The Poetry Project

Six Poems

Joshua Garcia

Seated Female Nude, 1965

after Philip Pearlstein

There is no metaphor in the model seated on her hands. No mystery in the lines of her face or nuance to the arch of her lips. We, too, have found ourselves in a neutral pose, heads hung on an invisible axis like coats on hooks. We round our musculature. Softened, inert. Erase first instincts to smooth out the lines. Our weak spots find each other to create an illusion of symmetry. With our shoulders, arms, breasts, we level the tilt of the scale. You are made a monster for ever wanting out from under it. Through a discreet arrangement of shapes, we rein in our territories. The way our bodies fall in the light creates a mirror of our shadows. There is beauty in it—how our stillness knows no peace.

Seated Male, 1962

after Philip Pearlstein

The abdomen activates in its waiting. Desire strikes a balance of alert and effortless recline—seated and eager to stir, to rise at the instant of being found. Coded, subtle. There are shadows of the erotic in every detail. I don’t see it that way. Like feeling someone from another room, the face is the hardest to conjure. There is aggression in the lack of suggestion. Absence, faith. To be in this room is to not be everywhere else. Again, you dream of him, ask for mercy. Again, you sit up like an alarm. Let the chips fall where they will. This is pure form: a sweater draped over a chair. You were created and left behind.

Female Model on Ladder, 1976

after Philip Pearlstein

We contort ourselves against the given structures, hold up our bodies with the scaffolding we find. A balance of elements in tension with one another. A slight variation of light, and all this will move. In the park, youth desecrate a statue. Render it hideous with their paints. I praise them. How would you feel if they did that to one of your paintings? No monument is present without a voice. Shadows silver our embellishments, and erosion hardens our lines. You ask me what we are building. In my ignorance, I have instructed others in love; sometimes still, I hold a brush and scatter the artificial light.

Two Female Models on Mexican Blanket with Mirror, 1972

after Philip Pearlstein

Two bodies in a splintered gaze: I don’t think of myself the way you see me, as man. The gravity of our flesh twists us in two, one leg heavy over the other, a shoulder turning back. The plane is defined enough: baseboards visible at the edges, folded blankets we put into a box. We feel gross in our bodies, catch side glances in mirrors—at ourselves, at each other. I can’t read you. How we understand a body changes with our line of vision. An arm wrapped strongly around a leg; a hollow bell. All parts are rendered with uniform focus . . . there is no room for existential doubt. We make a stringboard of the evidence, take turns bending over, ask each other to tell of what we cannot see.

Reclining Nude on Tan and Purple Drapes, 1967 / One Leg Up, 1968

after Philip Pearlstein

The same pose over time, reversed, less rendered than before. They say we grow more uncertain with age. Funny how much the eye catches, how easily it’s all lost. Don’t you know they can see you. . . . One can be rendered quickly, with a small gesture, monstrous. Shadow curves. Deepens. Where does all the erased stuff go? I honestly don’t remember a lot of it. I just put it somewhere. You admire the coat of a passerby. A second glass of wine. The void is flat and blue, unlike how the body slopes at rest, weight shifting, deciding what to hold up and what to let slack.

Torso, Female Nude, 1963

after Philip Pearlstein

To be a body without comparison, backed against a wash of gray-blue weather. Features exaggerated. I want you to show me your interior world. Naked. Reserved. Researchers simulate the acoustics of the Notre Dame before it burned. I tell you I do not like to walk in the city. I hear your yawns from the other room. Your hand rests in the elastic of your briefs. This street, you say, is the most beautiful, its daffodils humming in subtle variation: alabaster, geraldine, turmeric, peridot, and—there is no other word for it—yellow. Sound is transparent nearest to the altar. To be a body removed from its context, a singular landscape. There are many shadows. There are many sources of light.


Let the chips fall where they will.
Philip Pearlstein. “A Realist Painter in an Abstract World.” Philip Pearlstein: A Retrospective, p. 13.

A slight variation of light, and all this will move.
Auguste Rodin. The Cathedral Is Dying, p. 68.

All parts are rendered with uniform focus . . . there is no room for existential doubt
Philip Pearlstein. “A Realist Painter in an Abstract World.” Philip Pearlstein: A Retrospective, p. 15.

#275 – Winter 2024