These poems are ekphrastic studies of the figurative paintings of Norwegian artist Odd Nerdrum, from the time period of 1983-2005.
When I paint as if I struggle in the water. I will try with all means not to drown. Sandpaper, rags, my fingers, the knife - in short, everything. The brush is rarely used. —Odd Nerdrum on process.
I love it here.
Everywhere we go the landscape is
portentous. Even the mountains have
the ripple effect of smoking nipples. I am
a child and I like to inhale behind cigars.
We learn later that we are sleeping
under the earth’s clitoris, one flap
opening for us to roll back and forth.
My mother insists that I must dress like
an ice cream cone. I don’t look like a
baby mummy fresh from Ancient Egypt
six thousand years ago, but I wish I
looked less delicious.
We must learn to turn away from
nicotine, stated my mother after the sun
turned its back on us. My mother warns
me of the early signs of second-hand
She is wise beyond her age. I can rely on
this and anything else she tells me.
The stranger who turns her back on us
will regret not sleeping with us.
The sun will eat her face away. She
doesn’t know it yet.
The one who hates, wants revenge for the lack of energy. —Odd Nerdrum
The penis is a worm, whose 7th heart has
become swollen with adversity.
She must learn the art of stabbing before
the empyrean mattress of falling light.
Her mouth is tired and her eyes are
exhausted. The dusk borrows his hair;
pretends to be electrical wires.
This is how one woman handles a man
who fails to pay child support during the
pre-Neolithic period. She can’t ask her
tribal society to incarcerate his penis.
Grey, metallic sand surrounds his
senescent leg. Already on burial ground
before the rest of him dies ahead.
She is half an arm’s length from knifing
him. It’s not too late to marry her.
The woman will use air to thrust
forward. Elbow, shoulder, merchandise.
As he flees, his right leg, near the ankle,
Two individuals, brother and sister or
husband and wife, with pointed toes
sleep on the side of the boulder. They
hold onto a leafless twig.
The amputated blind wanderer (a man
pretending to be Gale Nelson) is
alarmed. He points his cane at the legs
or dresswear of the sleepers.
“Look here, God,” he seems to be
saying. "Why does he have both legs and
I have only one. I can't see, but I know
he has two." God has no response. As
God does not want to state the obvious,
"You used to have two. One was taken
The amputated, severely myopic Gale
Nelson wannabe is hoping to dispel the
bliss of the eyeclosers. He is aggravated.
He has been struggling all his life to
have legs and a hand that holds a twig.
But here he is, before a sleeping boulder,
in the darkness, lopsided with a cane
and pointing at people who are at peace
with their lot in life. Even the surface of
the woman's garment is uplifting.
It is fortunate for him that the boulder
has chosen not to be a flea market and
does not choose to become a nocturnal
gathering for a moth party.
There is a place on earth where people
can't wander in and out of each other.
Odd Nerdrum describes warm gray as
"the mother of all colors." We must
search for the father.
Odd Nerdrum's favorite color is brown,
which he describes it as "a mix of
excrement, blood, and flesh."
Is this the father?
The face of the naked man: does
he have the face of a storyteller?
The postures of both men are typical
and archetypal of tactical warfare. One
is sneaky; the other defensive? Or is this
a recurring portrait of how one woman
treats another woman over time? One is
tense; the other prepared to attack?
Beyond the landscape of this narrative is
the landscape of meaningless silence,
largely defined by the culture of the plot.
Here, the tongue can't behave like the
primitive creature it has been ordained
to become in the pit of dusk. Here, the
tongue is tucked back; the face emanates
the slow glow of torture. Here, the
human unrolls his shadow like a black
carpet for the brown protagonist of flesh,
excrement, and blood to walk across.
Storytelling is not an Oscar rehearsal.
It's a place where the supernatural is
defeated by realism.
Here, the surreal body of the narrative is
dominated by the stalking, premeditated
figure of the realist. Here, story must
bend for the landscape of meaning.
Levitation is beautiful. It sits on the
painting with insightful misery, waiting
to drift down like water on a branch.
Vi Khi Nao is the author of the novel, Fish in Exile, and the poetry collection, The Old Philosopher. Vi’s work includes poetry, fiction, film and cross-genre collaboration. She was the winner of 2014 Nightboat Poetry Prize and the 2016 Ronald Sukenick Innovative Fiction Contest.
Cover image by Sarah Meadows