Saturday, April 9, 2016

The Butcher Boy, a poem by Tim Keane

Chaim Soutine, The Butcher Boy, 1919/1920
after Chaim Soutine

Soutine's over-stretched coating, casual flexibility even in a dense slathering. Living, ugly, wholly, humbly, skin. Nothing beneath the seen. Nothing desolate about the finite. No soul to render visible. Viscous, oil, paint. This kid, butcher, boy, a vigilant, rubicund carcass. Flesh twines, enfolding other skin. Existence, baroque as a flower and compact as a face.  The workaday gaze, the simian gawk. Troubled, rapt. A break before a hidden blade gets back to work again. Butchering. The stony forehead, somehow supple, precipitous, like a melody's penultimate note. The pursed mouth clenched on young, unspoken memories, half-intuited, half-regretted, and the thin lips, still, sealed on all the unsaid could unleash. Adolescence, not quite full but not quite dormant, stirring, brooding. Toiled. Shaping paint as if it were meat. Rainbow from bone. Pink and violet seed blooms within the face. Youth's fever, sharpened by strain. Blue and green specks above the eyes like sparks, windows to ill-formed fantasies. The coolly layered pinks surge, and melt, liquefying incidence.  A tint of magma, flame-to-flesh. Flushed, alert. Having suspended brutality, the figure, like the hands, furtive, skilled, limber, scrubbed. Patient. Sunlit glare even in the blood-hued dinge. The neck is amber, tricked by white. The slender-framed stoop makes a landslide of manifold reds. Heady crenellations, in lapels and jacket folds, a droll afternoon, a body distended by anxiety's subtle spasms. Elegant, taxed, weary. The blood-drenched grind. The shoulder's vertical mass, orange squibs. Overlain whites and greys coalescing in a whirl. And the seer's contingency extends to his ­—portrait as mirror—our anomalous birth, our individuated finish.

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Tim Keane is the author of the poetry collection Alphabets of Elsewhere (Cinnamon Press). His award-winning writing has appeared in Modern Painters, Shenandoah, Denver Quarterly, Alaska Quarterly Review, The Reader (UK) and numerous other publications. He teaches writing and European literature at BMCC, CUNY, in lower Manhattan.  web site:

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