"Inside of you there is a small battery" and "Bronzino's Portrait..."

Inside of you there is a small battery like the one in some alarm clocks whose entire job when the power cuts out is to keep but not display the time.

“Inside of you there is a small battery … ”

obsess, v. , (1) Of evil spirits, “to haunt”
(as to possess but external)

Inside of you there is a small battery
like the one in some alarm clocks
whose entire job when the power cuts out
is to keep but not display the time.
Sometimes the darkness can sit for years
while the heart goes about its chore of pumping.
The trees will seem obsessed with their shadows
like a form identifying as obstruction.
But then you find yourself ambushed by clarity.
A tiny bird arpeggiates up the fire escape.
The trees will seem obsessed with their shadows
like a form identifying as shelter.
Somewhere a metronome is threading a suture.
What knife has cut as deep as the Colorado?
As the power comes back and the numbers take shape
you will see the time and it will be early.

Bronzino’s Portrait of Lodovico Capponi

Tousled hair, the lolling eye, bags like the shadows of a sheer mesh,
he seems—odd for someone so long dead—underslept,
and yet, I think it’s all designed in such a way as to suggest
an imperial carelessness, mastery of the art of not bothering
(perish the thought that he was taxidermied sloppily).
Curious, how things can age into unimaginable similitudes,
like the hanging cloth behind him, almost a green screen
if not for the sagging folds which would ripple the projection
like fluid cracks in a liquid mirror. He wears a black taffeta jerkin
which is what powerful men of the sixteenth century wore
whose modern equivalent is the black Patagonia puffer vest
cherished by those who work in finance because the extra mobility
helps the arms to better strangle the poor. In fact, it was the arm
on Lodovico that initially took hold of my mind, making me revisit
the Frick every Thursday afternoon following my lectures at Hunter.
You see, his left arm, swaddled in white satin, crinkles at the crook,
and looks like the trunk of an albino elephant, organ of inelegant
discovery. But come closer. The sleeve has been slashed, as was
the fashion, often to reveal an underlying fabric of greater brilliance,
perhaps royal purple, the cruelties of red, or flagrant gold, however
on Lodovico’s arm the eye-shaped gashes open the white material
to another white beneath, eyes with no means of sight, or is it skin
that gives way to another layer of skin, the artist’s fantasy of a body
that cannot bleed. It’s one thing to want exposure, and something
else entirely to take the oxygen at its word. Barked about
with vile and loathsome crust all my smooth body. And make no
mistake, Bronzino’s portrait, though reticent of skin, uses flesh
the way that rooms use a fire: spatially limited, but everywhere
palpable. Just follow that arm down to its hand (on which only
the thumb is totally visible), a hand lightly holding a pair
of light-brown gloves. What else in the image could we say
bears the unelected means of its own concealment? The eyes
and their lids, maybe. But this hand in particular seems to
offer both itself and the reminder that no such offering must
be made, that intimacy wears its possible retraction like
an ornament by which nearness can be recognized and valued.
The other hand (on which only the thumb is occluded)
splays its fingers oddly, as though fretting a guitar. Yet it also
holds something. A cameo medallion, perhaps a woman in profile,
circumscribed by her identity in letters, only some of which
are visible. […] SORTE [...] or fortune, fate, chance—ideas
which seem similar but can mean both luck and its exclusion.
Of course, these are just conjectures, necessary since Lodovico
has turned his index finger into an impediment, as though
destiny required our suppositions for its fulfillment, or maybe
fortune as a goddess dwells in privacy, and everything that seems
inscrutable, obscure, illegible to us about the world and our
precarious flourishing has to do with an aspect of the truth
that we might call its modesty. Which brings us to the crotch
and that remarkable codpiece, often mistaken for the hilt
of a sword, much as the gloves are for a wallet, onlookers
adding weaponry and commerce to where they are only
implicit. The way it pokes out whitely, parting the black
of the garment above, might aspire to a racially coded brag
for the virility of whiteness, Lodovico’s luminous genitalia
portending a kind of carnal enlightenment, as though sex
had anything to do with clarification. Yes, well, to me it looks
like a bulb of garlic: delicate, pungent, crushable. Sometimes
I visit Lodovico and find him not at home, replaced by a likeness
almost convincing—brushwork, illusion. Other times I see him
as a kind of show pony, an animal of a lower order, docile
to the symbols in which he is caparisoned. But every now
and then it will be different. Lodovico, somehow more present
for having other places to be, stands as if at a kiosk, expectant,
come in from today’s weather, less immortal because impatient.
On days like these we talk about our frustrations in love: his
girl, promised by Duke Cosimo to one of his cousins, mine,
marooned in Montreal and waiting for a passport from Service
Canada. Each of us, hopeless, tells the other to take courage.
From his shoulder hangs a swag of black velvet, a cape of sorts
but maybe a shroud. If he so desired, in a cross-body swoop,
he could bury himself in the omnivorous colour. But that’s not
like Lodovico, whose fashion is to let the dark fabric dangle
if only so the light can play upon the prospect of oblivion.

About the author

Joseph Kidney, a Canadian poet, has published poems in Arc Poetry, Vallum, Oberon, The Fiddlehead, Periodicities, The New Quarterly, PRISM International, Al-Araby Al-Jadeed (in Arabic translation), and forthcoming in Best Canadian Poetry 2024. He won the Short Grain Contest from Grain, and The Young Buck Poetry Prize (now the Foster Poetry Prize) from CV2 for the best poem submitted by an author under 35. He was shortlisted for the Bedford International Poetry Award, Arc’s Poem of the Year (twice), The Malahat Review's Far Horizons Contest, The Malahat Review’s Long Poem Prize, and a Canadian National Magazine Award. He is currently completing a PhD in early modern drama at Stanford University. Joseph's chapbook Terra Firma, Pharma Sea is available from Anstruther Press.