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Peter Minter

Political Economy & Raphael’s ‘Madonna of the Pinks’


Late one night on the Discovery Channel
we see how light makes the future,
how gold leaf gets right into cotton canvas
a pair of olive trees in an autumn field
an afternoon in southern Europe     still air
grows cool & blue grass sprouts blades
of gold, gold photons that bounce & fall
slowly through a well of glass     a slightly orange
filtered lens makes the screen feel
five hundred years too late. impressive  
the coverage, the intention to make it last
costs no greater part of a life in the beginning
where the field of hay and the mill stones turn
against halls     they show the castle in the sun
now and then     satellite dishes nest in a turret
capture data on NASDAQ and FTSE bonds
to line the walls of the dungeon lightly
beneath that ancient field     although
the two olive trees are still there
& the gardener says he is just protecting them
as he looks out over the driveway & all of a sudden
the vision, the painting of the trees in the trees
feels like history and nature mind-fuck for a second
     but will another ad about next week’s mega-fauna special
prove or disprove our gut feeling generally
that the perspective is a little wrong, the babe’s penis
‘too small’     even though the gold beams down
all over the nation, lounge rooms flicker in sapphire
out past the personal edge but, not
                        having met Him personally
we can’t allege any return to a state of nature
after the right nipple got pierced     & if that’s the case
while the size of a penis in an art doco might be
supplementary, you feel conned anyway     maybe the painting
was made up too         imagine
                                                 the castle
five stars, the film crew totally wasted
at a loose end one night after hours in the maze
     the idea came to the gardener really
just to get them going      he was the true artist.


The radio alarm: it’s three pm
           & I lie half awake
                           listening to the gas leak story
           the city in chaos  

then I get up
         stand in a cool shower
think of The Fear as I watch five news helicopters
                  from the bathroom window
             circling live
                         toward the CBD

     sky high
          in humidity dragging

      then I dry myself, decide not to shave
                      & go downstairs for a coffee

        get struck in my heart with fear for you

It’s February 6 2004,
          a Friday,
                I’m reading the local ‘Advertiser’

   & it looks to me like so-called real-estate
                      is a dead cert gloss
  over the Howard governments’ ‘citizenship’ thing,
                     as if
             a capacity for ‘location’
                     can derive from ‘authenticity’ or ‘capital’
      or lacks thereof.

Consider, for a moment,
             the people
as they drowned in the Timor Sea,
                        never having laid eyes
               on a plot.

Consider, if you will,
          the Acmeists.

                Did they go straight to heaven? 

                I go back upstairs in disgust,
    start writing down some ideas
                     & am thinking about Ted Berrigan’s
                    there seems like there’s different lights.
       It’s like there’s some kind of light
                                       in certain guys
                           when the phone rings & I wish
           I’d been online.

       An old friend and I
                            talk about the gas leak,
               The Fear at work every day
                                     The Axis of Evil
                           live in the studio

                then I read out the Berrigan quote
                      & we joke & joke about light & dark
         in Australian poetry,
                             that ‘harsh’ thing

                  as if a European sensibility hadn’t just
                            landed here
                                   & held Reason up
          shiny as a glas bayonet.

     “Maybe the 1950s were miserable,” you laugh,
                   “but why persist with so much
                                 sentimental self-mythologising?
            all that ‘deep green silence’
                                         dinner at Balzac’s
                         after the up-tight book-launch,
                                 another series of sonnets in a limited edition
                   elegant and subversive in leather.

                       “Yes, what about that whole homo
       — social thing,” you say,
                “isn’t there light there too?
                            Didn’t Eve write something about famous,
                       febrile & well hung works?”

I suddenly saw the relation
                       in a new and different way,
         not that I had anywhere near the 70 million bucks
               needed but
     I saw the truth for a moment:
                                a tiny grain exchanged for the hill
              at the heart of the carnation,
                       the one where the ears of wheat line up
     as we fly toward the Getty center,
                world blazing     prize intact.


Get thee to a gallery, scratch
with griffin hands the evangelising get-rich-quickers
     pseudosynthetics piling up in little glitt’ry cairns
like anti-freeze finally turned to ice, the default
recollection, their highest bid
     your last cool ontology.

If we all chip in
a flower or two, the now post-adrenalin nape
     along the silvery bark, a couple
o sacrificial cranks & autocrats masquerading as security
a real sense of astonishment
     brilliant & ferociously tasteless

some kind of crack-proof solution
will, y’know, just appear,
     one brush stroke at a time, firstly formaldehyde
then white flesh like a metaphor
inspired by mammalian waste
     elaborately, instantly beautiful.

     Private collection
is terrific that way, bystanders snapping to attention
as you hand them another posy
     & lean out just from the frame, light
sublime at this time of day, so curiously


They sold out in the end,
     every movement correlated
in dramatic arty free-for-alls,
     accumulated angst
mixed up nice with the visuals.

I went back to the castle
     only in a memory,
animated wriggling momentarily arrested,
     studios paid-out
remnants of the script
     stuck to the very last hedge left standing
by the so-called terrible angels.

They rise up in the late sun
     waving their flowers
like a fun admonition.

     The world changes channels
as we arrive home,
     our space on the wall
soft, sound & electric.

Peter Minter

Peter Minter

Peter Minter is a poet, editor and reviewer living in Sydney, where he teaches Indigenous Studies at the Koori Centre, University of Sydney. He has published five collections of poetry, including the 2000 Age Poetry Book of the Year Empty Texas (1999 Paper Bark Press, Sydney) and more recently Morning, Hyphen (2003 Equipage Press, Cambridge). He was a founding editor of Cordite in 1997, coedited Calyx: 30 Contemporary Australian Poets in 2000, and was poetry editor of Meanjin from 2000 to 2005. His work has been published and anthologised in various Australian and international publications, such as The Penguin Book of Modern Australian Poetry. His next book, blue grass, will appear with Salt Publishing in 2005.

You can view an image of Raphael’s ‘Madonna of the Pinks’ here, on the Internet site of the British National Gallery:

Notes to
“Political Economy and Raphael’s ‘Madonna of the Pinks’”

    Acquired in Italy in 1853 by the fourth Duke of Northumberland and subsequently rejected as inauthentic, Raphael’s ‘Madonna of the Pinks’ (Florence c.1507–8) hung neglected until 1991 in a back corridor of Alnwick Castle, England, when it was restored and rediscovered by Clore Curator of Italian Renaissance Paintings at London’s National Gallery, Dr Nicholas Penny. In 2002, after a ten year loan to the National Gallery, and the Gallery’s attempts to obtain the painting at a discount, the tenth Duke of Northumberland tried to quietly sell it off to the J. Paul Getty Museum in California for $50 million. Intense public debate over competing values of European heritage and private property contributed to the Duke failing in his bid to secure an export licence to complete the transaction, and in February 2003 it was finally purchased by the National Gallery for £35 million. An extraordinary aspect of the work is the illustration of the Madonna’s piercing, a small hole in her lightly veiled right ear. In Raphael’s time, earrings were generally worn only by Moorish or Jewish women and were a sign of exotic permissiveness. Piercings were sometimes worn by Christian women, but only ever those of easy virtue. The representation of the holy Madonna’s piercing, veiled and void of gold, implies intriguing relations between ethnicity, economy and ‘grace’. Of further interest, Alnwick Castle is also a popular film location. It has been the set for many productions including Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and Rowan Atkinson’s Blackadder.
    ‘Well there seems like there’s different lights. It’s like there’s some kind of light in certain guys’, Ted Berrigan, in ‘Tom Clark Interviews Ted Berrigan’, in Nice To See You: Homage to Ted Berrigan, edited by Anne Waldman, Coffee House, 1991, p. 84.

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