Alexander J. Motyl









The paintings

always stare back,

even the landscapes

depicting dancing gods

and prancing satyrs

(amidst crumbling ruins

adorning leafy backgrounds)

and silently saying

that gazing




are pointless ventures,

useless undertakings

doomed to failure,

because the paintings

always stare back:

even portraits

of staid burghers,

genteel ladies,

kings, queens,

and courtesans—

all sly folk

prone to evading

our penetrating

eyes by looking


(or pretending

to be looking


while knowing

that pretending

exposes gazers

and stargazers

to the penetrating


of vanished landscapes

and long-dead people

seeing through us

and finding





The Olden Days


I went to my café yesterday


expecting to drink a coffee


and read a book.




I read the coffee


and drank the book.


That was surprising,


and I still don’t know


how I did it


or how it was done.


I do know the obvious.


Miracles are a dime a dozen,


natural laws are easily broken,


time stops at will,


and universes multiply like rabbits,


but—there is, alas, always a but—


only when you’re not looking,


only when you’re not expecting


miracles to be a dime a dozen,


natural laws to be easily broken,


time to stop at will,


and universes to multiply like rabbits.


I now know this too.


Anomalies are not anomalies,


but regularities, and regularities


are always irregular—


just as repetitions


are never really repetitive.


This means this.


Drinking is reading


and reading is drinking,


books are coffees


and coffees are books.


This also means this.


It’s obviously best


to take your books black,


as sugar and cream


can make such a mess.


As Martial once said:


Difficilis facilis,


iucundus acerbus es idem.


The Romans got it right,


maybe because,


in the olden days,


universes didn’t yet multiply like rabbits.




The Subjunctive


Viewed subjectively


or viewed objectively,


the subjunctive voice


obviously both


vindicates and vitiates


the slow unfolding


of visions


of certainty and uncertainty,


of boredom and surprise,


of wonder and shock.




though unexpectedly,


the subjunctive subtly


subjugates objects


without objectifying subjects.


How odd,


how exceedingly odd,


that something as subjective


as the subjunctive


should subvert subjectivity


so thoroughly,


so ruthlessly,


so objectively.












Alexander J. Motyl (b. 1953, New York) is a writer, painter, and professor. Nominated for the Pushcart Prize in 2008 and 2013, he is the author of nine novels, Whiskey PriestWho Killed Andrei WarholFlippancyThe Jew Who Was UkrainianMy OrchidiaSweet Snow,Fall RiverVovochkaArdor, and a collection of poetry, Vanishing Points. Motyl’s artwork has been shown in solo and group shows in New York City, Philadelphia, and Toronto and is part of the permanent collection of two museums. He teaches at Rutgers University-Newark and is the author of seven academic books and numerous articles. Motyl lives in New York City.


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