Monday, August 12, 2019

Lola Koundakjian: In Search of Rilke at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Photo by Lola Koundakjian, Metropolitan Museum of Art

After a reading of Archaic Torso

A Sunday afternoon, the final lazy weekend of the summer, I escape to the cool, bright corridors of that art institution. I am in search of Apollo or Rilke.

In the Hellenistic and Roman wing I find Hermes, Eros, Heracles, headless torsos of young men and women, centaurs, athletes and heroes. I turn around each statue and sepulchre, reading labels and descriptions.

In desperation, I ask a guard but she’s clueless.

I search for him in a cubiculum nocturnum (i.e. bedroom), in galleries, in the faces and camera lenses of tourists, finally finding him through old-fashioned help, the humble assistance of the information desk clerk.

There are two Apollos here. One in worse shape than the other, one slightly taller, one still resting against a marble trunk, one with more genitals intact, more of the hip areas defined, with both feet, perfect toes and toenails.


The Japanese tourist photographs her friend grabbing, or is it covering, the genitals; I hear the guard laughing heartily. Men, women and children walk by, few stop by to look at the headless torso, few read the description, few acknowledge that THIS was Apollo, this WAS the god of music and poetry, son of Zeus, father of Orpheus, one of the twelve Olympians, Dii Consentes. Who cares for those lesser gods and heroes when Apollo is in the room?

And still, I don’t find Rilke, a man at least in some form or manner representing him, his essence, or a man who has read his work, a man aware of that dilemma called mid-career or life crisis.

I wonder if I tear a piece of paper, write in bold capital letters RILKE, and hold it up, will someone stop and chat with me, sit and read with me that poem, ask me questions about it, maybe exchange something about himself, a revelation found through this encounter.

If any answer to man’s inner quest is to be found on Earth, it could be at these feet, or another work of art, at this museum or another like it, in this city or another metropolis such as the many found on this or other continents.

And yet his torso
is still suffused with brilliance from inside,
like a lamp, in which his gaze, now turned to low,
gleams in all its power.

Lola Koundakjian, NY, USA
September 2011
Published in Naugatuck River Review

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