Andrew and Helga, Lost and Found
I’m a secretive bastard. I would never let anybody watch me painting…
it would be like somebody watching you have sex—painting is that
personal to me.
I’m supposed to be the mystery woman, something lost and found.
I. Black Velvet, 1972
I have completed God’s work,
creating you as a constellation
with the empty spaces between stars
filled in and fully realized.
I have made you whole yet weightless,
luminous in the perfect darkness
of the universe, God-like
in your own right. Or, more
truthfully, a Goddess reclining
on the backs of prayers that slip
silently from the lips of supplicants.
Every night, believers look up
to you for guidance before being
pulled down into sleep,
the only world where we exist
alone with nothing, or no one, to hold onto.
II. Sheepskin, 1973
There is something you’re not
telling me, something I try to conjure
out of you with a tempera potion
born out of rabbit-skin glue,
distilled water, crushed marble,
honey, egg yolks, and beeswax.
You don’t keep the secret in your eyes,
as a layman would believe.
Nor can it be found like the remnants
of a whispered prayer
in the creases surrounding
your enigmatic mouth.
A mouth that refuses to betray
a smile or a frown. A mouth
that once formed the word yes
when I asked if I could capture
them—and you—in ink and paint.
You keep your secret in your hands,
not as one might protect the delicate
papier-mâché of a robin’s egg
found abandoned beneath a hedgerow,
but as one cups a firefly, its tiny,
otherworldly light just barely
illuminating the narrow gaps
that never fully seal between closed fingers.
III. Easter Sunday, 1975
Runnels of stubborn snow shroud
the muddy ground surrounding you
and, by extension, me.
When I found you four Easters ago,
I knew I had found the hollow place
where the desire that I feared
had died was actually hiding,
very much alive, thrumming like a hive:
the desire to be divorced from all
expectations and preconceptions
of the artist, the father,
and the husband I had to be.
You gave me permission
to paint for myself, to personify
in you every secret I keep,
to finally release my soul from gray
barnboard and brown barley grass
and live in the world again
as flesh, blood, and bone.
Now, on this Easter Sunday,
in an otherwise barren landscape,
you are my one promise of green.
IV. Drawn Shade, 1977
I am a witness to your aging
in a light of my own making,
and I will I carefully catalogue
every new silver strand that appears
like a shiny trinket pilfered
by a magpie and woven into
the tasseled cornsilk of your hair.
Already your downy temples
have begun their transformation.
Soon, your mossy brows will
glint like cattails gone to seed.
Even the gosling fuzz softly covering
your cheeks will pale from amber
to the white of milkweed silk.
And eventually, naturally,
the perfect nest resting
between your thighs will glitter
and shine as if gilded by winter
with jewels of snowflakes and hoarfrost.
V. Braids, 1979
There are moments when
you won’t even tell me
what you see when you look away
as I pull your gaze out of the darkness
surrounding you. I want you
to reveal everything to me
freely so that I may capture
in the contours of your face
the shadows of your thoughts,
the full truth of you.
When you look into the distance,
look for me. Stand behind me
as I paint you. I want you
to see your face as I do,
a wolf moon rising
out of a January wheat field
not yet blanketed by snow,
by the penumbra of your auburn hair.
VI. Night Shadow, 1979
Beneath my hand, you exist
in both darkness and light.
I hover above
you, the form of my shadow
diaphanous and dissipating,
a storm cloud releasing
everything it holds:
water, ice, lightning, thunder.
I rain down upon your body
and baptize you.
VII. In the Doorway, 1981
This is our house, a place for our prying
eyes and ours alone:
yours trying to see in me
the way that I see you;
my own studying every particle
of your being as an astronomer studies
the depths of the universe
hoping to find the beginning
of all creation. You stand naked,
filling the entrance both
with the white light of stars
and the dark matter that fills
the emptiness between them all.
You and the doorway
have become one and the same.
To enter our house means entering you.
VIII. Helga’s Words
quotes by Helga taken from the short documentary
film Helga (Running Stag Productions, 2018)
He said I was his silent sounding board.
He said there must be silence
to realize what is behind the world.
He said I was starved.
He said he gave me what I wanted
and got what he wanted from me.
He said our time together was a dream.
He said he was afraid of the dream
disappearing if we talked about it.
I dreamed that I had fallen in love,
and when I woke, I knelt
at the end of my bed and said,
“Let it be true. Please
let it be true.” But how
do you explain a dream? I knew
he was always painting himself in me.
I knew I was a figment of his imagination.
Like a leaf blowing in the wind,
I was there, but not there.
Kip Knott’s debut full-length collection of poetry, Tragedy, Ecstasy, Doom, and so on, is available from Kelsay Books. A second full-length poetry collection, Clean Coal Burn, is forthcoming later in 2021, also from Kelsay Books. More of his work may be accessed at kipknott.com.