A Work Of Art

Catherine Theis

Classic, dead, rotting perfume. 
1964. Cypress trees, dare I stare
              at Roman aqueducts, 
blank-eyed statues. 
              Getting rid of the thing 
                           after it’s made. 
              Afterwards, a Negroni. 
my favorite moment. 
Is this because I’m patient?
              Or because, like Erza Pound, 
I don’t want to remember anything, 
              stuck in a tent, eating flies?

Shadows, trees, 
              single file line, 
a French farm boundary. 
              I had no idea 
you could erase the “you.”
I didn’t realize others 
              pound podiums 
              in distress of excess. 
Loyal energy,
	      I desire you, piss-smelling 
       Naples, the freedom 
to confect sweetness
              at any old time. 

How often does a work of art
       register a high bacteria count? 
                     Closed for swimming.
              Open for sunbathing.  
Just to be safe, I renewed 
              my faith, apologizing 
to no one but myself,
       swimming inside the water. 
                     I am not your answer. 
              The waves backtrack 
checking traffic. The avocado ripens
	      in time for breakfast.

Wasn’t really listening 
              until he said, 
              “Style is superficial.”
 Really? Monotone, high arch
              all the same 
                     to us ants? 
       I continued to not listen, 
the man 
who couldn’t say synonyms 
                  or facilitator 
              without a stutter. 
Felt the urn within. 
       It pulsed in my body. It shrank-
                     in alternating breaths, 
              the museum’s marble 
more dead than alive, 
       wicked, excited about ending.  

High-crested crane,
              the birds absolutely sing
louder here (a red conditioning)
       in my mother’s garden.
                     Burdock root salad,
       I could forgive 
              an inhumane act.
Over Japanese food, 
    we discussed the possibility
of humankind.
Why not, what’s the point
              of not trying?
I am its only author. 

The kids tramp in the waves.
       The kids tramp
              in the rocks, tramp
       in sideways glint sun.
When the sun’s out—
              a fellowship of others—
a bruise darkening
              on my suntanned leg.
The facts of my biography: 
              I grew up in a teepee, 
distilled moonshine 
                     from my tears,
              mailed letters 
                  from inside the rough,
                     left the matches
              at the last camp site. 
                 I get too excited 
                    starting again. 

“You gave him the best years
of your life,”
              which could have been true
if I were someone else. 
       A rompy-stomp collector
              of paint, 
a perfection of hardness. 
           I move the beach towel
              at the last minute, the pink 
of my childhood 
       in the foreground. 
                     The facts of myself
              add up to no facts. The facts 
    of others implied. 

Vigor, sexual enthusiasm, 
       white hairs 
     in private. To be touched 
like Odysseus, bathed and oiled
              after washing up 
on the beach. 
The spirit of hospitality 
                     creasing my body  
in a million folds.
       It doesn’t really matter 
except here. 
          Just the facts: 
       You’re sentimental, 
I’m not. The white billows. 
       Did I get that right?

Authentic art, 
       does it exist
           or spectator art or political or 
labor or authentic recycling, 
or bemused expression?
You lied!
       I didn’t let you 
           suffer enough.  
Authentic life, a grocery store list, 
a diary excerpt 
       trashed in the car.
The cataracts falling 
from my eyes. 
           See with my eyes,
     what women did you miss?
                     Broken terra-cotta star, 
              airborne in every lifetime.

Courtyard as oracle.
  Complaint as oracle.
    Castration as oracle.
      Couple as oracle.
        Crowd as oracle.
          Contact as oracle.
            Conversation as oracle.
              Cassia as oracle.
                Compare as oracle.
                  Coffin as oracle.
                    Civilian as oracle.
                      Circumference as oracle.
                        Catherine as oracle.

One airplane 
       flies above the lake.
              Blue, blue, green. 
“I have an idea,”
       to be fully open
dilated, generous 
you don’t scare me. 
During the heat wave, 
       my body relaxed, 
              “confiscated studies”
a measure of yearning. 
  I inclined into my appetite, 
       hungry, insatiable.


Woke up. 
Coffee et cigarette. 
Yoga et water. 
Beach et sun. 
Writing at desk.
Reading in bed. 
Side ponytail.
Ingrown hair.
Shower, nakedness, 
More bed. 
Airplane tickets.
Built the fire.
Back in bed. 
Got up to make drink.
Grilled vegetable 
Desk. Letters.
Love letter.
Back to beach
to rescue lover 
on wayward wave.
Back to bed. 
Back and forth
death dream.

Ate dinner at my desk,
                     the quotidian cliffhanger.
The sausage perfectly cooked. 
Until next time.
              In the bridle of new forms, 
                     the world itself cooked.
The fruit washed by hand, 
                 eaten by hand, 
          picked by hand, 
the hooks don’t care 
              if the rapture is forced.
neither should you.

Apologia returned to sender. 
       Postage due. 
Nine pages worth of intention,
apologia, restatement, then 
a clue. Hyperbole. The goddess 
Isis mentioned. 
Needy, improvised, 
       a twist. I don’t see 
              a twist at all.
“Please pass the mustard
for my sausage.”  
     Sometimes it lies straight.

Candlelite. Canskate. 
Candidate. Candente.
A dressing room, a fitting 
       room, you choose
texture, smokiness, heartiness, elasticity, 
a Rogers Park corner coffee shop
before I can go swimming. 
Coffee before beer. Singing before 
kissing. Sunscreen before sun.  
My navy blue shirt without 
the bra. My tits shaped 
against the wind.
              Summer buzzed in.
A happy baby carrier.
              Breastfeeding, and body 
slings. Slave or straight, 
              a tuna casserole addressed
to everyone, and beer, cold sprung
       chamomile-nettled spring. 

              Tall willow teeth, tooth 
blessing, tooth country, a tininess 
       described as unwieldy.
                     My lap.
              A vaster plain. Work 
where none existed 
because that’s what I thought 
was expected of me. 
A wide worthiness
wears the wool of my work, 
the tight plaid offspring
              warps the wainscoting,
the senses de-sensed. 
Not much accomplished
when it’s hot outside.
The beach closed, again, 
                   the waves too high. The high 
bacteria count. Someone is lying,
that’s how political office works.
       I hear the mice search 
              for Parmigiano-Reggiano
a sweep scurrying! Romano! 
              Faster to crumb!

The swaddling unnecessary. 
I talk. I don’t listen.
I sit around 
in my own room
in my bathing suit 
in my pile of money, 
interacting less with the world.
Objectively, and historically, 
this is an improvement.

Hello, it’s me.

From the loaded gun, 
a sign read, “To be continued…”






Catherine Theis is a Provost Fellow at USC, and lives in southern California. Her first book is called The Fraud of Good Sleep (Salt Modern Poets, 2011). Catherine’s latest chapbook, The June Cuckold, a tragedy in verse, is published by Convulsive Editions.