Maxwell Bodenheim

1892 - 1954 / Mississippi / United States

An Acrobat, A Violinist, And A Chambermaid Celebrate

Geometry of souls.
Dispute the roundness of gesturing flesh;
Angles, and oblongs, and squares
Slip with astounding precision
Into the throes of lifted elbows;
Into the searching perpendicular
Of fingers rising to more than ten;
Into the salient straightness of lips;
Into the rock-like protest of knees.
The flesh of human beings
Is a beginner's-lesson in mathematics.
The pliant stupidity of flesh
Mentions the bungling effort
Of a novice to understand
The concealed mathematics of the soul.
Men will tell you that an arm
Rising to the sky
Indicates strident emotion;
Reveals a scream of authority;
Expresses the longing of a red engine
Known as the heart;
Rises like a flag-pole
From which the mind signals.
Men will fail to tell you
That an arm rising to the sky
Takes a straight line of the soul
And strives to comprehend it;
That the arm is a solid tunnel
For a significance that shoots beyond it.
The squares, and angles, and oblongs of the soul,
The commencing lines of the soul
Are pestered by a debris of words.
Men shovel away the words:
Falteringly in youth;
Tamely and pompously in middle age;
Vigorously in old age.
Death takes the last shovel-full away:
Death is accommodating.
Nothing is wise except outline.
The content held by outline
Is a slave in the mass.
Men with few outlines in their minds
Try to give the outlines dignity
By moulding them into towers two inches high,
In which they sit in lonely, talkative importance.
Men with many outlines
Break them into more, and thus
Playing, come with quickened breath
To hints of spiritual contours.
Seek only the decoration;
Avoid the embryonic yelping
Of argument, and scan your patterns
For angles, oblongs, and squares of the soul.
I overheard this concentrated prelude
While listening to an acrobat, a violinist, and a chambermaid
Celebrate the removal of their flesh.
While playing, the violinist's upper arm
Bisected the middle of the acrobat's head
As the latter knelt to hear,
And the chambermaid
Stretched straight on the floor, with her forehead
Touching the tips of the violinist's feet.
Motion knelt to receive
The counselling touch of sound,
And vigour, in a searching line,
Reclined at the feet of sound,
Buying a liquid release.
Angles of arms and straight line of bodies
Made a decoration.
The violinist's music
Fell upon this decoration;
Erased the vague embellishment of flesh;
And came to angles, squares, and oblongs
Of the soul.
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