A Rauschenberg Conversation

“The artist’s job is to be a witness to his time in history.”

-Robert Rauschenberg

He asked me about the painting that’s black. Just black.

And wondered if its blackness is somehow representative

of the twenty-first century dead, dead because we had

every opportunity and blew every opportunity and I sd,

No. This was painted during the twentieth and so reflects

an apocalyptic return to what’s original and what’s more

original? No. I see possibility in futures that will contain

the hum of a breathing machine carried in an easy breeze

through a window just to catch in the arms of a potted tree.

This is the twenty-first century. Encoded in the DNA

of every living thing is a sketch of the man or woman

that will bear witness to your demise, my demise,

the demise of a pet that in sleep twitches in an incalculable

pet dream world and all the while Florida will grow more

Florida with its sun, prehistoric mid-section sprouting

embarrassingly thick, dark hair where hair should never

grow. And I reminded him: Below the black is a strip

of news and the news, I guess, never ends even after

history has etched its loss and its gain into recusant

material, I mean recyclable. In the middle of the gallery

he just looked at me, at the painting, back at me

and sd, Where is the human figure? What happened

to the figure who in terrible gesture remakes the air

around him? Isn't he both the blackness and the news

and isn’t he, asleep in amnion, even then, before birth

and after stellar reconnaissance, the textbook definition,

the end and the all that is and was—no god, no fall?