Claude Glass

Landscape with Flaying of Marsyas, Claude Lorrain

And when Enlightenment fails there’s a tool
small enough to fit in your inside pocket
on a tour of the Alps or the Outer Hebrides,
smooth as a lady’s compact, slightly curved,
filled with the mineral powder of darkness
that dims the excesses of subjectivity,
blots Romantic tears, contracts a view
into the palm of the hand, keeps you back
from the edge of the vertiginous ravine
the sublime opens up in your mind.
Turn away from the landscape, hold up
the glass, shield your face from the sun:

Stars and falls, peaks and caves, curling
around the horizon, meet and embrace,
wrestling like boys in the grass after school,
half-joking, half-earnest, simulacra
of conflict, near-metamorphoses at dusk
when a mist thickens the air; the frame
will compass a woodside contest of beauty
& beast, the god & the silene, a sacrifice
not full frontal, terrible as in Titian,
but oblique, pointed at, the scream of pain
rising from a corner of the ravishing scene,
cloaked in the velvet shadow of a tree.

The Popes have forbidden us magic tricks,
divination by entrails or mirrors, rendez-vous
with the souls of the dead, telling us a convex
glass is the devil’s ass, the speculum fallax.
But the Aztecs had their Smoking Mirror, god
of sorcerers and shamans, Tezcatlipoca,
his heart a reflecting stone, his leg a snake,
conjuring world from catastrophe & corn,
death & the royal dance. No fallacy so dear,
so dark, as the promise of a word or sign
from the other side – a soft breath of mercy
on the cold curved face of obsidian.

Alissa Valles

Alissa Valles

Alissa Valles is the author of the poetry books Orphan Fire (2008) and Hospitium (2019), as well as Anastylosis (2014), a limited thermal paper edition printed for the Whitechapel Art Gallery in London; she has been the recipient of fellowships from the NEA and the Poetry Foundation and awards from Poetry magazine and the Modern Language Asociation. She has also published translations of Polish poets Zbigniew Herbert and Ryszard Krynicki, among others.
Alissa Valles

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Author: Alissa Valles

Alissa Valles is the author of the poetry books Orphan Fire (2008) and Hospitium (2019), as well as Anastylosis (2014), a limited thermal paper edition printed for the Whitechapel Art Gallery in London; she has been the recipient of fellowships from the NEA and the Poetry Foundation and awards from Poetry magazine and the Modern Language Asociation. She has also published translations of Polish poets Zbigniew Herbert and Ryszard Krynicki, among others.