look there instead

look there instead

By Joan E. Gordon

Dear National Gallery Staff:

On a whim, I’m taking the liberty of sending you a poem [below] that I recently wrote based on an experience I had when first visiting the National Gallery of Art in l962. I was educated in the arts, but had just come to DC to work at National Science Foundation, having also attained a graduate degree in geology. As a result, my focus was, and still is, very much on rock formations and those used in construction, architectural design and decorative arts. I only mention all this because it’s germane to the poem.

I entered the foyer and was immediately awestruck by the gorgeous pillars of breccia. I then entered the first circular gallery to the left. My gaze, still seasoned by the rock-hound mentality, immediately fixated on the limestone perimeter flooring — there I beheld the most amazing and perfectly preserved specimens of textbook-classic ammonites (precursors to the squid) — huge cross-sections, far surpassing any I had ever seen in a geologic museum. I proceeded around the room in crouched and stunned scrutiny of only the floor!!! — totally ignoring all the beautiful art!!! A guard finally approached and asked whether I had lost anything. He was most fascinated when I pointed out my findings; something he never had noticed. I wonder to this day who else has ever noticed them.

Yes, I did then thoroughly enjoy the artworks — many times. 

I’ve recently begun to write poetry, and this experience has always remained in my mind — the other museum mentioned in the poem is in Vienna (the Kunsthistorisches).

So, for my need in my senior years to express and share my fond memories and as a salute to those beyond-senior ammonites, I send the attached for your amusement.

Thank you for your indulgence.

Sincerely,
Joan E. Gordon


look there instead

look here, they say,
but no; i want to look there,
my focus firmly fixed upon things
not so crowd-gazed. 

look there with me —
glistening, intricate mosaics
painstakingly crafted
in the arches of the museum stairwell,
unnoticed in the upward or downward rush
to view the expected. 

look there with me —
raise your gaze
above perfunctory stone steps...
chance view the unexpected... 

and, no, but thank you.
i didn’t lose anything
nor need help finding it,
i tell the guard at the gallery.

look there with me —
huge Devonian ammonites
in perfect textbook cross-section
within the limestone flooring
of the gallery’s circumference.

they swam in warm waters
that created this rock,
as, ultimately, did their bodies.
is that not as much a marvel
as the paintings on view? 

yet, how many ever do look...
sad, patient, long-silent ammonites,
waiting eons to be noticed.
i hope they tell each other
when they take their midnight swim
in the privacy of museum dark
that someone gave them momentary life
300 million years after their death.

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