ARC Fellows: The First Day of the Plague Was My Birthday

ARC Fellows: The First Day of the Plague Was My Birthday

Submitted by our 2020 Poetry and the Senses Poetry Fellow:

Jared Robinson (English)

It starts on my birthday at midnight or the day after. He brings me breakfast and later he brings me flowers. David Hockney was the fourth son of a conscientious objector and if often compared to Matisse remains “his own person.” I move the flowers, put them on my desk, and open the windows. Palm Springs or Lake Tahoe? Do you have any eggs? “The theme is emergency!” So, they close all the non-essential shops but not their windows. I don’t follow. Paint the blue openings.

All my favorite Hockney paintings are of people. A whole score or more “take place” in California. He calls me on my birthday as I carry out the books from the hilltop mansion and he calls as we rush home from 99 Ranch Market so he can cook as he heads out of town. Why don’t I trust you to do what we agree? What happened was all the plans traveling. Just as often for Hockney the house is empty and everything is at an angle.

I start the collage I started with him again in the same place but without him. I forget to turn on one of the lights. In A Bigger Splash you can’t see the body in the water. When I saw it in New York people crowded around mostly ignoring the landscapes. My sister leaves me to My White Men, Hockney one among them, at the Met because there it too much to see. It is winter before anyone had to pay. The landscapes I miss aren’t in California.

Hockney paints his porch. I notice that he is the main character in my journal since I started it some months ago. I told my mother I didn’t want to be sick anymore for everyone. He pulls me from the fire and tells me to feel better for myself. Hockney paints it again, and again, and again. I don’t understand even turning my head how his rooms work. In the beginning were shorn male forms in pencil. Good and you?

What happened to that body? In Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) he looks down at him in the water. What does your father say, the dogs? He reads his novels at the marble table, on the porch in view of the bay, on his back on the couch. Another book in French he’ll teach me to pronounce without my asking. Picasso paints the carnivals he knew. I am spending all day in my bed but I feel ok for once. Come again, paint come again.

The difference is for the moment the disease is in fact spreading at an alarming rate. I move my body with my mind through space this hour to whose detriment? The flowers I draw in the mirror, a drowning plant on the bookshelf. I smoke through what I bought in panic. In painting everything happens indoors. No, he didn’t fly home for this. Light on the water like patterned wallpaper.

Jared Robinson is from Indianapolis, IN. He is a poet and scholar in the UC Berkeley English department. In his scholarship, he interrogates the relationship between the transatlantic slave trade and Enlightenment philosophy through careful attention to early African-American literature and its reception. In his poetry, he attempts an understanding of everything else. He does not care for this California weather. He is glad to greet you.

Note: Over the course of the spring semester, each 2020-2021 ARC Fellows will submit a short blog post about their project. We hope you will enjoy these short readings! Poetry and the Senses will create meaningful opportunities for engagement, research, and collaboration. As a think tank for the arts at UC Berkeley, ARC will act as a facilitator and connector between the campus and the many flourishing regional poetry communities. This two-year initiative (Jan 2020 – Dec 2021) explores the relevance and urgency of lyrical making and storytelling in times of political crisis, and the value of engaging the senses as an act of care, mindfulness, and resistance. To learn more about the program, click here.