongue. So now the brilliant
goblet’s filled, swift passage guaranteed

to those who’ll drink my health
tonight; they shall be taken care of.