Three Ekphrastic Poems by William Sharpe


Head against the slate-cool sash
your yellow rose leans closer to the closed
window, brighter than the day
that sways its own greenery
beyond the glass, too drunk on beauty
to notice the drinking glass
that props it up, offers another round-

And through what sober self-regard
Could you bear to watch those arm-
like, wing-like leaves grope handless
in a draft, straining first for light,
then against gravity as the brown
desiccation rises, petals float
down, all water pointless?

Clouds and death, till on the 3rd
or any other day thereafter hands
tidy up, taking rose-dust from sight
but not from remembering how it transpired
altering the air where now
inebriate motes jostle the pane,
carouse the morning sun.

Mardi Gras / Ash Wednesday 1994


Tower Of (Pile XXVII)

We circle to wonder at the leaf-
crumpled age we have reached,
those muted tones, those letters hovering

on the lip of recognition, the familiar
profile torn from earthy ochre on the way
to heaven’s blue under eclipse

and those who dare crack a spine must
know well that at its base are words
and on these words we build

a tower up through shadow to
the dark above the plain surface
of our days, in hope of recovery

or in memory of the body we
took with us through the game of sleep—
we want to pull back the covers

to read our future in the printer’s bed
but the volumes peel on their own schedule
like skin loosening over the perfect hand

held once and for all at the page’s
edge, for us, for our need to turn
to the underside and breathe in

what has so long waited
beneath: we are the people of the book
and what the book’s weight communicates,

pressed tight by its mates, reaches down
the shaft of its rising and out to its rounded
fraying corners undaunted by the black

beyond until it makes this pile the tower of
what we were looking for
when we wanted something

to look up to.


John Singer Sargent, Life Study Class, ca. 1874–76, charcoal on off-white laid paper, 6 5/8 x 9 in. The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Life Class

I know I should start
with the head: three head lengths
to the navel, seven to the ankles
but I can’t help myself, my eyes fall
towards the breasts: three
no two of them will measure
up or down to any other salience
a hand’s breadth away

Take a part, pretend
to pass your hand over it
in space, says the instructor and curve
your lines around the form until
they become the form as poets
once were taught to do and so

though flatness is my forte I caress
the paper until the lines- always
vary the intensity of the lines- gradually
darken or thin
to recede and jump
out with the depth of Blake and the weight
of Milton, palpable fruit
as I wait for the teacher’s shadow over me
his almighty hand not above
making some adjustments to eve-
ning students’ weary work, molding from dust
of graphite or chalk a body
juicy and joyful as these words now

Sir Peter Lely painted NOW
beside his painted head
of the man who signed
the order to behead King Charles
If life class means nudes
his was a death class
he was wearing clothes
and only NOW was naked
enough to survive artist, subject, king
unchanged, pure and panting
as a Grecian Urn

And so I turn back to my torso
and with longing and shortening I make
something of her
into something of mine that will start
from the wall of the Concours
headless, knowing, more so.