‘The Rough Beast Takes a Painting Class’ by Alexandra Teague

We present Alexandra Teague’s poem “The Rough Beast Takes a Painting Class” from Issue 115 in its entirety: 

The surface of American society is covered with a layer of democratic paint, but from time to time one can see the old aristocratic colours breaking through.
—Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

The teacher says white is not truly a color,
containing as it does, all wavelengths of visible light.

She says the Rough Beast’s claws might be useful later
for scraffito—to scratch back through to what’s beneath:

cyan and magenta; Goldman-Sachs and Donald Trump.
The teacher says Trump is not a color. But everyone knows

he’s on the wheel between Versailles-mirror-hall and rosebush
with limp orange petals and a shitstorm of thorns. All the brushes’ bristles

are made of his hair. It’s hard to keep the paint from clumping.
The Best Color Wheel is segregated into swaths—no way to spin it

like a Twister spinner: blueviolettangerinecharcoalforesttealyellow.
No way to step on two colors with the same foot at once.

The teacher says there is no color called Keep Out,
although the Beast has seen it. In pointillism, the world

sieves into so many tiny dots—a thousand points of light—
until it’s hard to tell which dot amid the swan boat dot

parasol dot lakes with a golfcourse dot is democracy.
She shows battleships dazzle-painted in Cubist camouflage:

black and white angles and stripes like a flotilla of zebras.
This was supposed to confuse torpedoes. She doesn’t say

if the lesson shows the limits of deception or imagination.
She arranges a still life to keep everything still: a peacock’s

hues simmered down to two glimmering feathers, a skull
resting loudly by a fruitbowl. No one would eat a Cezanne apple,

she explains, meaning people want realism more than truth.
Good apples do not complain about the light that hits them.

Alexandra Teague is the author of the novel The Principles Behind Flotation (Skyhorse) and the forthcoming poetry collection Or What We Call Desire, to be published by Persea in May. You can find her poetry in Issue 115

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