George Held

On The Egg Handler

(bisque porcelain sculpture by Pat Lasch)

Seated, she bends over the lip of a well
As if fishing with gold thread,
An egg as bait, or is she lowering it
Into a trove of eggs of different sizes
And shades of white?

She looks intently at the egg cupped
In her fingers, maternal concern
For an unfertilized egg from Fallopia,
Mythical land through which transit
Promises of life.

A three-sided mirror multiplies
The number of eggs in the trove,
A lifetime supply of ovaries’ ova
That some or no man might fertilize –
If they are fertile.

Do the three reclining nude men ten feet
Across the gallery, each lying
On his own pallet atop a pedestal,
Each penis flaccid, hold out hope
For procreation?

These are “sacred” men, like the African
Prince, on his back, long thick hair
Spilled out like a pillow for his head,
Legs spread, long phallus slung
Over hip-joint.

But like the other figures,
This African has a grayish hue
That the lighting accentuates,
A pallor that puts them in a world
Of myth or death.

A fourth nude figure is Anna,
“The fertile holy woman,” reclining
In fetal position – the key, maybe,
To the work’s title, Sacred Breeding,
Born of Lasch’s “chaos.”

Or is the key the Egg Handler,
Naked, muscular, her mannish hair
In a bun, bending over the lip of the well,
The mirror’s partitions creating a hall
Storing the eggs in infinite numbers?

(Words in quotation marks come from the artist’s statement in the Zabriskie Gallery brochure, New York, 2007.)

Mr. Held has the following to say about his poem “On the Egg Handler”: “This poem has been repeatedly rejected over the past five years, since I wrote it after having viewed the work of art, Pat Lasch’s The Egg Handler, at its original installation. Lasch is probably best known for her wedding-cake sculptures, inspired by the baked goods of her late father, a master baker on eastern Long Island. But she is a multi-talented fine artist who also paints and sculpts and, as with The Egg Handler, makes installation art. That the Zabriskie show was noted on most arts calendars in 2007 and received generally good reviews was irrelevant to the profound mark this work made on me, such that I took notes at the gallery for a poem I felt I had to write.

“At the time, ekphrastic poems were trendy, but that was more of a deterrent than a goad, as I write independent of trends and usually am ‘out of it’ when it comes to them. Also, the likelihood that an ekphrastic will be published increases with the visibility of its subject. A poem responding to Picasso’s Boy with Horse will have a better chance for acceptance than one about an art installation by a fairly obscure artist and seen by few.

“Moreover, the theme of The Egg Handler is strongly feminist – woman as the creator and preserver of the race, while man languishes in narcissistic impotence. So I sympathize with editors who found reasons to reject my poem for publication. With the revival of Best Poem, however, I am hopeful that at last the poem has found its proper venue.

“Regardless, the poem still exists, unwanted and largely unread. Not only do I have no regret about having written it, but I kind of like its orneriness, which I hope matches that of Pat Lasch, who conceived of and executed this, to me, memorable work of art. If the poem fails to do it justice, the fault is mine alone.”

George Held publishes poems, fiction, and book reviews both online and in print. His latest books, both 2011, are After Shakespeare: Selected Sonnets and Neighbors, animal poems for children, illustrated by Joung Un Kim. Neighbors Too will appear in 2012, and Culling: New and Selected Nature Poems in 2013.