Poetry No. 23 – Michael Salcman

By Michael Salcman

In this room, its ceiling half-timbered by ebony ribbons
like Mondrian’s ribs,
John La Farge’s portrait of the young Henry James
subtends the far-off corner of the bar.
He’s seen in profile, his shoulders draped
in New York gray, lips part-way opened,
cheeks monoxide red with youth or death,
all things to him the same, resolvable
in words. He presumes to speak.

Across the way a young Irishman
limned by Sargent hardly seems inclined to listen.
Frank O’Meara hangs on the near wall,
as stiff as a Greek statue, his tie knotted tight,
having seen little of the present, nor ever past it,
not ready for the perturbations of James,
the molecular disturbances in the air
of future life.
These prophets of a type
have nothing to say to one another but dwell
in the piety of their neighbors, dozing clubmen,
a painted cow, Kensett’s soundless stream:

the Master who knows and the would-be epigone
who thinks he does, one who yet hopes of love
and he who has written just enough to give up the dream
I’m stirring in my drink.



Michael Salcman, poet and art historian, was chairman of neurosurgery at the University of Maryland and president of the Contemporary Museum in Baltimore. His poems appear in Alaska Quarterly Review, Harvard Review, Hopkins Review, Hudson Review, and Poet Lore. Author of four chapbooks and two prior collections, The Clock Made of Confetti (Orchises Press, 2007), nominated for The Poet’s Prize in 2009 and The Enemy of Good Is Better (Orchises, 2011), his widely-praised anthology of classic and contemporary poems on doctors, patients, illness and recovery, Poetry in Medicine appeared in 2015 (Persea Books) and is used in a number of medical schools. His third poetry collection, A Prague Spring, Before & After (2016), won the 2015 Sinclair Poetry Prize from Evening Street Press.


Art by C. O’Connor.