By Ariella Rosen
“Master of Two Worlds” is an epic poem about a museum guard named Auguste, who has fallen inside of a painting. In this excerpt, Auguste is inside a WWI painting:
Auguste considered what the soldier’d said.
It seemed so wrong for this young man to fight
And kill. Auguste was only twenty-three
And had his life ahead, but even though
The soldier seemed to be about that age
As well, he’d lost his hope and will to live.
And if he even lived to see the war
Through to its end, his youth would be long gone.
How strange a thought it was that he would go
On with his life, but this poor boy would be
Forever tainted by the blood of war.
A soldier’s cry broke through the curtain of
The rain: “Get ready men, take up your posts!”
Auguste heard soldiers shout and scramble up
Above the shell hole where he lay. He risked
A glance above the crater’s edge and saw
The soldiers line up in a trench with backs
To him and rifles resting on the bags
Of sand and earth that lined the frontmost wall.
He ducked his head back down again just as
The noises from the field beyond began
To taper out. He sat then and he held his
His breath and listened to the heavy rain
That quickly turned the dirt around him to
A slimy mud that wrapped itself about
His limbs and bound him to the earth. But as
He sat encased in mud, he started to reflect:
The ooze around him felt so real; the rain
And thunder, absolute. Who was to say
He would return? Was he not in this war
As well? Not once since plunging deep inside
That painting at the Met had it occurred
To him to think how strange it was to walk
And breathe inside the confines of a frame.
He wondered now what had aroused in him
The urge to jump at all, and if he could
Get out. He’d jumped between two paintings twice
Before, but neither time had it been his
Intent. But could he ever jump again?
The words the goddess told him back
On top the mountain Fuji came into
His mind. Could this have been the power that
She’s meant? Before he cold begin to think
About what that might mean, Hamor walked up
To him and said that men approached them from
The west. But even as the donkey spoke,
A whining screech cut through the air that made
A surge of panic pound inside his chest
And terror shake his bones. He closed his eyes
And thought of warmth and love. He thought of skies
Clear, bright, and blue; of gentle waves beside
A beach; of sunshine on a summer’s day, the scent
Of flowers on a breeze.
Of flowers on a breeze. The mud he lay
In pulled him tight and dragged him deep into
The earth ‘till water rushed around his limbs.
He kicked and flailed and when his head again
Met air, he found that he had jumped once more.
So muddled were his thoughts that he could not
Yet comprehend the fact that as he’d lain
Beneath the mud, his thoughts had sent him far
Beyond the soldiers’ cries. For with closed eyes,
Auguste still thought himself to be in mud,
Which pulled him down and down. His face beneath
The shallow waves again, his gasps for air
Brought only water to his lungs.