Iron Law, 1983
Three men drift into linen, the ancient
textile of flax.
Flimsy, but wild like a wildflower.
Light paints on his chest a fish relief.
To stand still on a stone made of flesh.
A man, most likely a man, is a fugitive of
pain & pushes himself into the threshold
of Stygian beauty: spots of dusk, pools of
This iron world is ruthless.
The men drift, not existing in words.
Existing in pain/t.
Flower, leaf, or eye: the earth sees well
The tallest man in the art has the
authority. His art is incandescent.
Two men in the painting are improperly
framing the landscaping of the
evanescent man in disgrace.
No one in the modern world can afford
either despair or transient beauty any
more. Thus, this. This landscape filled
with primordial will.
Dying Couple, 1993
It’s difficult to see, but we are lying on
firm mats made out of umber resin. Our
skulls have teeth and they have begun to
My wife. Yes, my wife. She has these
urges for rhubarb stalks. I have gripped
my fingers inside myself, longing to grow
some out of my sternum for her. For
her. For her.
When my lungs blush, I am a little girl.
Lying here I thought our bones, like
paper towels, were trying to whisper into
We are mildew suspended in an invisible
The sun dips back.
We are in the dark with our canes. Our
belly buttons look like small craters of
light, wishing it would rain so that they
convert into miniature lakes.
We are not lonely and we are not bored
with gazing up. My husband looks
saintly, doesn’t he? So prepared for war.
We are at death’s door. Our flesh will
moan, will murmur, will speak softly,
our darkness will no longer belong to us.
We must let go, but we can’t let go.
VI KHI NAO is the author of a novel, Fish in Exile (Coffee House Press, 2016), and The Old Philosopher (Nightboat Books, 2016), a poetry collection. Vi’s work includes poetry, fiction, film and cross-genre collaboration. She was the winner of the 2014 Nightboat Poetry Prize and the 2016 Ronald Sukenick Innovative Fiction Contest.
A Note on the Poems: These poems are ekphrastic studies of the figurative paintings of Norwegian artist Odd Nerdrum, from the time period of 1983-2005.