Self-Portrait in Blue Jacket

For Max B., whose lifelong exile
From Germany, his native country, ended while
He was crossing Central Park West
At 69th St., on December 27, 1950, to see his latest
“Self-Portrait” at the Met.
(At 66, a heart attack felled him on the street.)
In almost every one, a cigarette
Jabs out at us, as he contemplates a secret.
Max, what is it?
Some vestiges of Paris or Berlin, the twilit
Faces, like death-masks, at a cocktail party? The earth
Swerves under them. Five years later, my birth.
Now I’m five years younger
Than when Max died. Five years, and I wonder
What comes next. I can feel Max’s restlessness
At the Plaza and St. Regis
Hotel bars, his favorite haunts. Alone, he’d sketch
The ruddy patrons, their scowls.
Everyone’s unhappy, everyone needs to retch
From the bottom of their souls.
In New York, in a bar, I love the space
Between my glass and the mirror. I see my face
That’s older, closer to my father:
Glasses, jowls, a bristle of gray hair. I gather
Data in a one-to-one survey.
I’m at the Met today
To see Max, and to ask him how it feels
To live apart. Is it as real as
His other life a lifetime ago, the grimy Weimar dives
Where he was king? How many lives
Do we each get? At the Met
Max glares back at me in his blue jacket.

 

 

About the Author: Gary Duehr has taught poetry and writing for institutions including Boston University, Lesley University, and Tufts University. His MFA is from the University of Iowa Writers Workshop. In 2001 he received an NEA Poetry Fellowship, and he has also received grants and fellowships from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, the LEF Foundation, and the Rockefeller Foundation. Journals in which his poems have appeared include Agni, American Literary Review, Chiron Review, Cottonwood, Hawaii Review, Hotel Amerika, Iowa Review, North American Review, and Southern Poetry Review. His books of poetry include In Passing (Grisaille Press, 2011), THE BIG BOOK OF WHY (Cobble Hill Books, 2008), Winter Light (Four Way Books, 1999) and Where Everyone Is Going To (St. Andrews College Press, 1999).