The American Journal of Poetry
"Strong Rx Medicine"®


Stephen Gibson

Screaming Pope


Bacon’s tortured pontifex maximus—

Velasquez, see what he’s done to you?

Innocent X’s face explodes into strips

as comical as Lady Gaga’s meat suit.


It’s you, Velasquez; see what he’s done?

With Mapplethorpe the artist’s subtext.

(Not comical as Lady Gaga’s meat suit

when it’s about raw, aggressive sex.)


Critics see Mapplethorpe as subtext.

Bacon makes his pope a palimpsest

of all sex as violence—he lived it—

the artist as tortured as his pontiff,


which makes his pope a palimpsest

for everyone, all as sexually tortured—

this artist, as tortured as his pontiff,

and all flesh, exploding, its own cage,


because flesh wants (therein, tortured),

all flesh wanting what it wants, at once—

then more—and, so, becomes a cage—

exploding, each arm strapped to armrests:


the flesh wanting what it wants at once—

and can’t, strapped to armrests—explodes:

Bacon’s pope becoming an exploding cage—

your pope, Velasquez—as a Marvel comic.




STEPHEN GIBSON's Self-Portrait in a Door-Length Mirror was selected by Billy Collins as the 2017 Miller Williams Prize winner for the University of Arkansas Press. Previous collections include The Garden of Earthly Delights Book of Ghazals (Texas Review Press), Rorschach Art Too (2014 Donald Justice Prize, Story Line Press, West Chester University), Paradise (Miller Williams finalist University of Arkansas Press), Frescoes (Lost Horse Press book prize), Masaccio’s Expulsion (MARGIE/IntuiT House book prize), and Rorschach Art (Red Hen Press). He has been a recipient of Individual Artist Fellowships from the State of Florida in both poetry and fiction. His poetry and fiction have appeared in such journals as Able Muse, American Arts Quarterly, The American Journal of Poetry, Boulevard, Copper Nickel, Gargoyle, The Georgia Review, The Gettysburg Review, Lake Effect, Louisiana Literature, MARGIE, Nimrod, North American Review, The Paris Review, Per Contra, Pleiades, Poetry, Quiddity, River Styx, Salamander, The Sewanee Review, Sewanee Theological Review, Shenandoah, The Southern Review, Southwest Review, Texas Review, Unsplendid, Valparaiso Poetry Review, and The Yale Review. He taught for thirty-two years at the Belle Glade campus of Palm Beach State College.



Previous | Next