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"Flesh 78" [by Herbert Engelhardt, 1925-2021]

Herb Engelhardt
Flesh 78

Brancusi hinted it
Giacometti stinted it

Miró laughed at it
Degas choreographed it

Bosch hated it
Bruegel skated it

Watteau crêpe de chine covered it
Manet gape to dine uncovered it

Botticelli virgin Spring emerged
Titian love-in fling resurged

Kandinsky ignored it
Gaugin adored it

Renoir bathed his coquette in pink
Bellows slathed hot sweat in stink

Ingres slipped in two vertebrae
Maillol worshipped her in clay

Seurat biked it to the park
Tintoretto liked it for St Mark

Gorky mangled it
Pollock tangled it

Picasso pranced in Avignon
Matisse danced in primary tone

Michelangelo mixed genders
Fragonard transfixed splendors

Cézanne preferred yellow lemons
Van Gogh preferred star-glow demons

Lachaise inflated it
Schiele conflated it

Beckmann painted bloody stumps
Hals sainted ruddy rumps

Warhol silk-screened it
Chagall flute-dreamed it

Giotto enrobed it in gesso
Géricault unrobed it al fresco

Daumier mocked it
Wood defrocked it

Rodin raptured eroticized it
Braque fractured analyzed it

De Chirico enigmatically stylized it
El Greco astigmatically exorcized it

Velásquez grew a mischievous chin
Da Vinci drew a mysterious grin

Rothko dazzled with colors bold
Klimt razzled with showers gold

Lautrec wrapped Braunt’s neck in red
Stieglitz snapped O’Keeffe’s pec in bed

Duchamp sighted it descending
Caravaggio whited it offending

Rubens sketched it out
Modigliani stretched it out

Artists obsess on flesh
From Marrakesh to Uttar Pradesh

Published in HARVARD REVIEW ONLINE on February 25, 2016 with this contributor's note:

Herbert Engelhardt was born in New Jersey in 1925. He served in the Pacific Theater of World War II from 1943 to 1946 and was awarded the Purple Heart in the Battle of Okinawa in April 1945. He received his BA and MBA from Harvard in 1949 and 1951, respectively. In his late seventies, he began to write poems. He has lived in New York City since the early 1950s.

Ed. note: Herb, whom I met twelve or thirteen years ago, had a passion for poetry and a zest for life that continually inspired me. We met sixteen years ago, when he was eighty, and worked together on his poems. His book, Ordinary Soldiers, which he published under the title World War II Poetry: Memories of an Ordinary Soldier, deserves to be far better known and celebrated. One reader commented that the book is "Intimate. Visceral. Honest. First rate. Fine poetry and also a valuable as a historic record of a soldier's life, much of it in Okinawa and the Philippines, during WW II."  Herb and I lunched together often and talked about all manner of thing -- his travels, his years in the service, his time at Harvard (where he housed with Henry Kissinger), and his own successful business career. For years he taught a course at NYU's Business School, with a reading list that included Julius Caesar and other works in which management made costly decisions to their detriment. Herb is quoted in my book One Hundred Autobiographies. We were comparing medical experiences and he said with his customary salty wit, “No matter what the longhaired Buddhist full of shit poets write about flowers and rocks and clouds, you don’t really understand life until you’ve had a Foley catheter stuck in you for six days." He was right about that and so much else. We miss you and honor you, Herb. -- DL

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I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark

from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman

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