Lesley Wheeler


Copyright Lesley Peterson









When you come down to bare boards

Ashevak, Beuys


If we are not our work, why

is that cur growling in my head?

Want, want, he thinks, or maybe

he embodies thought. Hook and eye:

look how we become our chairs.

Each interdigitated hour a tooth

in the bleeding zipper. We patch

art and life together but any smile,

any seam, can fray. Sometimes

our fingers really do lace each line

with an ease that must be joy.

The next minute, an iris becomes

a button of doubt, misery even,

exceeding the hole it must inhabit.







D’ailleurs, c’est toujours les autres qui meurent

Madonna, Beuys, Duchamp


In the pupil of everyone you love, discover

a letter, like the icon on a typewriter key.

In the April grass, see a robin’s egg oozing

blond yolk. Spring is a good time to consider

transition, movement, damage: every hour

a blossom lost, a leaf gained. Today

police found the marathon bomber dying

in a boat. No one can translate his eyes.


I have a problem with keys. Last week I stole

Julia’s, just walked away into the birdsong.

Last night, at 3 a.m., I locked myself out

of my studio, had to pry open a window,

shimmy in, breaking my fall on a chair,

bouncing off the wicker trash bin, both

more forgiving than the concrete floor.

You can do that, crash in careful stages,

while your wriggling legs stick out of a hole

and the egg-faced moon stares blandly down.

Make an art of inching so close to the edge,

the joint of wooden craft and yielding ground,

you can almost decipher the crazed paint.







Trying to make what you can’t think of

Dürer, Sherman, Warhol


Dürer means doormaker. Each image unlocks

a room or closet or rocky shore inside

the artist. I met a colorist losing his vision.

He opened the sliding glass panels and painted

by sunlight. One smoky piece showed traces

of earlier brightness peeping at the edges.

Another was brown over hot pink flashes: the view

from a blooming azalea. A face has several

doors. When a shade comes down he

can’t see out and you can’t see in. What I like

about Portrait of the Artist Holding a Thistle

is a soft determination in the mouth.

Artists are entrepreneurs, yes, they sell

mirrors, dreams, but there’s a haze on the field.

A flung hatch bangs, casts a shadow. Look

how the air beyond moves in layers: heat, a dark

mulch smell, and, humming across

the currents, a bee’s single gleaming eye.







Actions sail away from you

Sherman, Duchamp


The morning teems with pink ships.

Beauty perches in the rigging, ready for her next

adventure: sailing west toward another

kingdom. This one is inverted.

Someone left a suspicious package at the library.

Campus in lockdown. Humor

slouches at the tiller, her feet three long beats

apart, hands loose and confident at the spokes.

Of course, no one actually escapes.

Shut the door, make a picture, the bad

day still gets into it. It gets into you, too,

because you are not your work. Your

memo steers off into the jade distance

with your painted face on the prow, but you are also

left behind on a dangerous beach

where the sand roars back at the shocked sea.

There goes Usefulness, there goes

Delight, and will these shores ever see the like?







Opinion Poll

Madonna, Lautrec, Beuys


The green line represents spring’s approval rating.

Our goodwill was chilled by snow around the equinox;

the curve climbs as the yard goes rapidly to seed; now

we start to feel jaded. Who has the ear of a pretty young thing?

Each morning she performs her toilette loosely

wrapped in mist’s drapery, but by early May, anyway,

virginity is a performance we’re meant to see

skeptically. Spring likes to sip absinthe

and watch others wipe glasses or crack whips

or stare off over the laundry. At first we enjoy

the light’s attention but soon it heats and irritates.

What does the idle dancer do but check her phone

and disbelieve in her own transformation?











Lesley Wheeler’s poetry collections are The Receptionist and Other Tales, a Tiptree Award Honor Book; Heterotopia, winner of the Barrow Street Press Poetry Prize; and Heathen. Her poems and essays appear in Subtropics, Gettysburg ReviewRattle, and Poetry, and she blogs about poetry at http://lesleywheeler.org/. Wheeler is the Henry S. Fox Professor of English at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia.


Carolyn Capps teaches drawing at the University of Virginia and has recently exhibited work at the Chroma Gallery and The Bridge in Charlottesville, Virginia. She grew up in Black Mountain, North Carolina and earned her MFA from the University of Georgia. “We Are Not Our Work” is her first digital collection.



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