Tony Romeo’s Rose Period at the Fair
In Ayn Rand’s hierarchy, geniuses prevail.
There’s never a second ranking, back-up men talented enough
To paint for pittances, stub cigarettes out on their shoes.
Availing myself of sport, I meandered the midway
Of the Clowson County Fair. Cotton candy, club-sized
Turkey legs dripping grease from shiny lips,
The Tilt-a-Whirl plummeting
And, seated on a crate, Antonio Masachio Romeo III,
His eyes riveted into their near-lidless gaze,
Rosacea pocking his flattened boxer’s nose,
Magenta abstractions--smeared impasto gobs--
Lined up against the fence for five bucks apiece.
Tony muttered and dozed; passing children laughed
At his magnum opi. Yet, there was something
Roiling beneath the heaped-up oil surfaces:
A mind hot-wired for seconds before implosion.
Orgasmic white lights of succulent kitsch.
Mouthing words I couldn’t catch,
The roller coaster rattling, a fat kid
Shouted “fuck.” I gave Tony ten bucks
For a painting I admired; smiling, slurring
His words, he loaded it onto my truck.
I took it home and hung it on my wall.
Pink dollops, fractured faces, obliterated figures
Wailing from the depths of hell
In their Stanley Kowalski slouches.
Tony Romeo’s Opus
When he died, they tossed all his paintings out;
The carnival moved on to the next sleazy city,
Trailers’ tin-can sides winking under sun.
Like crusty old elephants they lumbered past.
In weeds springing up around me
I found the trash can, its lid thrust down
Over Tony Romeo’s art. I tugged the paintings out,
Stacked them, tattooed babes, alleys where he’d slept,
The obliterated, Skid-Row homeless.
I carted his legacy home,
Hammered nails into each wall to hang
Each rose-colored remnant, conjured Van Gogh’s dreamy
Self perceptions when, mirror-gazing, craving
Some Absolute Truth, he painted his mummified,
Ear-ravaged head. Tony Romeo, I believed,
Experienced few revelations. Yet, praying
For his suffering to abate, Van Gogh, cringing
Among crows, bullet-blasted his gut.
If Tony Romeo died with less dignity, curled
Fetus-tight in the snow sifting over him,
He’d been offered no choice except freezing.
At first, he slept behind his paintings to protect them.
Other carnies rented booths, stepped into silver trailers to sleep.
But Tony, a “bottom feeder,” owned three dozen oils, two pairs of jeans
Rubbed raw at the knees, ten patched flannel shirts.
A vendor told me Tony downed a six-pack a day,
Invested in his wife’s contempt
Until, stock climbing, he collected.
A cloud burst at two a.m.:
Tony shielded his head with an abstract; later, storm abating,
He examined the mess that was left, the runny colors, muddied canvas.
Peeling off his shirt, draping it over a single safe painting,
Tony remembered, drunk and besotted,
Those mornings in bed with his wife,
When all the world seemed wet.
Terri Brown-Davidson's first book of poetry, The Carrington Monologues, was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. Her first novel is Marie, Marie: Hold On Tight. She is currently working on a book-length poem and two novels.