Sunday Morning ~ Jack Grapes


Sunday morning. Spring. I wake to the sun lifting one leg over the top of the Ticor Building on Wilshire Boulevard. The new leaves on the tree outside my bedroom window are tinged with sunlight. If only I were a photographer or painter I’d freeze this moment and crawl into it.

Sunday morning. I have to get up but my body wants to drown right here in the bed. Spring ambles up the street waving its arms. A matinee today. I have to be at the theater by two. Yesterday, I find out from my agent that I didn’t get the part I was counting on.

Eat this, they say.
It’s good for you.
You’ve eaten it before.
The next one will be sweet.

I eat and concentrate on the window, on the tree, on the sun beginning to beat its chest as it comes over the top of the tallest building.

I drive down Beverly Boulevard, take the curve where it changes into 1st Street, turn on Grand and park right across from the museum. It’s just after ten, hardly any cars on the street. MOCA doesn’t open till eleven. The sun has followed me all the way, reflecting off the Security Pacific Bank Building, glass and steel going all the way up.

I get off on this urban sleekness, especially the unfinished building across the street, another skeleton of steel and concrete. Someone should stick a sign on it, make it part of MOCA, part of the Permanent Collection, and leave it just as it is, unfinished. No clear line where the museum ends and the rest of the city begins. One easy flow, stretching all the way back into our homes, into the very center of our lives.

I walk past the California Plaza sign, running my hand along the chrome and glass, then head downstairs for a cup of coffee and cinnamon roll at the “Il Panino.” There’s a girl two tables over, in the sun. We both drink our coffee in silence, checking our watches, writing something down in our journals.

She’s an art student from Santa Barbara come to see the Jasper Johns. She asks what am I here to see. “Oh,” I say, “the art. Just the art. I don’t care. Just something.”

I don’t understand anything.
Hot and humid days;
nights, dark and mysterious.
They take me to school.
I stare at the blackboard.
The kid from around the corner beats me up at recess.
Some nights my father doesn’t come home.

My mother shrieks on the telephone.
My pet turtle dries up in the sun.
My uncle dies on the floor in the empty kitchen.
Who is the world?
Why is the moon where the sun is?
If the street goes nowhere, why is it in my bed?
What is the rain that rains just rain,
and why does it rain crows, or bats, or baseball gloves?
How is the pencil writing my name,
and why is my name the name for the thing that fixes tires,
the name for the flag on the pirate ship,
the name for the clown crushed in the box?
Outside, the kids continue to jump rope on the sidewalk,
singing, “A my name is Alice,”
seeing everything, but knowing nothing.

The class takes a bus with Miss Cook
to the Delgado Museum on Elysian Fields Avenue.
We’re going to see Vincent Van Gogh.
Later, when I tell my mother,
who was born in Antwerp,
she says to say it like this,
Vincent Van Gough,
and she coughs as she says it.
Van Gough! Van Gough!.
But Miss Cook says Van Go.
We are marched single-file from one room to another,
walking past each painting that hangs just above our heads.

Vincent van GoghI look up at the painting.
I can’t believe what I am seeing.
Everything mysterious and horrible about the world vanishes.
He paints like I paint!
Trees outlined in black.
All those wavy lines, all those colors.
And he piles the paint on.
He’s wasting all that paint,
just like I did before they told me not to waste all the paint.

He sees everything I see.
The moon is where the sun is.
The street that goes nowhere is in his bed.
It’s not just raining rain,
it’s raining crows and bats.
He sees the blood, he sees the faces.
Everything so bright it’s on fire.
Everything so dark it swallows me up.
The man cuts his ear off.
The man leans against the table so sad.
The man dies on the floor of the empty kitchen.

I stop in front of the painting with crows above a cornfield.
The world I see is real.
I bring my hand up and touch the dried paint.
It’s real!
Mounds of paint,
swirls of paint,
rivers of paint!

But it’s not paint.
It’s real.
It’s the world.

“Don’t touch the painting!” Miss Cook yells.
She pulls my hand away.
She yanks my arm into the center of the room.
“Never ever touch a painting!”
She shoves me into a seat in the back of the bus.
It doesn’t matter.
The world is real.
I fold my hands in my lap.
I know what I will do.

I will write about the real world.

Frank Gehry11 o’clock. The girl heads off toward the Jasper Johns. I walk into the J. Paul Getty Trust Gallery and find the Geary cardboard chairs and cardboard houses. “Can I sit in them?” I ask the guard. “They can be sat in,” he says, “but you can’t sit in them.”

“Oh,” I say, and walk into the room with the huge pavilion shaped like a fish. I walk into the belly of the fish. The wood inside is so beautiful.

“Don’t touch the wood, please,” says the guard.

I wander over to the Nauman video. A clown is being tortured on simultaneous video screens. “Clown Torture,” it’s called. Later, in the Permanent Collection, I bump into the girl from Santa Barbara. In the center of the room, a metal sculpture of a man moves his motorized mouth up and down. A silent




This, I understand. I stand as close to it as I can. The guard watches me suspiciously.

Over in the North Gallery there’s an empty spot in one corner. Something was there, but it’s been                 removed. I make a sign for myself and hang it around my neck. I stand in the corner of the Permanent Collection, North Gallery, as still as I can, one arm out in the gesture of an actor about to speak.

Eat this.
You’ve eaten it before.
The next one will be sweet.
The street that goes nowhere is in your bed.
You know nothing,
but you can see everything.

A woman and her little girl walk up to me. “What does the sign say?” the girl asks.

“Touch me,” her mother says. “The sign says touch me.”

So the child reaches out a hand and touches my own.

by Jack Grapes


One response »

  1. via email from Jack:

    Hi Stormy,

    How nice to hear from you.

    I was commissioned to write that poem sometime in the mid-seventies. The new Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art asked several Los Angeles artists in different fields — a poet, a prose writer, a painter, a graphic artists, a photographer, etc., to help celebrate the opening of the Museum.

    They published a limited edition portfolio which featured a broadside about 18 inches by 24 inches) from each artist. The broadsides were contained in a larger portfolio, so the whole thing was about 3/4 of an inch thick. It didn’t have to be specifically about MOCA, but had to have something that related to the museum experience. Obviously, painters and photographers and graphic artists were a little more abstract, but the poetry and prose was more literal.

    Nevertheless, I still had to write something that had something to do with museums, and I had about 6 months to come up with it. But I couldn’t think of anything that had to do with a museum. I kept putting it off.

    Finally, the Friday that it was due (I had to give it to the design firm that was doing the whole layout), I got a call from the company and they wanted to know how it was coming and could I drop it off at their firm that afternoon. Sweating bullets, I said okay, and then they told me that they were leaving for San Francisco on a business trip, and it would be okay if I dropped it off on Monday. “Oh, great,” I said, “that’ll give me a chance to make a few final polishes.”

    Of course, I hadn’t written a thing, and furthermore, hadn’t even paid a visit to the museum, which had just opened a few months before. I figured, schmuck, you should at least go to the museum, maybe it’ll spark your memory. But I was acting in a play at the time, and the only chance I had to go to the museum was Sunday morning, ’cause I had a matinee that afternoon, and a run-through Friday and Saturday and shows those nights. Boy, was I cutting it close. So I went to the museum Sunday morning, did shows that afternoon and evening, and wrote the poem late that night.

    What came up was totally unexpected, since for some reason, one of the most formative experiences of my life totally escaped my recall until I was midway through writing the poem.

    Smack dab in the middle of writing it, in which I basically was recounting my experience having gone to the museum that morning, I had this sudden recall of when I went to the Delgado Museum as a child. And saw those Van Gogh’s. That was in 1948, and when there was a famous tour of Van Gogh’s work in 1972, and I was living in L.A., the catalogue mentioned that it was the first full-scale tour of Van Gogh’s work since the one back in 1948. I was six-years old at the time.

    But that whole experience I had forgotten about somehow, or just didn’t connect when I had that commission to write a poem celebrating the opening of the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in Los Angeles.

    It’s pretty amazing how the creative process works. Sometimes, we don’t know what’s going to pop up until we start writing.

    The poem was reprinted in 1995 in my chapbook “and the running form, named, Blake,” which also includes my paintings and art work, as well as art work by other Los Angeles poets. I think it can be ordered through the web site.

    The poem also appears in my most recent book, A TIME TO SING, A TIME TO DANCE. I don’t know if it’s available on the website, but just in case it isn’t, it can be ordered directly from me at 6684 Colgate Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90048. It was a specially limited edition of 100 copies, and only about 10 copies remain.

    All best,



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