Sweet Gum

Angie Estes


sputniks hail the autumn lawn                         while stars litter the sky             without a word, although birds still steer by the pinups of the gods,                         constellations wearing nothing             but seams. The ideogram sun seen in the trees                         becomes east, and we keep asterisks             in the margin of the page, buttons on a coat we might open                         or close, as if my mother was wrong             when she said memories are kind of hard                         to forget. In winter they turn             white like dandelions, da Vinci’s perfect human body cartwheeling                         down the page with just one breath,             which is why Dali had to invent the Aphrodisiac Jacket, black                          smoking jacket studded with shot glasses             filled with crème de menthe so that passersby could                         take a drink: it’s the kind of coat             the damned might wear at the bottom of Hell,                         where it’s always             winter and the eye sockets of upturned faces become small cups                         in which their tears             freeze. Leonardo finally believed that because the eye does not                         truly know the edge             of any body, terror and desire are likely to be seen in the black chalk                         of sfumato—like the sway of a sauce             when it’s finished with butter, or you in your scarves’                         dark varnish. It’s what kept             the damned from heaven: of all the sins, the hardest                         to give up was the memory             of sin.

Fig. 1 Leonardo da Vinci, The Vitruvian Man, c. 1492, pen and brown ink, brush and brown wash over metalpoint on paper, 13 9/16 x 9 5/9 cm, inv. no 228, Accademia, Venice. (Scala / Art Resource, NY).