Lawrence Kaplun

Jay DeFeo finished her painting “The Rose” in 1966, after working on it for eight years in her San Francisco apartment. Measuring approximately 11 feet tall by 8 feet wide, layer after layer of paint, up to 11 inches thick in some places, and weighing more than a ton, “The Rose” is her masterpiece. It’s the painting many think of when they hear the name, Jay DeFeo. She lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for most of her adult life, where I also lived for many years. But it wasn’t until her retrospective at The Whitney Museum in 2013, that I became familiar with her work. “The Rose” has a thrilling quality I hadn’t experienced with other paintings, and it pulled me in with its overwhelming power and beauty.

Though I didn’t know I’d write an ekphrastic poem on it. In an early draft, I wrote “I don’t want to think about anything but this painting, the way it makes / me close my eyes so I can listen to it,” but that wasn’t really accurate. I wanted to experiment and move away from narrative, or from saying something “about” it. I wanted the poem to go inside, to enter the painting’s wildness, and to be a sort of love poem to it, and its maker. The line, “does the painter get to behave / like time” owes a debt to Robert Hass.



The Rose

After Jay DeFeo
Oil with wood and mica on canvas (1958-66)

shadow     insomnia     echo

multitude of     amphora     gust     glass

rotation     sabbath      mountain-ridge

daylight     (not quite window)     origin

crumbling     relic     balcony     ajar

intersect     nature     stain on stain     crevice

trumpetcage     define     what you mean by

sameness     lather     blindfold     replenishing

nucleus     sad nucleus     is that a tornado

footprint     fool     you     fool     machine

lampshade     monster     illusion     stereotype

ghost     gothic     shrine     close your     birthmark

cave     volcano lava     diatribe     smear

scar     does the painter get to behave

like time     incandescent     root     umbrella

look what you did to my     heatstroke

repetition     do you mean like a tunnel

superstition     dented     garden

pedal     the     headstone     application

please     stop     cigarette     ash     stain

on stain     nostalgic     ritual     feeling lonely

wait     that’s a question     cathedral

ocean     candlewax     field     longhand

flowerwilt     shells     to put your ear to

birdwing     thermostat     brushstroke

translation     to look down     to     see

the     repaired     clouds     on     fire


Lawrence Kaplun‘s poems have appeared in The Gay & Lesbian Review, Sonora Review, and Toad. He’s from California, and currently lives in Brooklyn.

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