746: A Study of Beauty

746: A Study of Beauty

746: A Study of Beauty


I’m Shira Erlichman and this is The Slowdown.

When I’m out for a walk, I experience an almost involuntary obsession with uncurated beauty. The bloom of rust across an old building; a trembling shadow; the hover of cranes mid-construction; I like beauty that is unrequited.

I am also a visual artist, and one summer, I rented a studio by the Brooklyn Navy Yards. My favorite part of my excursions to my studio was often not within the studio itself, but in the time between bus and studio where I would have to criss-cross under a loud overpass humming with cars. On that brief, loud, and stinky walk I was surrounded by trash, stray cats, and the whirr of the underpass’ traffic. Amidst this visual and sonic cacophony, I would be my most alert self. I didn’t want to get hit by a car, but I also didn’t want to miss out on secret treasure. It is easy to miss.

For example, if you looked up, on the grimy underbelly of the overpass, a dark splash of rust whipped in strange staccato. Or in a patch of sunlight streaming in through a gap between beams, three little ferns were beginning to lift their heads out of garbage, and live. Or, if I was truly lucky, I’d spot silver: a soda can crushed by traffic into a thin slab, a page of metal.

I began collecting these crushed Fanta, Coca-Cola, and beer cans. Inside my quiet studio, I baptized them in soap and hot water, knowing full well that any witness might cringe at the potential for dog urine or who-knows-what. But they were irrevocably beautiful to me; I couldn’t abandon them. I didn’t mind admitting aloud, my hands lathering their bodies, “You’re beautiful.”

Beauty is a loaded word. Its colonial standards are upheld in most TV shows, magazines, and museums. Lately, when I have a thirty-minute walk to an appointment, or a five-minute run to pick up take-out, I create my own DIY Museum Tour. People built this city with the hopes that my eye would prioritize certain things; but in my DIY Museum, my eye is beckoned by the wild and uncurated decisions of nature. Instead of a very particular notion of beauty, held hostage in museums, my seeing is fertilized by life life-ing. I click my own ticket and step through invisible doors straight into the here and now.

Today’s poem shows us how beauty arrives not because it is confirmed by institutions, but because of its rascal spirit, which whistles to us from overlooked corners.

A Study of Beauty
by Patrick Rosal

To  have   rejected  strategy;  to sit,  instead,  with  one’s  bafflement;   to   see   such
bafflement as a preface to madness — and awe; to touch some simplicity,  to attend
to  that  simplicity;  to  relentlessly  pursue  its  continuity  with  the  infinite; to catch  
the occasional  glimpse  &  be  changed.  Not sparkling  embellishments  or  pristine
blades.  Not  the  effete  disguised in denim.  Not  the  FOR SALE  sign  hanging from
the Gallery of Misery.  Not  the policies of lawncare, but  the bulbous deformation of
one green  gourd borne on a dying vine.  Not  the  gloss of  museum marble,  but the
young  man weeping under the vaulted  cobwebs. Not deputies of  the spreadsheet,
but  a road disappeared  under new  snow.  Not  scripted tours or  curated  wonders,
but  the crack  that  runs  the  length  of  the  last  drinking  glass  in the cabinet.  Not
surveillance,  but  surrender.  Not  worship,  but devotion.  Blessing  and  blasphemy, 
both.  Not the sanitized  tables of slaughter,  but  the fleck of  tendon  that  pops  the 
butcher in the eye. 

"A Study of Beauty" by Patrick Rosal from ATANG copyright © 2021 Patrick Rosal. Used by permission of the poet.