Douglas Max Utter

  In a series of distinctive, often large-scale paintings and prints exhibited since the mid 1980’s in Cleveland, New York, and Germany, Douglas Max Utter is known for innovative expressionist techniques and dramatic imagery. Much of his work is explicitly autobiographical, depicting family members, friends, or himself, combined with archetypal or mythological scenes and themes. Born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1950, Utter spent some years abroad with his parents, living in Adelaide, Australia, and Oxford and Leicester in Great Britain. Later he spent three years living in New York City during the 1970’s, and another year in Portland, Oregon, before returning to Cleveland in 1980. Utter is also known as an art journalist who (since 1988) has contributed reviews, catalog essays, and occasional writings to a number of regional and national publications and contemporary museums and galleries. His poetry has appeared very rarely, usually in connection with themes found in his visual art. The two poems presented here are part of a prospective chapbook, to be published in 2022.  

Shadow Girl in September 

 

Flora dressed in shadows, 

Catching and melting in the growing dark, 

horn-edged, tied round her waist  

Trailing across the field 

across the chain link fence 

as she braids and lowers each strand, 

Lengthening against a distant light, 

Cast into the empty grass, black crouched on her shoulders, 

feeding the skein 

 

She begins the harvest, twisting her gaze 

To wink out the daily forms of things, 

crease and cinch them at her belt 

stack in pointed sheaves, 

blinking under loose cloud cover 

bound with her whispers; 

 

A deep square pit lurks beneath a ruined cement block wall 

weeds salted with 

Torn notes, shredded bags 

Tissue stripped from bone 

And there she thrusts the struggling mismatched limbs, 

All that can’t be forgotten or rest, 

Then sits herself on a rock and weeps. 

 

Next morning they fled. 

She found their prints 

dotted westward, stalked them 

through the hours and clipped them to her line. 

 

She fled to a tower and swung out her flag 

And the moon spun over the sheaves.

 

Covid Ekphrasis: On a Damaged Etching

 

The pane of sky 

darkens after sunset to a blue, blacker than the flag behind the stars;

I watch each night go flat with lies, 

changing channels 

between plague and plague.

 

 

Half-asleep I see a hand reach past me,

pointing to a damaged picture hanging near the TV screen, 

it shows a bearded man, with him a boy, strumming a harp.

Why this image, on a wall 

So overgrown with other faces and affections?

 

Though barely reaching its transparent fingertips beyond a long, cuffed sleeve, 

The hallucination grabs my eye and pulls it in an instant to the frame,

as if tucking a felon’s head

Into the backseat of a dream.

 

More awake, I cross the room, look closely at the 

old print; blotched and yellow, as if long steeped in cold sweat:

I see two personae, Saul and David, turbans on their heads 

(I think Van Rijn and his son Titus, play-acting by firelight),

Seated in an emptiness centuries wide and deep,  

Like comrades meeting, to hear an underwater serenade

on a rock on the ocean’s floor.

 

They watch each other, fond and wary, 

Looking neither down nor out at me, nor up

Toward the surface of spangled, brittle time

 So many fathoms toward the burning sun.

 

No doubt they wait for death to ebb again

 

they count the agelong nights, disguised as merchants, tyrants, thieves,

as kings and prodigies of grace, less drowned than any living face.