Horns Of The Landscape
by Lisa Fleck Dondiego
In the Garden of Wish Fulfillment
close to Gorky’s house in Armenia,
stood an enormous poplar with no leaves,
bleached under the sun, the rain, the cold.
This was the Holy Tree. Villagers
tore strips of their clothing like signatures
to hang on the tree, a parade of banners
in the wind. Often his mother and other
village women opened their bosoms,
took out their soft breasts in their hands
to rub them on the blue rock
half buried in black earth.
But when he allowed the genocide
inside him, the garden filled up
with shadows. His eye became
a sentry, his visions not always holy.
Painting became the horns of the landscape,
like trying to wrestle the devil.
He didn’t finish his paintings, stayed up
all night trying to grasp
the exact vanishing point.
Arshile Gorky, Horns of the Landscape 1944
Note on Horns of the Landscape
Gorky painted his Horns of the Landscape in 1944. I first saw the work in Vassar’s Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center several years ago. I have borrowed some of Gorky’s own words as well as those of outside sources on his theories of art – although certainly not word for word – and have used my own intuition and re-creation as to his state of mind and feelings surrounding the painting. The Armenian genocide which took place between 1915-1917 evidently finally took its toll on Gorky, and began affecting him in a more powerful way. In 1948, overcome by personal injury and tragedy, he hanged himself. His painting and life story were so compelling that I responded with my poem.
Lisa Fleck Dondiego’s poems have appeared in The Westchester Review, Haibun Today, and in several anthologies, including Red Moon Press’s yearly anthology and in the Contemporary Women Writers of the Hudson Valley’s A Slant of Light. She has taught for 9 years in the Learning to See workshop series at the Greenburgh Library in White Plains, NY. Her chapbook, A Sea Change, was published by Finishing Line Press in 2011. She lives in Ossining, NY, with her husband.