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MacQueen’s Quinterly: Knock-your-socks-off Art and Literature
Issue 12: March 2022
Poem: 665 words
+ Poet’s Commentary: 173 words
By Jonathan Yungkans

And He Can See Quite Clearly into the Needle 1

After Caroline Bacher’s Cross My Heart 2
 

Cross My Heart: Mixed-media artwork by Caroline Bacher
Cross My Heart (Acrylic, Coloured Pencil, and Graphite on Wood Panel)

© 2021 by Caroline Bacher.[P1] All rights reserved.

 

—the futility of eyesight in utter blindness, since Magritte said 
everything is curtained and the curtain is what defines a needle, 
an eye, a hand, as what they may pretend to be. Bacher’s sleeve 
could well be a curtain, and the hands she draws a theater stage 
over which the mind hovers. Stage manager becomes managed 

in the needling predicament presented to his vulnerable eye—
polished, gleaming, behind its metallic curtain—vulnerability 
having become a ritual of unblinking palm, stone cathedral arch 
of a hand. Does the hand plunge the needle into heart or eye? 
Heart and eye are both eyes. Which one fears the hand more—

*

the heart or eye of a husband whose wife goes from “Yes, I do” 
to “Who are you?” Her eyes windows in a vacant house. Floors 
sound an old rhythm, antiphonal, unanswered. A needle drops 
and rattles on hardwood, into a staring ear, followed by stillness. 
As if she had plummeted into the Grand Canyon on honeymoon—

like she almost did in real life. In her place, a canyon with trees 
along the wall of the other side like matchsticks, snow topped. 
Breath whispers from the bedroom as she sleeps away her days—
the languid sway of tall pines as a breeze passes. Pine needles 
hover, poised at an eye. Cross my heart / and hope to die / stick 

*

a needle in my eye. In the contours of a needle is the straightness 
of a quandary with white ruffled sleeves. Are the Bacher ruffles 
sheer actually by the way they’re drawn, cross-hatched? I stare 
at fabric which could pass as either premonition or fabrication—
etched lines engraving imagination with a cloth’s warp and weft—

while royal-blue thread stitched along a buttonhole is a heartstring, 
echoes a vibration which passes through the needle’s eye, parting 
where a pearl emerges to button the sleeve. As if light or air could 
be paused for a hand to hold. As if people could be trusted to keep 
breathing. You claim no pain / but I see right through. Pallid light 

*

glimmers as curtains move as a ruffled sleeve does when a wrist 
rotates. Luster reflected in a glistening, unblinking eye. Metallic 
thoughts querl in the atmosphere, blend with a querulous silence 
which masquerades as stillness. Minutes, cross-hatched strands, 
stretch in a skein—threads like a backlit, brandished pirate flag—

the black background behind Bacher’s hand and its needle. Black 
mixed in a pearl’s luster. I can’t hold this secret any longer / it’s 
hurting you / not making you stronger. Pearl on Bacher’s sleeve—
a pearl to heal. A pearl to wish for many years. A pearl for which 
one, feeling insignificant, a sand grain, might wish. An eye stares 

*

into a needle’s center point, as a woman sleeps longer each day. 
A needle point the arrow-point of a clock hand, making its point 
that it doesn’t have to travel to take flight, nothing pauses for it. 
I’m willing to risk / our bond that we own / so long as you’re safe 
you’ll not be alone.3 And the royal-blue thread in Bacher’s needle 

runs through the needle’s eye in a line to the sleeve’s buttonhole 
where the pearl comes though. It vibrates back and forth, forward 
and rearward, toward a quadrivial point like light though curtains. 
A man sits in a chair, opening curtains in his mind, and pretends 
there is nothing to pretend. The needle glints, does not move—

 

 

Poet’s Footnotes:

1. The title is a near-quote of a line from the book-length poem by John Ashbery, Girls on the Run.

2. Link to artwork [Instagram]. While this artwork was recently used as a writing prompt at The Ekphrastic Review, this poem was not written in response to that challenge. [For details, see Poet’s Commentary below.]

3. Italicized lines throughout this poem are from the traditional poem from which the phrase “cross my heart and hope to die” originates: Link to complete poem [Quora.com].


Poet’s Commentary

Mom died in her sleep, after a long illness, in the early morning of January 8, 2022, a few weeks after my writing this poem for the Triple-Q Writing Challenge. Sometimes a writing prompt will just not let go. Such was the case with both the Triple-Q word list and also Caroline Bacher’s stunning work. I had already finished a poem based on the latter, which was published in The Ekphrastic Review [scroll down to the fourth poem, “Cross Her Heart”].

Something darker and much more personal remained and wanted out. Dad shared very little about his vigil as Mom deteriorated, maybe to save me from an overload of anguish, and maybe because he could not bear himself to say more (something I have been discovering for myself since her passing). Maybe I wrote this second poem to fill the gaps he left—subconsciously so, since much of the writing came unbidden, automatically and organically. The title from Ashbery tempered and honed the overall point and brought it home.


Publisher’s Notes:

[P1.] To experience ten additional Neo Surrealist artworks by contemporary Canadian artist and designer Caroline Bacher, visit her gallery at Toronto Outdoor Art Fair.

[P2.] Re Poet’s Footnote 3 above: For readers like me who may not be able to access the “Cross My Heart” poem via the Quora link, I found the full text of an untitled poem designated as “Religious Oath in the Early 1900s” at the beginning of an Emma Frost Mystery by Willow Rose: Cross Your Heart and Hope to Die (an ebook on Amazon).

[P3.] This ekphrastic poem by Jonathan Yungkans is one of several written last November in response to MacQ’s Triple-Q Challenge. See also his poems after paintings by René Magritte, Le Grand Matin, which was selected as a Finalist and published in MacQ-11, and La Porte, featured in our special Christmas Eve issue, MacQ-10X.

Jonathan Yungkans
Issue 12, March 2022

is a Los Angeles-based writer and photographer with an MFA from California State University, Long Beach. His work has appeared in San Pedro Poetry Review, Synkroniciti, West Texas Literary Review, Gleam: Journal of the Cadralor, MacQueen’s Quinterly, and other publications. His second poetry chapbook, Beneath a Glazed Shimmer, won the 2019 Clockwise Chapbook Prize and was published in February 2021 by Tebor Bach.

More on the Web: By, About, and Beyond

Le Grand Matin by Jonathan Yungkans, a Finalist in MacQ’s Triple-Q Writing Challenge (Issue 11, January 2022)

La Porte by Yungkans in MacQ’s special Christmas Eve issue (10X, December 2021)

Two Duplex Poems, plus author’s notes on the poems and on the form, by Yungkans in Issue 10 of MacQ (October 2021)

Lawful and Proper, poem in Rise Up Review (Fall 2020)

Cadralor in the Key of F-Sharp as It Cuts into My Spine, in the inaugural issue of Gleam (Fall 2020)

I’d Love to Cook Like Hannibal Lecter [video], read by the poet at an event sponsored by Moon Tide Press (10 October 2019) celebrating the anthology Dark Ink: A Poetry Anthology Inspired by Horror

Saving the Patient, poem in The Voices Project (18 January 2018)

 
 
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