Justin Jamail

Five Poems


“Man with a Letter” by Hans Memling


This person seems to have had the kind of personality

that Norsemen imposed on yew trees.  Trying to help,

the curatorial note says it’s “either a love letter

or a marriage contract.”  So we might as well have no idea.


That is: man writes letter; man buys portrait or

man signs contract; man buys portrait.  One of these seems

right to me, but, for once, we aren’t here to please me,

but this Dutch-like fellow. Either way: painter likes effeminate

accessories – little pins, little papers.  Mamma


got engaged at the Cracker Barrel: Polaroid

didn’t really do it justice.  I am thinking of the landscapes

he put in the window, that the painting, that this poem

is like a nation – divided but unarranged: One restaurant,

different people.  One window, different what? Skies?



On Italian Painters


They forgot to paint

the allegorical figure

of what was nice while it lasted. 

I don’t know if that

was a mistake or an accident,

but I do blame them for it

because you can almost always

tell: With all those reckless

ceilings going up above them,

running through a world

where every chair

is a folding chair,

where the weather

is so expensive

you can’t believe Grandma

can afford it,

where even the spiders

have gone to spider heaven—Well,

this might have been

another shrug

of sophisticated

resignation – instead

a way to remember

men shoot bullets

against armor of proof

not to hurt it

but to praise it.



Agnes Martin Painting I Saw at Cravath or

Beautiful Object in Murderous Light


The love between movables and immovables

Has practical effect on the in’ernet of course

But also behind the luxury desks of twit street,

With the crowd behind the bond, the available

Crowd of purchasers, of curators, purveyors

Of secret bedrooms, rented contexts.


Or painful contexts.  I felt it was so myself.

Before the lady banker’s oath, some time

And dull soda is served by some early adopters

Of irreflective victory instead of an available

Waitress in battered flats.  Imagine my surprise,

While bosses wasted fortitude on muck,

To finally, still contemplating lunch,

Meet a painting like the circles I walk in.



In My Fancy Wallpaper


With much patience, the wrath of design

can do much to make known the design

of mercy – I mean they killed us in our teepees –

it looked easy as a cradle: “Blue represents passion.”

Neil was mysterious and wore buckskin he said

“red represents loyalty.” I was surprised that the colors

meant anything at all – they are good for nobody. 

The conquering palms in the portrait hall approach the ceiling,

become gold-flocked sea turtles – they look gentle

as a little mistress, but don’t intend anything by it.

At least there is such a thing as charming senselessness:

I thought my fancy wallpaper wrote a poem

but it wasn’t a good poem. It was an interesting list.



Impatient to Assume


Eight hours studying appliances

Which pay for themselves over time. 


Don't laugh: it's one way

To find out which trees grow in the flood.


At first you can't tell because nothing

Drowns slower than trees.


Not at this hour anyway – it’s midnight

But it will soon be lunchtime.


Our favorite citizens churn themselves

Into customers and, meanwhile,


Told the dwarf may represent common sense

or practical understanding, I accept it. 


At end of trip, machine makes

Happy whir, screen glimmers


About missing an appointment but

Can’t even sleep without permission –


It’s just personal noises in here now,

Happy whirs for a stranger –


The first to make widely available

An interesting school book, a pimp’s thoughts. 


As a volunteer policeman gets wrung up

on charges of larceny by trick,


I make another herniated retort

about not minding any kind of flood.


And it’s “So long, dinner machine!”

I’m off to attend a swelling:


Outside in the grassy picnic sector.


Outside on this cloud-brindled flake.


Outside among varied whirs

And the parades of feminine balustrades,


Where I leap into the fabric bulwarks

Of somebody else’s skirt, the park brightens,


And lunchtime shakes the memory

As a wimp shakes a Mastercard.