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"Rothko On" by Richard Stuecker

What we recall are not memories but old emotions disturbed or resolved—some sense of well-being suddenly shadowed by a cloud—yellow ochres strangely suffused with a drift of gray prevailing over an ambience of rose or the fire diminishing into a glow of embers, or the light when the night descends. Duncan Phillips

I’m interested only in expressing basic human emotions—tragedy, ecstasy, doom and so on. Mark Rothko


After the Calder slowly in motion across the grand entrance,

I find the Rothko Room, large canvases on each wall in

conversation with one another, colors pulsating in sync.

I stand static as a stabile at their vortex, as though struck by a

thunderbolt, no, something more ecstatic, perhaps what saints

or repentant sinners feel at the moment of exultation, no exegesis needed.


Inside I feel the sensations I once felt in the Mirror Maze finding

myself seeking an ID in the gap before I die, having worn

so many faces until now, so many reflections on the walls of glass

a hysteria I felt at the thought I’d never get out, my face over and over just eyes,

bodiless, slamming again and again into walls of glass I thought would lead

me to freedom, losing myself until at last I stumbled out, into a new life.


Rothkos need Rothkos on every wall, each seeking the other, forming a tourbillion,

pulling me into my center, like a remembered dream, reminding of a time

when I was all together, perhaps on a beach at sunrise, healing light,

the colors of Rothko at dawn, #10, walking with my friend into the sun, when all was

possible, life forming, like the curtain rising on a favorite play, leading to an unseen

climax, like the climax at the vortex of the Rothko Room.


With a friend who jabbers like a tour guide, proud of all things Toledo, I am suddenly

fixed by the Rothko, recently purchased, singular, lonely, a life seeking culmination

toward who I really am, late Rothko leading toward death, toward a chapel in Houston.

I am a tourist in a lifelong search for connection to myself, to others, like Rothkos in their

constant journey from color toward the void, finding in the paintings an ultimate joy

found in deep red sunsets cooling into blue night, the passage of blue to sleep, to dream.


Into the Zen of blackness, into the apse of Good Friday, droning priest, strange melodious

candles and incense, altar boys in black cassocks, station to station the death of the

Christ, hanging on the tree of life, between earth and heaven, suspended, like a Rothko.

Black is a complete emptiness of color, an abyss, triptychs consume all light in a silence where

only breathing is apparent, the journey of us all complete, as Rothko’s death, tools of the

artist made to gouge out his life in a rectangle of blood.

Richard Stuecker is a poet and writer who graduated from Duke University in 1970. A Pushcart Prize nominee, he holds an MFA from Eastern Kentucky University. His poems have appeared in or been accepted by Tipton Poetry Review,Tilde, Former People, Pegasus, Main Street Rag, Poetica Review, Rubbertop Review, Otherwise Engaged, Birmingham Arts and District Lit. Kelsay Books published his first chapbook, The Uncertainty Principal in 2020

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