I can place us in space, the Heiner Friedrich gallery,
393 West Broadway, an exhibit of Andy Warhol’s Shadows.
I can place us in time, 1979, winter, muddy slush
seeping through the cracks in my shoes. Only the rich
wore heels then, beauty less prescribed, blousier, the light
less filtered then, even in New York, where I blew soot from my nose,
and the homeless, not yet rounded-up, frozen blue on park benches,
or clustered in trinities or quartets, wreathing burn barrels,
smoke helixing into the sky which was often blue,
very often blue, cloudless, a cold January.
A strange, unfiltered innocence, as if the nerves of light
had been stripped, or had never been armored, and I was unarmed,
soft, stupid, not yet muffled by useless wisdom and silly ambitions
which are stand-ins for exhilaration and what is called love, sweet
until it was bitter, and when it was bitter I spat it out
onto the street, which glittered, in winter, with road salt,
fish scales, sequins and spare change.
We didn’t intend to go to Warhol’s show, intended nothing
in those days, unintended our way into desire,
pregnancy, addiction, Hep C, art, oceans, punk, and later, death,
but then, in the present tense, we wandered
into Warhol’s Shadows. The image circled us, caped,
canvases skirting the room like the bell of a jellyfish,
iterative, alliterative, a tolling black echo
against the mopped-on yellow and aubergine, chartreuse and indigo.
I wasn’t used to color saturation in those days, our clothes, black,
our hair, our beans, our three rooms on E. 7th nearly windowless,
the roaches, brown, their egg purses dark, the newborns,
translucent amber. Color something we’d have to earn,
like jewels or heaven, and Warhol had applied it, with diamond dust,
extravagantly. There was beauty in it, or a willingness to be beautiful,
expressiveness, gesture, no irony, not the emptiness he was known for,
or the currency, the numbness. The shadows were numinous,
furred, like night is furred, and dreams, the kind we’d wake from
drooling and shouting as if we were children.
Warhol was there, a column of chalk at dead center of the gallery,
signing copies of Interview. I think I told him his art was pretty,
which didn’t merit even an eye roll or a glance, for I was no one,
a punk in a sea of punks, hooked to a doomed junkie.
I had no identity that Warhol could recognize–identity—
that pale, flat, cold, bewigged thing. To be someone is to be swallowed
by a glass of ice water and to live inside its imperious solitude.
Warhol did his best to pretend the paintings were simply commerce,
more of the same, but they were not the same.
There was death in them. Beneath the nacreous wig he felt it coming.