:: Article

Philip Guston, in (Pretty Much) His Own Words

By Ranjit Hoskote.

Philip Guston, in (Pretty Much) His Own Words
A Triptych

1. Lecture

The hell with art, I said, and went through the mirror.
You couldn’t catch me for two years.

The paw that drew the first line, that’s what I was after.
Somewhere in Egypt or Ur. The Ur-line might have sprung

some magic grip over bison or deer. For here, for now,
you may want to take up these charred bones and follow.

So what else is there to work with? Black?
You can take it out with white.

Then you splash the mud over here. The window falls.
You can strap a wristwatch on that guy

who’s got a little blood on his sleeve already.
So much you want to do with pencil and eraser

because you want to be spent, to finish and sleep well,
maybe even go to a movie. But finishing is death.

Which reminds me: Am I being paid for my silence?
I should remember that because everything I say is a concert.

2. Studio Visit

A book can become a tablet can become a stone.
        This lime skin is the binder.
But you want the name and the thing.
        And you want the movement.

This is about painting a book in the dark, to read
        when you walk blind into a curtained room.
Grab that paw and feel its pulpiness.
        It’s not just a noun, not just recognition.

It’s a lamp. It’s a clock. Not just one brick on top of another.
        The process is a trial and plenty of error:
a ball and splinters of grainy wood lined up on a table
        and then some, and then some more.

When I get to the red head of that thing at the end
        of the line, it’s going to feel like a trunk
and I’m going to want to pull it out,
        pull it longer and longer.

That’s when they’ll come and look at me in my cage,
        where I’m sitting and carving
a flecked rectangle of sky to look
        like a book.

All the anthropologists will be talking about
        this gorilla in a cage
and this gorilla in a cage won’t get a chance
        to say anything.

3. Loft

Something gripped and bit at the canvas.
Did I really believe it? (Not: Did I like it?)
This paint didn’t really feel like paint.
It spoke to me. I spoke to it.
Was it true or not, under the dirty skylights?

Taking no chances, I painted the whole loft:
easels, broken chairs, electrical wire
hanging down, all the way down
to my hand, below, painting it.
I had a hard time sleeping that night.

It briefed me on looking, reported its world:
that chair, this torn cloth, oh yeah, my broken mirror
in dirty greys, fleshy pinks, ochres.
That painting was as good as a Matisse.
When I woke up, I destroyed it.

At the Belvedere
for Sandeep Parmar

The seaweed farmer from last evening
swung into the Belvedere again tonight,
this time asking for a Liverpool Gin
– citrus not watermelon, he specified
as he pulled the moonless key
to the alphabet lock
from his frayed trench pocket,
the hurricane lamps loud behind his glasses.
He dropped the key and a sand-crusted trowel
on the bar. His fingers had guttered out.
“Let’s call it quits, shall we, mate?”
he nudged me. “I give up. I don’t know what
to call it, this mewling, this barking,
this mad overhead wind-whack cackle of the gulls.”

Ranjit Hoskote is a poet, cultural theorist and curator. He is the author of five collections of poetry, including Vanishing Acts: New & Selected Poems (Penguin, 2006) and Central Time (Viking, 2014). His translation of the 14th-century Kashmiri saint-poet Lal Ded has appeared as I, Lalla: The Poems of Lal Ded (Penguin Classics, 2011). Hoskote co-curated the 7th Gwangju Biennale (2008) and was curator of India’s first-ever national pavilion at the Venice Biennale (2011). He tweets at @ranjithoskote.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Saturday, May 27th, 2017.