The Brooklyn Rail

SEPT 2022

All Issues
SEPT 2022 Issue


Matthew Wong: The New World

An exhibition of paintings made in Los Angeles in 2016 (Cheim & Read, NYC, May 2022)

I’ve assembled for you
the opposite of indifference
with strokes, dabs, flourishes
and color, stark, congenial,
devoid of shadow and any
pretense to appease your
expectations. Here I
invite you in to witness
what you can never see.
With an echo of remembrance
and sense impression
let me show you unclothed
figures in a jungle so
fertile no white shows
through on the paper
necessary to state my
dream; not what was
seen but an alteration
into a new language to
wreathe imagined memories
with variations. I can illustrate
thoughts and decorate what
only I have seen and here
present my efforts for you:
A rift in the fabric,
suggestions of what might
be, or, for me, are.
A melody of the vernacular,
a screech through the
flowers, a splayed fruit
enticed by geometry.
We see from behind
a man in the midst of
a meadow before what
might be a pond,
could be a portal.
I taught myself to paint
these translucent ciphers
and teetering stamps of
attestation to arm
myself against futility
with allegiance to breath,
not to comply but to examine,
invent and forge anew,
unencumbered with precedent.
Join me in my shout in the
void or soft pronouncement
in the light amid the high
mountains and deep sea.
Despite all outward signs
of my genius or whatever
it's to be called, a reckoning
with the moment,
invented until I couldn't.

Ballad of the Fallen

For a time in sixth grade,
my best friend, Anthony Scialli,
and I exchanged
stories we'd written
for the amusement of
the other. No one ever
saw these communiques –
until a classmate found
one of the handwritten
compositions that must
have fallen to the floor
and turned it in to our
teacher, Mrs. Sara Dobrin.
Panic ensued as she began
an inquisition to determine
who had defiled her and
brought dishonor unto her
household: the story
involved her husband,
Harry, being in a cage
at the zoo.
Each student in the class
had to approach her desk
at the front of the classroom
and provide a writing sample
so comparisons could be
made and the culprit
behind this egregious
act of subversion of
all that was holy might be
brought to justice.
In my defense, I should
interrupt the narrative to
declare that she was a terrible
teacher and a bitter, mean
woman, though, of course,
at that age I only knew to be
respectful to my elders and
bow to their every determination.
The interrogation ended with
me the winner.
It was I who had
scrawled this slap in
the face of the foundation
of American order and propriety.
What was to be done?
The scandal rocked the
classroom, disrupted
our usual period of
mediocre learning
(that's putting it kindly).
It was decided that I
should go home and come
in next day with an
apology. This was to
become the make or
break point in my
development as a young lad.
My mother was appalled
at my transgression;
not that I'd shown
promise as a creative
writer, exchanging
stories with a friend,
a burgeoning,
talented individual
showing interest in something
beyond the rote learning of
that classroom, distinguishing
myself with poignant observations
expressed in a witty manner.
Nay, she availed herself not
of my brilliance.
At home that night
my mom was taking the
side of the authorities.
My future as a normal
person was in danger.
No pride in my
creative accomplishments,
no compliment for my
efforts as an entertainer.
Rather, a sentencing to
toe the line, bend me to
fulfill my obligation as
a productive, non-unique
member of society.
Oh, if I'd gotten one glimpse
of any sort of alliance, a whisper
of support. But no, the only course of
action was an apology next morning.
My crying was not admitted as evidence
in the courtroom of family jurisprudence.
My impulse to shape my
circumstances into
outpourings of amusement
for a close bonding with a buddy –
who was evolved enough to share a
point of view receptive to parody
and questioning of the status quo –
thrown out of court.
The apology was delivered.
But, good people, this wasn't
enough. A punishment
was to be meted out.
How best could I suffer
beyond my humiliation?
"You will resign from the
school safety patrol."
I was branded, made to
turn in my cool plastic sash that granted
me the power to assist my younger
schoolmates to cross the intersection
safely. Every morning before school
and every afternoon as school was
dismissed, I'd been dutifully manning,
well, boying, my post.
But now the civic order
was being dismantled so
I could bear the weight of shame
before my peers and be shunned from
sixth grade polite society, cast out of
the legion of proper behavior, kids
with promise and rich futures ahead of them.
No longer was I entitled to the pastures
of plenty and the vague promises
we'd all been fed.

Then JFK was shot and
the so-called American dream
ended as well for the rest of you.

Elvin's Thoughts, Perhaps

Elvin Jones, great jazz drummer, behind his kit at a 1965 performance in Seattle of the John Coltrane Quartet.

Oh man, there he goes,
the solo is going on
forever. The energy
is unbelievable, how
does he do it, twisting
those notes in the
higher register, now
he's honking, he's gonna
blow a lung. I don't
know, I gotta keep up,
provide the foundation.
I hope the audience is
digging this. Are they gonna
boo him like they did in
Paris in 1961 when he
was playing that one
last tour with Miles
and his solos extended,
his blowing lifting off
so far from the comfortable
structures, abandoning pleasing
sound for expression encompassing
pain and terror and the previously
unimaginable inner demon
tormenting his beautiful soul,
confronting his outrage at
racial prejudice. Whoa, he is
still at it. Wait a second,
my solo is coming up.
Here I go.


Greg Masters

Greg Masters has published 10 books in the past decade with his imprint Crony Books. The latest collection of poems is The Collected Thoughts of Greg Masters.


The Brooklyn Rail

SEPT 2022

All Issues