“I confess to find
Myself astonished by the outskirts of things:”
—Sarah Hannah, from Cassetta Frame (Italy, circa 1600)
At first there were these little strips of wood,
then larger pieces, connected pieces—
I dislocated my jaw a few times—
large stretches of painted chamfered poplar
and when that picture frame was done—no rest—
my distorted mouth would open wider
for a rococo niello frame.
I wondered if I had swallowed some strange
emetic. For hours each day I retched
increasingly complicated pieces
carved gilded painted molded all designed,
or so it would appear, for some canvas
or photograph or painted panel.
(I began to feel incomplete.)
What was the meaning of this, this vomit,
that drove me away from my family
with my strange gurgling sounds of agony
and interrupted my work with visits
to my doctor, who, despite this piece
of walnut extruding from my
mouth, could find nothing wrong with me?
Perhaps my mouth became an artisan—
a form of glandular psychosis—
with dreams and ambitions and emotions
all unto its own, separated.
What could I tell the rest of me?
“Let’s stick together boys. The mouth
will come around. He’ll come around.”
But without my mouth to echo my speech—
strange how resonance adds authority—
parts of my body deserted me.
My left leg became a dancer,
jumping about in odd rhythms
and at odd times of day. My ears,
annoyed with my mouth, stopped listening.
Lame, deaf, and muted—spewing brushed alum-
inum with gold inlay—and writhing,
I had long lost what dignity
I may have thought I might have had.
I scolded my mouth, little good
that it would do: “It’s all your fault.
Why not make art? Why only frames?”
But we are all caught by the edges—
the edges between life and death,
hatred and desire, reason
and insanity, between breaths,
longing, friendships, loss, and heartache.
The border is where my heart gasps
and I redefine who I am.
I dance more often now, listen
more acutely, and speak more freely,
no longer hindered by spewed wood
(however beautifully ornate).
The absurdity of it all
confounds me. I should learn to paint,
if only to show off these frames.